"O Eterno, ascolta la mia preghiera, e porgi l'orecchio al mio grido; non esser sordo alle mie lacrime; poiché io sono uno straniero presso a te, - un pellegrino, come tutti i miei padri." (Salmo XXXIX)
"Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry; hold not thy peace at my tears: for I am a stranger with thee and a sojourner; as all my fathers were." (Psalm XXXIX)
And with this verse from the Psalms, I launch the Italian version of StemCells&AtomBombs, www.CelluleStaminalieBombeAtomiche.blogspot.com.
The Italian version has a special place in my heart because even though I now live in Osaka, Japan and was born in Woodstock, Ontario, my father and mother are both Italians. In fact Italian is my first language as I didn't really learn to speak English properly until I went to school. Italian is the language of my childhood home, the language I speak with my mother and spoke with my father, he passed away fifteen years ago, and the language I spoke with my grandmother, aunts, uncles, and friends of my parents.
But like a lot of immigrant kids, our grasp of our mother tongue is limited because of our lack of education in our parents' language. Little by little, as English took over our minds, we became a little estranged from our parents. Our Italian wasn't good enough to say exactly what we wanted our parents to hear, and our parents' English was never good enough to hear exactly what we wanted to say...for I am a stranger with thee.
I hope that with the team of very dedicated volunteer translators (Anna Recchia, Nicoletta Natoli, and Daniela Bollini) my mother will be able to read my adult thoughts and understand me a little better. I hope that she will be happy with the son that she raised.
I have family all over the world. From Italy to Switzerland - my father's brothers and my own father for a very short time before he turned twenty. From Italy to Argentina - my father's brother who died there after only a short time. From Italy to America twice and back to Italy - my great-grandfather on my mother's side. From Italy to France and from Italy to Boston in America- my mother's mother's brothers. And from Italy to Canada for my father at nineteen and my mother in her twenties along with my father's many cousins who were already there and on my mother's side all except two sisters plus my grandmother. I probably have cousins in places I don't know.
And now me, to Japan where I have two boys who are half Italian-Canadian and half Japanese. My wife jokes about where my boys will someday live, but I am adamant that the Tesolat migration story will end with me. I do not wish my children to be sojourners; as all my fathers were.
My biggest fear if I continue to live in Japan is that my own children will become what I must have become to my parents - a son who was unable to fully understand my own parents' lives and language. I fear that my children will also become strangers from me. This is the loneliness that all our immigrant parents and grandparents must have felt, and now it will be my turn.
Since coming to Japan, a country with very few European immigrants, I feel a special bond to my parents and relatives who were sojourners before me. I remember my long telephone conversations with a favourite aunt, and how she talked to me differently once I moved away from Canada. She talked to me in a more intimate way, as if I, being an immigrant myself, could understand her heart much better. Of course, I never knew the economic hardships she knew, and I never left the country of my birth because of economic conditions (even though I also left Canada because of a recession that made finding work difficult), but she didn't really talk to me about those things. She talked to me about the loneliness of being a stranger in a strange land, of not being with her own mother, and this I could truly understand...Hear my prayer, O Lord, and give ear unto my cry.
Like the loneliness of the immigrant, there is a loneliness that comes from being sick, or paralyzed as in my case.
I think of my own situation. Suddenly paralyzed at 39 years of age with two small boys still to raise in a country that is not my own. Loneliness also visits me from time to time.
The loneliness is not all encompassing. Life doesn't stop for the infirm or the immigrant. Family and friends are married, children are born and baptized, children grow, go to school, get jobs, fall in love and eventually get married and make us grandparents. There are too many good people and good things around us to feel lonely all the time.
But like an old friend who we sometimes forget about, loneliness drops in for a visit.
For me, he visits each day as I open my eyes in the morning. He stays just a short while, but long enough to let me know he's still there. I'm sure he'll visit me less in the future.
For immigrants, loneliness visits especially when there is a death or sickness in the home country. When yet another root that bound them to the past is ripped from them. I remember these times in my house when I was a kid and I remember it when my own father died while I was in Japan. I can imagine how my family felt when I called them to tell them that I was paralyzed.
Loneliness also visits during happy events when despite all the loving faces around us, the immigrant thinks of all those who are not with us; a mother, a brother, a son. I can imagine how my own parents felt during happy events in Canada because I know that loneliness paid them a visit as he visited me during the birth of my two sons, far away from their own grandmother in Canada.
And he also visits me when I see fathers playing with their children, riding bikes, running in the park; all the things that I can't do with my own children now. When I see these things I can feel the hand of my old friend resting on my shoulder.
Those around the immigrant and the sick can never completely erase this feeling of loneliness, but can add to it, especially when society as a whole makes them feel unwanted and does not try to meet their needs. And this is the last point I wish to make today. This point is directed towards all of Italy, the place that I know only from my parents' stories.
I was reading in the paper today about Italians' attitudes towards Gypsies in Italy. Sixty eight percent of Italians feel them to be criminals and other despicable news of mob violence against Gypsies. I ask Italians to remember the emigrants that left Italy in search of a better life because Italy could not take care of them. In fact, these emigrants, leaving Italy, helped Italy rebound after the war.
And I also ask you in Italy to see some important words and figures from Canada.
"...among the strikers area majority of foreigners, chiefly Italians, who are reported to have prepared to meet opposition to their demands at the point of the knife, the national weapon of the 'dago'..." (Daily News 1906).
"A mob of children come screaming from a small side street somewhere. They are dirty little wretches, with hair uncombed and clothes all torn. You wonder why they are not in school." (Margaret Bell writing about the social conditions of Italians in Toronto, 1912).
And just so you don't think I'm writing about ancient history, as late as 1977 a Gallup Poll surveying Canadians' attitudes towards Italians for the first time reported that 40% of Canadians linked Italians with crime.
A society that turns against the strangers in their midst will soon be a society that turns against the other weaker members and treat them like a burden. First the immigrants, then the old, and then the infirm, and it will only intensify their loneliness.
On the other hand, a society that takes a step towards the lonely will achieve great things
Not from science, but from a feeling of human brotherhood; that's where I'll get my stem cells.