It has been over a month since I have returned from my experience in Northern Italy, and I still seem to reminisce about it every day. Up to this point, my previous entries detailing this experience were fairly limited to my own perspective; I did my best to explain my reactions to all the challenges that were presented to me, how I grew as a result, and how I benefitted from the connections I made. However, one thing that I failed to mention in any of these posts was that I had undertaken another mission. One that was personal to me, but did not really involve me or my own personal growth and objectives. Yet, it made my voyage that much more purposeful and hopefully provided happiness and closure to others beside just myself.
For those who are unfamiliar, Nicole Jolene Rossi was a fellow classmate and close family friend of mine. She loved poetry, learning, and caring for mother nature. For many years, she battled with Lyme disease, an infection that afflicts the immune system, before ultimately passing away due to complications in October of last year. During her time with us, she had a passion for learning about the different places and cultures of the world and always sought to understand more about the Human Condition from their wisdom. However, the taxing effects of her condition often prevented her from experiencing the places from which she had learned so much in person.
Shortly after her memorial service, I was given a pack of sunflower seeds (her favorite flower) on the back of which a poem of hers was written and a vial of her ashes. My task was simple: take her to places she had always wanted to go. And so I was off…
The first place I was able to visit with Nicole was – funnily enough – not yet even in Italy. I had a stop-over in Philadelphia for a few days where I visited some friends and got to take in the sights of the city. During this outing, I was taken to Washington Square Park in the historic district of the city. Nicole was always enthralled by the history of our country – both good and bad – and the rich artifacts found in the heart of the city combined with the even older trees that she always loved so much made for a more than sensible first spot for the upcoming journey.
The second spot we visited as well as the first in Italy was none other than the fair city of Verona. A rustic town that was made famous by the world’s most renowned poet and is known as one of the capital cities of love made it an obvious place to leave a bit of her memory. These flowers are in the central piazza of the city and are looked over by the Arena di Verona, a Roman amphitheater as old and impressive as Rome’s Colosseum.
Next on our travels was to Bologna. As the capital of Emilia-Romagna region, it is filled with medieval and Renaissance constructions that have captivated visitors like us for centuries. Piazza Cavour, where the picture was taken, was one of the many piazzas brimming with flora and personality in the midst of the city’s rich history.
Spot number four was a beautiful oasis in the Valtellina region just above Sondrio called Lago Palù. Though the photo could never do justice to the beauty and serenity of the lake surrounded by snow-capped Alps, it was a joy to behold in person and felt only natural to have as a resting place for someone so intertwined with nature.
Just after this, I took a train down to Rome to visit a few of my relatives. Just outside of the city in a small paese called Castelnuovo di Porto, my uncle owns a hotel and lives in an 18th century villa with a beautiful garden that he religiously attends to. From the beginning, I knew this would be where I would place Nicole and her sunflowers so that she would soon grow and be surrounded by all the exotic and beautiful plants in the garden. Though all of these sites are special in their own way, this is the one spot I will be able to return to with the rest of my family, with Nicole’s family, with my own children one day, to visit and remember her.
After I returned to California, my mother and I decided a fitting spot to complete this adventure would be in the state in which she was born. During our family trip to Santa Cruz, we took what was left in the vial and went down to the beachfront. Nicole, in keeping with her nature, was always connected to the ocean and even lived in Santa Cruz for a time. We made this sendoff with the seaweed and sand that nature provided and watched as the sun set and she was reunited with the sea.
While releasing the last bit of ashes from the vial, I reflected on how one might be saddened to think that I no longer had a physical piece of Nicole to hold on to. However, I felt something quite to the contrary; I felt that it was only right that she should be left unhindered by any glass or metallic containers. Rather, it seemed only natural that someone so free of thought and spirit, yet so physically restricted by such a spiteful illness, could be finally and truly free.