Door to the Sun

“Every action’s an act of creation.” Hamilton, Lin-Manuel Miranda

I thought doorways always led forward, but in the case of Porta del Sole, the door to the sun, it leads back. Back to a little town in Reggio Calabria, Italy where my Nona Vincenza Calautti is born. Where just three and a half years later, she and her parents courageously board an immigrant ship from Naples to New York, leaving behind most of their family for the chance of something more and a mere hope of reuniting in a new life. I’m not sure exactly what they’re looking for. Prosperity? Freedom? Both? But her family is called, and somehow, they find the strength and support to answer the call. At nine years old, I’ll interview Nona for a school assignment, and write a small book titled In My Grandmother’s Shadow. She won’t remember a lot of details about her trip to America, but she’ll recall her mother passing the time telling her stories, her favorite being the Italian version of Cinderella.

It takes Nona roughly two weeks to arrive to Ellis Island on February 16, 1924, and nearly one hundred more years for her youngest granddaughter to arrive serendipitously at that same location on February 4, 2024. As I stand in the registration hall, envisioning myself in her little shoes, only the age of my youngest daughter Hazel, I try to imagine what it would be like to arrive to a whole new world. Would she have chosen this path, had she any say in the course her life took that day?

In Brooklyn, Nona grows up too fast, adapting and becoming what she needs to be to survive. Then one day, not so far off, she lives out her own Cinderella story, meeting her pre-arranged prince while washing floors on her hands and knees at the age of fifteen. She marries, bears children, and finds out the prince is not always a prince. Still, she stays the course, God willing, as she always says, courageously showing up day after day, choosing to see the blessing, and loving the people around her fiercely.

Then inevitably, a moment arrives when she’s finally presented a choice. Is she called like her mother before her, sights set toward a new shore? Or does she risk breaking free of her predetermined destiny to say yes to a limitless horizon? To not just surviving, but thriving. She doesn’t know then that she will become a beloved matriarch whose legendary cooking is unrivaled. She doesn’t know that after death, her heart of wisdom will enter the heart of her youngest granddaughter and guide her through a massive storm to a golden dawn. She doesn’t know that this one courageous choice will forever change the course of her own life and all those that come after her. She only knows she must answer the call to self-love and sovereignty.

My gratitude overflows.

From where I stand now, resting on the pedestal of Lady Liberty, I can feel time weaving itself together into one great Present, the songs of innumerable lives composing a reverie in my chest. I never knew Nona’s ancestors or the people who came before her people, except via her collected presence. But looking out over the glistening water and impressive skyline, it’s not hard to imagine the lineage of resilience and courage that led us here and now—both in my personal history and all of history. The acts of creation that form the life I’m so blessed to be living stretch back in an unbreakable chain. And somehow, acknowledgement of this unbreakable chain is the very thing that breaks the shackles binding us to the past. If we are to proceed forward with sincerity, we can only do so by honoring the whole of what it took to get us to this present moment. Only then, will we find the doorway that is hidden at the origin of all things, the Porta del Sole, the doorway of Hope from which we can joyfully live beat by beat and breath by breath.

The truth is, I was never in my grandmother’s shadow. I was basking in her light. Like Lady Liberty our ancestor stands their ground, not chasing after or striving for their worthiness, but shining their radiance and passing the torch through us from one generation to the next. After all, freedom isn’t merely a statue. It’s a lighthouse. Liberty has always been guiding our way and watching with love as our story unfolds. We are a bridge between those that came before us and those yet to come, destined to honor this legacy by living a courageous life. Maybe the pedestal of perfection is not a mirage after all. Perhaps, it simply needs a new, more hopeful definition.

Maybe the completeness we’ve always been searching for is our own wholeness, firmly founded in truth, enlightened by love, and proclaiming freedom for all beings.