Archive for the ‘Italy’ Tag
I just returned from a four day trip to Cincinatti, Ohio with my eight year old daughter. Our reason for taking the trip was to visit some old friends of mine from Italy who are here in the United States seeking medical treatment for their six-year old son. While in Cincinatti, they are staying at the Ronald McDonald House. They are well taken care of by the volunteers at the McDonald House, and by the nurses, doctors, social workers and translators at the hospital. But they don’t know anyone in Ohio, and don’t speak any English, so I took my daughter with me to spend some time with them, and to give them what moral support I could.
A few days before I was scheduled to leave for Ohio, I received a phone call from a woman in Cincinatti. Her name was Lisa. She had taken my friends under her wing, picking them up at the airport when they arrived, visiting them in the hospital, arranging trips to the Cincinatti Zoo for them, and bringing them to her home for dinner and respite. She knew their case worker at the hospital, was working with the Italian Embassy in Detroit on some problems they were having with their paperwork, and knew every detail of their son’s medical history and current treatment. The reason she called me was to invite my daughter and I to stay with her and her family in their home during our visit to Cincinatti. I accepted her invitation.
During our time with Lisa and her family, my daughter and I were given soft beds to sleep in and warm breakfasts made from scratch. Lisa’s nine and eleven year old daughters immediately adopted my daughter as a special friend. They pushed two twin beds together so she could “sleepover” with them. They shared silly stories with her and taught her how to play badminton. “Mom,” my daugther said to me, “They are so nice. And they never fight.”
I was equally impressed. Every night the family invited us to join them for family prayer. They played games together, happily drawing us in to share in the fun. Lisa’s home was spotless, even while taking classes at a nearby university and baking chocolate chip cookies for her daughter’s soccer team, which she helped coach. One night I asked if I could help do the dishes and she cheerfully replied, “dishes are no big deal.”
This was a family that had made service a fundamental part of their lives. They did it naturally, cheerfully, and tirelessly. Over and over during my time with them I thought of this passage from the 25th chapter of the gospel of Matthew.
Then shall the King say unto them on his right hand, Come, ye blessed of my Father, inherit the kindgdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:
For I was an hungred and ye gave me meat: I was thirsty, and ye gave me drink: I was a stranger, and ye took me in:
Then shall the righteous answer him, saying, Lord, when saw we thee an hungred, and fed thee? or thirsty, and gave thee drink? When saw we thee a stranger, and took thee in? or naked, and clothed thee?
And the King shall answer and say unto them, Verily I say unto you, Inasmuch as ye have done it unto one of the least of these my brethren, ye have done it unto me.
My daughter and I were complete strangers to Lisa and her family. Our Italian friends were strangers to them as well. But that didn’t matter. She took all of us in, fed us and cared for us. I remain so touched and grateful for all that she did and is doing for me and for my friends. I know I’ll never be able to pay her back, but I do hope that the next time I have the opportunity to help a stranger, I will remember her example and do my best to clothe, feed, and care.
Earlier this month I decided to acquaint my seven year old daughter, Hattie, with the infamous Anne-girl of the carrot
red hair. I just couldn’t wait any longer. I loved the Anne of Green Gables series when I was young, and any of L.M. Montgomery’s books I could find. Returning now with my daughter and finding Anne waiting for us in the pages of a book has been like reuniting with an old and dear friend.
At first I worried that Hattie might be a little young to understand the language and nuances of the book, but she follows closely along with every turn of the page. Tonight her eyes widened with horror when Josie Pye dared Anne to walk the ridgepole of Diana Barry’s roof, and when Anne broke her ankle and was bedridden, Hattie wanted to know, “Did Gilbert come to visit her?”
