My husband and I reached the house in the hills above Florence at five minutes to noon. Never has a lunch date been so anticipated: lunch at the home of the most famous author in Italy. Only, he had passed away, and his wife had kindly invited us to spend the afternoon with her, among his books, his photos, his essence. He had been a famous journalist, traveling the world, covering countless events and wars; when he became ill he turned his writing to his own fight with cancer and his own mortality. His last, best book is the one my husband has been pouring his soul into translating for the past two years.
Before ringing the bell, my husband ran his fingers across the engraved stone nameplate on the house's gate. This name had become more familiar to him than his own.
This graceful, beautifully graying woman opened the door to us like we were old friends. She led us straight through the house -- both rustic and museum-like -- and into the garden, which seemed the most natural place to begin our acquaintance. Standing among her flower pots, we took in the view of the city below and barely took a breath between topics. This widow of such a famous man is famous in her own right: as a writer, a public speaker, a constant interviewee. But she talked to us as if she was recounting her life with her husband for the very first time. About her own upcoming book she spoke almost shyly; but she, too, had a lifetime of adventures and travel memories to share.
"Let me tell you one more story, and *then* the pasta goes in the pot!" she said again and again.
Eventually we made our way inside, and through four courses of lunch. A Tuscan rain began outside the window, blurring the view of red-roofed Florence.The afternoon had turned chilly, and this mother and wife instinctively wrapped one of her shawls around my shoulders.
My husband and I each had our own set of questions for her, but the one I was most eager to ask was how she stood the danger which her husband had constantly faced. How did she carry on with two small children at home while he hid out in Vietcong encampments during the Vietnam war or waded undercover through countless other war zones? He rode in the "flying coffins" of the Soviet Union. He was almost shot by the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia. She would get letters from him every few weeks, sometimes even telegrams. But his next day, even his next hour, was never certain.
She smiled at us, that warm and peaceful smile that kept appearing throughout the afternoon. "I knew that this was simply the way life went with him. Take it or leave it," she explained. "And I truly believe that everyone has their destiny, and that they will go when their time comes. Think of the places he traveled! And not a bullet, not a snake, not a scorpion, not even a mosquito touched him! And you see, he died at home in his bed."
I wondered how many more years it would take my husband and I to reach such a state of non-sheltering, non-possessive love. We both worry (worry -- such a terrible, useless word) each time the other steps out the front door. We want present love, not absent love. But loving while letting go, over and over -- she had lived that out. We left that old Tuscan home understanding marriage better, in new colors and patterns. He lived through her, and she lived through him, in life and in death.
Jessica lives a quiet life -- full of colors and travels and vegan baking -- with her husband in Prague, Czech Republic. If you'd like to find out more about her, you'll just have to go over there for a chat.