To the human eye, the most common kind of evening primrose looks yellow. The beauty of this plant lies in the simplicity of its color, in its soft petals, in the peculiarity of its x-shaped stigma, and even in its fragrant smell. However, nature has contrived in such a way that flowers which may appear plain to human eyes are in fact ornately decorated with spots or stripes that only insects can see because they, unlike humans, are not blind to ultraviolet. The development of ultraviolet filters has allowed scientists to get an idea of what the evening primrose looks like to a bee, but this is only an idea and it is not possible to know exactly how bees see ultraviolet; only a bee would know. How else would bees be attracted to the primrose in order to pollinate it? How else would bees partake in the ever-changing spectacle of nature? In life, there are things that cannot be truly understood except through certain abilities of our faculties, some of which we get for the mere fact of being human, while others cannot come but through experience. As John Keats once said, “nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.”
The student body at John Cabot University is one of the most diverse bodies out there; students have come from all over the world in search of something that they thought only the Eternal City could provide them with. These students possess a knowledge that no degree in International Affairs or Business can offer; we know what it is like to have left an entire life behind. These students are veterans of loss, a loss that many of us became acquainted with the day that we kissed our loved ones goodbye and got on an airplane, determined to learn something about ourselves. This initial contact with loss creates a wound that leaves an imprint on our skins and that is part of what has made us who we are. This wound is almost palpable, and those of us who have it identify one another. Loss may have no color, at least to the human eye, but those of us who have experienced it have also developed a way to recognize it, and just like bees see the ultraviolet hues in primroses, so do we know loss when we see it. Unlike bees, who are attracted to primroses, we do not go to loss, but instead have loss come to us; yet, having being familiarized with it, we greet it as we greet a not-so-welcome, old acquaintance. We try to welcome loss with a bold face and, being fully aware of its inexorability, we are not free from apprehension.
Loss does not stop the day that we accept the fact that we have left behind the soft touch of a linen bedspread back home or the smell of chicken soup as we come home from school on a January afternoon; loss continues as every semester comes to an end. Having left behind the stress of finals, we are all faced with the stress of having to say goodbye to one another. We’ve all grown close together; how not to, after having shared so many coffees and cigarette breaks under the shade of the lemon trees out in the courtyard? Yes, every end is cause for a new beginning, but in order to be so it must bring forth loss. For those of us who are degree seekers, saying goodbye to one another means “see you in a few months,” yet saying goodbye to those who have come to Rome for only a semester means “who knows when our paths will cross again.” This is a reality that as humans, and specifically as study-abroads, we all have to deal with. Elizabeth Bishop knew this very well, and that is why she half advised us, half warned us to hone our losing skills. Practice, Bishop ordered us, losing small things such as door keys or idle hours, and then try losing more important things like a family heirloom or some beloved city, so that when the big losses come we can be prepared. But in the end even the great poet knew that no amount of practice would soften the disastrous blow of having to utter that last goodbye. No matter how much practice we have in the art of losing, it all amounts to nothing when it comes to that heart-wrenching moment when we have to say goodbye to a friend in the early morning, while the moon is still up and dawn has not yet shed its light upon the cobblestones and a taxi driver is impatiently waiting for two strangers to say goodbye. Practice will not help as the tacit awareness of the finality of the situation permeates every uttered goodbye, every unuttered thank you, every tear.
But we must go on and try to be thankful for things learned and friendships made, and let these things bridge the gaps that distance us from our loved ones. As the semester ends, we all find our lives packed in a suitcase and our hearts pointed in the direction of a place printed out in a plane ticket; some of us know that we will eventually come back to Rome and we will see many familiar faces and miss some others. In the meantime, each of us is bound to go back to that old life which is not truly ours anymore but still holds dear things that will always belong to us, things such as the pine trees of South Jersey, a desert land in Northern Mexico, even the unapologetic smile of a sibling or the smell of a father’s beard in the morning just after he has shaved.