“In Italy, they add work and life onto food and wine.” (Robin Leach)
I spent the past 10(ish) days in Italy (with a one-day jaunt to Switzerland) with my wonderful husband. It was our 25th anniversary trip 18 months late (somehow we couldn’t stop Sarah from getting married, Josh from needing surgery, Jared from graduating college, and Rachel having high school and no license yet so that we could take our trip on time).
We had two days in Rome, one day in Pisa with Daniella, Josh’s girlfriend, two+ days in Cinque Terre (the Five Lands) on the west coast, two days in Milan (part of which was our day in Switzerland) with our good friends and missionaries, and then two days in Venice. It was a whirlwind.
We found out that in order to get by as an English speaker, you basically need 5 words: ciao (hello and goodbye), grazie (thank you). prego (you are welcome, please come, after you, have a seat), allora (total filler word, like “um”, “well”) and toilette? (I’ll let you figure that one out all on your own). We became pretty good at fudging our way through and made it home in one piece with our passports and luggage. Of course, I am up at 3 am writing this blog post because it’s full-blown day-time there. I should already be finished with breakfast and have logged about 5,000 steps!
If you haven’t looked it up yet on Google Translate, “due cose che ho imparato” (the subtitle above) means “two things I learned.” Amid all the incredible eating of pasta, pizza and gelati (I had it for 10 straight days and sometimes even twice. It was my goal!), touring breath-taking architecture and landscapes, endless shopping in fantastic local boutiques, and traveling on boats, trains and planes, my mind kept meandering to two central “take-aways” from the trip, having nothing to do with any of the above.
1. I took myself with me. I would love to tell you that it was 10 completely magical days, that I was immediately changed into an always thankful, patient, kind, loving and joyful human, but the truth is, I brought my real self (the broken and the beautiful) along with me. There were times where my eyes and heart leapt with the adventure of it all and I was filled with sheer gratitude and awe, but there were other times where I immediately lost patience over train schedules and people cutting in line. There were times where Allen and I were like two young honeymooners, selfless and in love, but there were other times where we were unkind and hurtful to each other. It hit home once again that it’s not the quick-fix, external circumstances that heal us in the internal places of our hearts, but the slow and sometimes day-to-day inner work we do in cooperation with a God who is in it with us for the long-haul. Phew!
2. I didn’t belong. Not being able to fully communicate (to understand and be understood) was the first clue to realizing this was not my place and these were not my people. I felt lost and confused and at times, didn’t seem to even know how to get the help I needed. Cars and trucks (albeit miniature-sized) darting in and out of pedestrians without many traffic laws, militia standing on street corners with machine guns, currency that looked like monopoly money, and strange food (okay, I got you there…it felt like New Jersey with the pizza, pasta and ice cream shops on every corner) assured me that I was “no longer in Kansas” as the saying goes. I was drawn into the adventure, the “otherness,” and am truly grateful. I was changed a bit. My eyes were opened a little more. It was really fun and I needed that. However, being with Allen (my person) was the best part of the whole trip. And now I know why. Deep within me, my soul aches for belonging, community, understanding, being understood, my place and my people. This is most often where healing and the journey towards wholeness takes place, within the belonging to a kind and gracious God and a loving community of others. My biggest “inner reaction” surprise of the whole trip was when we were standing in line waiting for our passports to be checked upon our return to Newark and the agent said, “Welcome home!” I could feel my heart let out a sigh. I belong here. (A huge shout-out to those of you who are on this life journey with me! I have missed you!)
Italy was a dream-come true and a big check mark on our bucket list! And the travel bug has been tickled in my soul! I am already making plans for a family trip to Alaska. But today, on a mundane Monday morning, it’s really really okay for me to say Caio Italia and HELLO LONG HILL!