Tuesday, August 9, 2011
The Circle of Life and Death
As I try to absorb the loss of Tom Seghi, the love of my life, the image of this simple circle comes to mind. One life. One single brushstroke. Like what he created with his own deft hand, something I watched with awe on many occasions, his life itself was a singular, elegant and quiet revolution from start to finish.
Although his death happened suddenly and unexpectedly, when I turn back to look at how he had arrived at that point, it seems he had reached a remarkable closure. The day before he died, we flew into Chicago and rented a car. For the first time in the forty four years we've been together, he suggested that we drive to his childhood home in what was once the heart of a working class Italian neighborhood. That home was at 2533 S. Spaulding, the downstairs apartment of a two story duplex.
The only time I had seen that building before was in snapshots taken for his family photo album. I especially recalled the picture of him as a newborn, cradled in his mother's arms as she stood on the porch steps with his father and sister, his Italian immigrant grandfather standing by the door. Another was him smiling broadly, a mere toddler on the porch.
In the intervening years, the neighborhood had become run-down, now primarily a neighborhood of Mexican immigrants. A frequent display of graffiti indicated gang activity which explained the wrought iron fences that were put up after Tom's family had moved away.
Knocking on the door of the first floor apartment, where a sister and brother of about 10 and 12 years old were home alone, the landlord explained the reason for our visit and walked us through. "Is it smaller than you remember?" he asked Tom.
"No," Tom said, "it's exactly as I remember it; nothing has changed." He then proceeded to engage the children, "That's the room where my sister slept, and that's where I slept."
Afterwards we went upstairs to the owner's renovated apartment. Tom told him how less than a month before, we had taken a trip to Italy with our son, met the remaining Seghi's there and together visited LaSega, the mountain hamlet of their ancestors.
The owner was receptive and encouraged the conversation further. Tom then shared the experience of visiting the small town of Coalgate, Oklahoma where his grandparents and relatives had immigrated TO. By actually stepping on that land, the stories his father had told him about growing up in Oklahoma, had come alive for him.
Retracing his family's itinerary, from Italy to Oklahoma to Chicago, Tom shared how especially fulfilling it was to bring his son Danny back to Italy to learn where the Seghi's came from. As they stood together in the family cemetery of Ospitale, overlooking the mountains of Emilia Romagna, Tom had pointed out the gravestones of the Seghi ancestors. "This is our past," he said, "and you are the future."
"Yes," the owner nodded knowingly. "It's so important to go back to where you come from, to stay in touch with that connection. Even though time passes, the connection is always present."
Tom had come back to exactly where he had started, like a salmon returning home. Navigating great distances against incredible odds, and realizing so much in the process, it seems he had just completed that beautiful sweeping movement of his life. A full circle.
I write this on the final day of "Shloshim" - the 30-day mourning period from the day of burial - traditionally observed in Judaism. Since Judaism teaches that a deceased person can still benefit from the merit of good deeds done in their memory, it is the privilege of those of us who knew him to act in ways inspired by the unique person that he was: loving, humble, confident, gentle, creative, peaceful, forgiving, and attuned to beauty. May his soul be elevated by our actions.
As always, please feel free to share your comments and read those of others. We each have a perspective that is ours alone.