What a summer! Our children treated us to two weeks in Italy to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary. Our whole family – Rebecca, Dan and little Gus as well as Timothy and Johanna – spent the first week in a villa near Cortona in Tuscany. The second week, Jean and I set off by ourselves, traveling to the cities of Cinque Terre1, Pisa, Florence and Rome.
I was awed by the beauty of the country and by the Renaissance art of Florence and Rome. I was further blessed spending time with our family and with Jean. This alone made the trip worthwhile.
Yet I received something else from the trip for which I wasn't prepared. This was our involvement with the people of Italy. These experiences humanized the trip and helped me appreciate at a deeper level what it means to Live With Soul. I'd like to share a few of these experiences with you.
I remember mornings hiking up to the walled city of Cortona2. The road was bordered by trees in the valley and by vineyards and olive groves as we ascended. The base of the city wall dated back to Etruscans times (5th century BCE) while the remainder was added in the 3rd century after the Roman conquest3. Upon reaching the city, we entered by one of the four gates and proceeded down narrow streets, past ancient buildings, to Bar Cafe Signorelli, where we enjoyed our morning coffee. Claudio, the owner, would greet me with a friendly “Ciao,” while bringing my decaf espresso with cream. Although his limited English and my non-existent Italian, made conversation difficult, I felt a special bond with him. The day we left he hugged me saying “Arrivederci.”
Jean and I spent two wonderful nights with Gabriele at Stella Della Marina, a 10 room hotel in Monterosso (Cinque Terre). It was here that I lost my credit card to a pick-pocket. I told Gabriele that he was truly the angel Gabriel, as he offered me his business phone for the 1½ hour conversation required to obtain a replacement credit card. His hotel is like a bed and breakfast, because he is both the proprietor and staff. His morning meals, served on the roof-top of the hotel overlooking the sea, were one of the high-points of our trip.
The loss of my credit card enabled another meeting, this one with a wonderful woman in Riomaggiore (Cinque Terre). We were about to purchase a book in her shop when I realized my credit card was missing. She understood immediately what had happened and gave me the book. She then said, “Most Italians are not like this.” Jean later returned to thank her for her graciousness and generosity. With little language in common, they connected at a deep level. The woman said Jean reminded her of a dear relative.
The credit card fiasco precipitated yet a third chance meeting. Since the emergency replacement card could not be used in cash machines, son, Timothy, wired me money via Western Union. Unfortunately, the Western Union Webpage is outdated. This resulted in an unplanned walking tour of Florence. Finding no available Western Union offices, I finally had the hotel call a distant bank which said they could handle the transaction. I took a cab to this location and asked the cabby, Jacobi, a thirty-something young man, to wait for me. Alas, this bank also would not serve me. Upon learning this, Jacobi drove me up and down streets in the area searching out Western Union locations. Although this too proved unsuccessful, I had a wonderful conversation with him. He said that he was most hopeful about the new pope. He also indicated that he considered himself a global citizen. He had learned English by watching YouTube videos. As we parted, he said he was sorry he couldn't help me.
Our vacation concluded in Rome. One afternoon we met Shahidul in the near vacant Ristorante Bar L'Euroea, where he was a waiter. He told us he was from Bangladesh. His wife had returned home because she felt excluded due to language and cultural differences. His children also left because of problems with the education system. It seems we are all aliens in one sense or another.
We toured the Vatican Museum and St. Peter's Basilica. As we queued up to see these sites, guides separated us into groups according to our native languages. A woman from Portugal was frantic, because she couldn't find her group and because she spoke no Italian or English. Jean used her limited Spanish to find out what the woman wanted. When she explained her plight, I asked the English speaking guide to direct her to a group, which she did. In some strange sense, I felt part of a larger global community in this act.
We spent our last night in a crowded outdoor restaurant. The staff were somewhat formal as they waited on us. When the crowd had thinned, I asked our waiter, Emanuelow, about himself. He told me he had completed his university degree in the history and philosophy of science. I said my training was in physics and that I was interested in the growth of consciousness. We talked further; and he finally asked if we might exchange email addresses, which we did. It's curious how many opportunities we have to connect with one another if we can only see them.
We finally rendezvoused with Dan, Rebecca and Gus, for our trip home, at Fiumicino - Leonardo da Vinci Airport. We joined the crowds in the passport inspection line and boarded the plane. As I took my seat, I felt strangely unsettled. Part of me was preparing for the transition back to my 'real world' in the United States – Logan Airport, our condo in Woburn, the traffic on I95, the mundane chores of home life and the news reports of the stalemate in Congress & warfare in Israel, Syria and Iraq. Another part of me lingered in Italy – the rolling hills of Tuscany, the seaport towns of Cinque Terre, the Renaissance art of Florence and Rome, and the wonderful people we met.
As I sit here on a chair in front of Boston King Coffee, at Four Corners, in Woburn Massachusetts, I remain betwixt and between. I am back into my old routine. Yet I am not completely back. Perhaps this time away - yet not quite away - is a portal into a new way of being. Perhaps I can begin to look around - really look around – truly seeing those I meet and myself in the process. Things are always more than they seem. The old is never really old because it is always changing and evolving, as am I.
Life is always a journey into a new country. In some sense, I am always an alien in a strange world. As an alien, I needn't separate myself in my differentness. I can remain open to new relationships, even with those people whom I have known. Life is filled with opportunities for adventure.
As I look around and imagine people throughout the world, each with his or her own hopes, fears, pains and joys, I realize that we live a messy existence - complicated, hurting and fearful. Yet soul shines through. Perhaps Living With Soul every moment of every day, is the most radical action we can take as we engage that mysterious presence that heals and enlivens existence.
1 The Cinque Terre is a rugged portion of coast on the Italian Riviera. It is in the Liguria region of Italy, to the west of the city of La Spezia. "The Five Lands" comprises five villages: Monterosso al Mare, Vernazza, Corniglia, Manarola, and Riomaggiore. The coastline, the five villages, and the surrounding hillsides are all part of the Cinque Terre National Park and is a UNESCO World Heritage Site. Over the centuries, people have carefully built terraces on the rugged, steep landscape right up to the cliffs that overlook the sea. Part of its charm is the lack of visible corporate development. Paths, trains and boats connect the villages, and cars cannot reach them from the outside. The Cinque Terre area is a very popular tourist destination. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Cinque_Terre