Sometimes we are all witnesses of how life can be weird and magical…Ivica
I've sat down to write this journal entry many times. Each time, the result of my effort falls frustratingly short of what I wish to express. Still, I have to try. I'll start with this: the main reason we returned to Illinois for Memorial Day weekend was to celebrate a very special union. Four years after we cycled through Serbia, my dear sister-friend Karina married Ivica, a man who we had the luck of meeting as we passed through the small town of Vranje.
It can be tricky at first when a dear friend falls in love with someone. Though I was totally supportive of the match, I also remember hoping that Karina wouldn't change into a different person. I remember being doubtful that any guy would be capable of adequately appreciating her colorful life, her creativity and playfulness, her boundless enthusiasm, and her ever-present song.
It was with much relief when I discovered that my fears were unfounded. Love changes people, that much is certain, but if you can find someone who loves every inch of you as you are, while also somehow helping you become the best version of yourself, well that's someone worth sticking with (in my humble opinion).
Over the past few years I have been lucky enough to witness Karina falling in love with Ivica. I have watched her become more grounded and rooted, and more peacefully happy than I've ever seen her before. I've also shaken my head in awe at how bravely she's tackled a wall of international bureaucracy the likes of which I hope never to face. She was fiercely strong before, and she's even more fiercely strong as a team.
At the wedding celebration, Tyler and I sat with Karina and Ivi, and chatted over an eclectic array of food, from Vietnamese spring rolls to baked potatoes. It was then that Ivica told us how much it meant to him that we were there. I had guessed he was grateful because our meeting ultimately led to his marrying Karina, but I didn't quite understand the fullness of his appreciation until he told us something that hadn't occurred to me before.
At this thoroughly Midwestern/Chilean event, filled with a bevy of Karina's family's friends, we were the link to his homeland. For Ivica, who just moved to Chicago from the much smaller city of Vranje, Serbia, life has been rocky, fraught with culture shock and homesickness, and the ache for familiar foods and customs. We were the only ones besides Karina who had ever been to Serbia or met any of his family, albeit briefly, and he was grateful for that common bond, and honored that we drove 15 hours to celebrate with them.
I was moved and humbled by this realization, and it made me appreciate Ivica even more, for his bravery, his ability to adapt to new situations, and his seemingly infinite stockpiles of calm graciousness. I assured him that there was no way we'd have missed their wedding!
In recognition of our common bond, Ivica shared with us his special bottle of his favorite brand of Rakia, or Serbian plum brandy. And we cheered "Zhively!" to Sladjan and to Serbia and to love, and drank shots of the eye-poppingly strong alcohol. Ivica, I am so happy that you're now a part of the family!
Karina & Ivica, we love you both! Wishing you all the happiness in the world.