Understand where you came from to truly appreciate where you are.
Take a walk to a park and sit on a bench near the tallest tree you can find. Listen to the sounds around you and take in the scene. Restrain yourself from throwing on your headphones for just a few minutes to appreciate everything around you. It’s amazing to think that the tree in front of you started as a little twig. Follow the trunk all the way up and look at a leaf at the very top, hopefully swaying in the breeze. Does that leaf look down and understand the struggle of its roots? Does it realize that it sits on the shoulders of a giant?
During college I had the pleasure of sitting through an “interesting” interview.
When I showed up for the interview it became apparent that the owner worked out of a home office. I recall reluctantly going in to meet. As he threw pillows off of his couch to make room for me to sit I was ready to run out the door. It was one of my first interviews and it was not off to a good start… and it did not get any better.
The interview went like this:
“Where are you from?” (He asked in a very slow and concentrated manner. Almost confused by his own question.)
“No, but where were you born?” (Said with a half-smile as if I misunderstood his initial question)
“Oh, so you are not from another country? What are you doing at Baruch College? It’s an immigrant school.”
I was speechless. He continued to bad mouth immigrants, yelled on the phone with his girlfriend in the middle of the interview, asked a few more questions and then it was over. As he saw me to the door he left me with these final words and a big smile on his face:
“Guerrino? Get an American name. ”
My fist was clenched and shaking. My blood was boiling. I am sure that it collectively took all of my departed relatives to hold my fist down because I can’t tell you what stopped me from taking a swing at that ignorant… fellow! I still get heated thinking about it. (He was a leaf who lost sight of his roots)
Looking back I am glad I didn’t walk out. I gained a new found interest in my own family history. It made me understand the importance of passing that history on to every generation after you while appreciating where the struggles of parents, grandparents, great-grandparents and so on, have landed you. It has made me appreciate where I am today.
Stories around the dinner table became more interesting and impactful. Grandparents and parents broke their backs to provide for their families. There were no shortcuts. There were no silver spoons in anyone’s mouth. Nothing was given, everything was earned. It was all done for love of the family.
There are many images that I draw inspiration from.
I imagine my Nonno Guerrino who was caught and handcuffed in the middle of the street like a criminal and deported to Italy. My grandmother was pregnant at the time. He managed to find his way back and continued to bust his ass in a country that tried to get rid of him.
When my Nonno Michael was leaving for America he paused before they left. He looked around at everything he was leaving behind, grabbed a shot glass, put it in his pocket and left to a country where he too would bust his ass to provide for his family. That is all he came here with.
Understanding where my roots come from and seeing the struggle of parents and grandparents to provide for their family moves me forward with purpose. “Purpose” that still drives me to this day.
Too often people lose sight of where they started and where their family roots reach. Look back far enough and you will understand the struggle. We stand on the shoulders of giants who came before us. Understand where they have been and you can never look down on anyone in this life. Understand what they did and their struggles will inspire you and lift you higher.
I guess I look at trees a little different than most.