Arriving in Naples, my parents would hire a taxi to take my brother and me to the tiny fishing village of Positano nestled along the Amalfi coastline of Italy. It was a terrifying, seat-of-your-pants journey along a narrow, winding road beneath vertical cliffs and beside a sheer drop into the deep blue Mediterranean. And yet, it was a journey I longed to take, every time. Positano was my place, my happiness, my first love. How to tell you what that pebbly little beach, under the torrent of cliffs dotted with pastel villas and dripping with lush grapevines meant to me as a little girl? It’s as if Positano called my soul home, warmed me with syrupy light, and lifted by tubby body on its gentle waters so that I lived for days on end, slippery as a sea-lion with Nivea oil and glistening with saltwater.
Far from my London home, where the light was dove gray and all swimming took place indoors, this warm, color-drenched land dunked me in a wild freedom. To rush toward the gentle waves, feeling the spray’s cool bubbles shiver over my sun-baked skin; to doggy paddle out toward the red and blue fishing boats; to lie flat on my back, floating, until the sun spread before my salt blurred eyes like angel wings.
This part of Earth, wrapped itself around my soul. And in its water-kissed shores I felt something raw and essential grow in me. Each year, as we returned to Positano, I felt returned to magic. A sense that there was a place outside the orderliness of my convent schoolgirl life that made life as mystical and strange as a fairy tale. Returning to London, always felt like shutting a door inside of me.
I think, for many of us, this is the true dilemma: There is, if we are lucky, a time in childhood when we experience the true beauty of being alive, of being brought home to oneself. It doesn’t have to take place, as my experience did, in a foreign land. It can happen in a backyard, in the branches of a favorite tree, or in a meadow of waving grasses. Out of doors, away from the constricting walls of our houses, we are opened up to a deeper experience of ourselves through our interaction with the natural world. We don’t know it at the time, but we feel it nonetheless.
This Valentine's Day we might think of reawakening to that mystery, that sense of deep soul connection with the living world, and ask how we might bring it into our everyday life.
After all, love and relationship isn't limited to that we feel for other people.
We can be in love with places, too--for how we feel in their presence, for what they teach us, bring forth in us.
Positano was my first love. What was yours?