I celebrated my birthday last week doing what I love the most: spending time with my family. It was a low key affair with maximum meaning. My husband, daughter and I shared a quiet day with a meal out, cake, presents, and a trip to see Richard Curtis’ (writer/director of Love Actually) latest film About Time. I’ve always loved his films, such as Notting Hill and Four Weddings and a Funeral, for their emotional intelligence and sensitivity. Yet About Time offered more than a beautiful love story and intriguing characters. It contained a message that stayed with me past the end credits. To quote the main character, Tim, “Live life as if there are no second chances.”
In this time-traveler tale, Tim, along with the other males in his family, can go back in time to correct their mistakes. Yet this beautiful story of unconditional love showed that some things cannot be changed, however much we might wish it so. I completely identified with Tim’s longing to see a deceased relative. There are many moments in my life I wish I had a second chance to relive. Times when I let every day stresses and worries keep me from fully enjoying my life and those I loved.
If I could pick one day to revisit, it would be the day my nonna taught me how to make homemade pasta. As her health was failing, the need to learn our family’s Italian recipes became urgent. I’d already learned how to make her gravy (sauce as it is normally called), focaccia bread, eggplant parmesan and other recipes. Yet, as a busy college student, I hadn’t found the time needed to learn how to make pasta from scratch. I phoned my grandmother and planned a Columbus Day weekend visit. However, when the time neared, I regretted making that commitment. My boyfriend was acting strange and distant, I had a paper due, and my roommates hadn’t chipped in to pay the electric bill. When I called to cancel, my Aunt Pam lectured me. She said Nonna had been preparing all week for my visit and had spoken of little else in her excitement. Nonna had insisted, despite her arthritis, on scrubbing her entire apartment and having my aunt take her grocery shopping so that she could personally pick out the ingredients. It would crush her if I didn’t follow through. Resigned and resentful, I agreed to make the trip.
Nonna wasn’t one to show affection. She dished out her love through her food. When I arrived, she handed me a plate of my favorite cookies, her almond biscotti. It was her way of saying, “I’m glad you came, and I love you.” Yet I was too upset about my troubles back in Albany to notice. I listened with half and ear as she prattled in her broken English. Whenever she was excited, her speech was mostly in Italian, and I didn’t try translating it this time. Instead, I let the words wash over me as I thought about my soon-to-be ex-boyfriend, Michael. I went to bed early, knowing she’d wake me up as she always did- at five am- by poking me with a broom’s bristles, followed by her booming belly laugh. But my restless night made me cranky in the morning. Instead of giving in and getting up, I refused to leave my bed until seven. When I finally showered and dressed, she’d been sitting at the kitchen table, ingredients at the ready, for almost two hours. Ungrateful person that I was, I barely apologized and we set to work, my hands following hers as we went through the steps and set the pasta out to dry.
Although I went through the motions of making Orecchiette (pasta sometimes called ‘little ears’), my heart wasn’t in it. Nonna grew quieter as the day went on, sensing, I’m sure, my lack of enthusiasm. I spent the evening arguing on the phone with my boyfriend instead of watching television with her. In the past, we’d always poked fun at game show contestants, ranted about the evils of the world while watching the news, or clucked in sympathy with talk show guests. But this time, she sat alone, hunched on the sofa, silent, as I had what I thought was a crucial exchange with Michael. The next morning, I did get up at five a.m. But my early rise was motivated by my need to leave quickly. I wanted to get home and continue my fight with Michael, finish my paper, and round up my roommates’ share of the electric bill.
Well, I did get the money for the electric bill, I earned an A on the paper, and Michael and I made up- for the time being. Yet all of that pales in comparison to what I’d lost: the chance to fully appreciate the last time I’d see Nonna alive. She died a month later, and all I have from our last day together is a hastily scrawled recipe. I would give anything to have a second chance to redo that time. To linger over coffee and almond biscotti with her, to pay close attention to what she said, to jump out of bed and help her set up for pasta-making, to patiently learn our family recipe rather than rushing through it, to sit beside her as we watched TV, her hand slapping my knee as she laughed, my head on her shoulder as I inhaled her favorite scent- gardenia.
About Time was a great reminder that life doesn’t give us do-overs. We shouldn’t let the stresses and worries of our everyday lives keep us from appreciating those we love and the wonderful blessings we’ve been given. The message couldn’t come at a better time given the Thanksgiving Season. Being thankful isn’t enough. It’s important to take action as well- to be engaged- to pay attention to the things that matter most. The normal moments I take for granted are the ones I will want back someday. Better to appreciate them now, than wish I had another chance to enjoy them. So my wish for this Thanksgiving is for us all to be thankful and to be giving. To commit our hearts and minds to those we love instead of allowing other, less important things, to steal that time from us.
If you could have a second chance, and go back in time, which moment would you relive? I’d love hear your thoughts! Answer in the comment section below, and be entered to win a copy of Camp Boyfriend, print/Kindle/Nook version- your choice. I will announce the winner on http://www.facebook.com/jkrockwriters tomorrow. Thank you so much for commenting! I hope you all had a wonderful Thanksgiving full of family, laughter, and unconditional love. Oh- and pasta too