When my father was 17 years old, his heart stopped for a full five minutes. He was in a horrible drowning accident at the Breakheart Reservation when he was a junior at Medford High School. He was resuscitated, and he might not often admit it, but his survival was nothing short of a miracle.
When my mother was 8 years old, she boarded a plane from Italy and immigrated to Somerville, Mass., with her parents and six siblings. They came with little else besides an armory of pasta recipes, a penchant for talking with their hands and something resembling hope.
Flash forward to January of 1985, when my dad’s accident had driven him to volunteer for the Samaritans of Boston and facilitate wellness discussions at local high schools. This work brought him to Saint Clement’s High School, where my mom was finishing up her senior year. Little did either of them know that, a few decades later, they could walk across the street from that high school and be on their daughter’s college campus.
So a Medford boy meets a Somerville girl, they fall in love, get married 10 years later and have me five years after that. I’ve been thinking a lot about their love story lately and the lessons it has to teach us amid the crisis we all presently find ourselves in.
If my father had not been brought back from the brink of death, and if my mother and her family hadn’t taken the brave risk of immigrating to an unknown place, I would quite literally not be here writing these words that you’re reading. I can barely comprehend all the things that had to happen and all of the pieces that had to fit together in order for me to be here, to be living the life that I am, to be living at all. And to know that, even in the face of immense hardship, my parents managed to find each other — to find love — gives me an incredible sense of hope.
My parents always tell me that I got the best of both parts of them — my father’s smile and his kind heart, my mother’s eyes and her utter strength. As I grow older, I find this to be more and more true. My mother is my heart outside of my body. She is my sun, the thing around which I orbit. It is because of her that I know what it means to love truly and unconditionally. My father is my rock, my superhero, my entire world. He has taught me what it means to live with an open heart, to not take myself so seriously and how to see the best in other people, even when it’s hard to.
They are my best friends, and I wouldn’t be graduating from Tufts — or writing this column — if not for the sacrifices they’ve made and love they’ve poured into me over the past 21 years. All that I have been, all that I am and all that I will be is because of them, and I love them more for it.
I will admit, however, that I hadn’t exactly imagined spending the last two months of my senior year of college quarantined with them in our family home. It breaks my heart that they won’t get to see the accomplishments of their only child be celebrated with a commencement ceremony for quite some time. But their love story reminds me that, eventually, something remarkable will come out of all this.
I might not understand it today, or next month or even a year from now, but somehow, someday, all of the jagged pieces of this beautiful, messy life will come together to form something wonderful, something better than I ever could have imagined. All of this pain and loss and confusion will mean something, and I will look back on this chapter of my life with awe and wonder and gratitude, knowing that it had to happen, knowing that I’m better off for it, knowing that it brought me home to myself, knowing that it opened the door to let love pour in and let the light shine through. My parents have taught me that and so, so much more.
So here’s to them, and to all of the people who’ve read “Medford Mom” over the past few months. Pouring my heart out in this column has been one of the most vulnerable things I’ve ever done, and the support and encouragement I’ve received have meant the world to me. I promise to keep writing, to always remember the importance of living life with an open heart and to never stop daydreaming about waltzing on the Tisch Library roof with Zac Efron.
Lastly, to my fellow members of the Class of 2020: I can’t wait to reunite someday and to close our chapter at Tufts together in the way we deserve. Until then, take care of yourselves and the people whom you love. Hold on tightly to them, thank them for the part they played in helping you find your place in this strange and wonderful world of ours and never let them go.