A favorite moment in our reading came the other night when we met Diana’s spinster aunt, Josephina Barry. In spite of Miss Barry’s boorish reputation and her imposing demeanor, Anne opens her heart to the older woman. This causes Miss Barry’s icy facade to melt away, and the two discover a surprising new friendship. That night when Anne returns home to Green Gables, she confides to Marilla, “Miss Barry was a kindred spirit, after all . . .You wouldn’t think so to look at her, but she is. . . Kindred spirits are not so scarce as I used to think. It’s splendid to find out there are so many of them in the world.”
Those words ended the chapter, and as I closed the book Hattie looked at me and asked, “Do I have any kindred spirits?” We talked about special friends she has had over the course of her life, and then I tucked her into bed. But as I left her room I asked myself the same question. “Who have been my kindred spirits?”
The first to come to my mind was Teresa.
I met Teresa during my time as a missionary for the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. I was twenty-one. She was sixty years my senior. A white-haired woman living in Trieste, an Italian city that borders Slovenia. A city with hills so steep and wind so strong that handrails line the sidewalks — thick chains strung between iron posts.
Teresa was a member of the Mormon church, but was too old and frail to make the long trek to church on Sundays. So I would go and visit her each week with my companion, another missionary my age, and we would bring a message to share with her. Something that we hoped would be uplifting, strengthening in some way.
I learned right away that if anyone had strength to share, it was Teresa.
She would watch for us out her window, waiting for our arrival on the rattling bus that transported us around the city. There was always a hot meal waiting for us inside, and mugs full of rich, steaming cocoa. I had just arrived to Italy when I met her, and hardly knew any Italian. She didn’t know any English. But we both knew the songs of Ella Fitzgerald, and we first bonded over those bright, bouncy tunes.
In a way, those melodies we shared were a reflection of Teresa. She was as buoyant as the notes that float so effortlessly in Fitgerald’s vocals. She never complained about her health or her lonely life in her small, squarish apartment. She had a brightness to her that lifted her above the mundane. But at the same time that she floated buoyantly above discouragment, there was a deepness to her. A penetrating thoughtfulness and an anchoring strength.
On one of our visits, I asked Teresa if I could sing her a song from our church’s hymnal. She said yes and requested the hymn ”More Holiness Give Me.”
I was confused. I knew the song well. To me it represented all of my inadequacies — listing all the ways I failed to sanctify my life, and give precedence to spiritual matters. I felt the song was written for people like me, not for people like Teresa. In her tiny living room, sipping cocoa, I felt that if I could just open the right set of eyes I would see wisps of heaven trailing through the room, and angels moving among us.
But I had asked and she had answered. I sang the song.
More holiness give me,
More strivings within,
More patience in suff’ring,
More sorrow for sin,
More faith in my Savior,
More sense of his care,
More joy in his service,
More purpose in prayer.
More purity give me,
More strength to o’ercome,
More freedom from earth-stains,
More longing for home.
More fit for the kingdom,
More used would I be,
More blessed and holy
More, Savior, like thee.
She listened quietly, with her face turned to the window. She seemed to find solace in the words that I sang. I was glad. I would do anything I could to make her happy. But I still didn’t understand.
Not until now. Not until I thought about kindred spirits that night with Hattie, and remembered my surprise when Teresa asked me to sing the hymn. I realized Teresa spent her life working to have that holiness, that purity, patience and love. It was what she valued most. She wanted to hear me sing “More Holiness Give Me,” for the same reason that I thought she, of all people, didn’t need it: because it embodied all that she wanted most in life.
And in thinking about Teresa, I found this truth: we are what we value. It’s a familiar lesson: “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” But it became more poignant and meaningful when I recognzied it in the life of my kindred spirit.
I’m back. And I have ten minutes before my kids get home from school. But I’ll take it, because between Thanksgiving travels and upcoming Christmas travels things have been a little crazy around here. Impossible, really. Impossible because life is so busy, and impossible because my kids are so HYPER. But it is snowing outside today, the world is beautiful, and I am cranking Christmas music nonstop.
While I’ve been absent from my blog, I have been working on my young adult novel (no – there are no vampires). I’m so close to the end that it is both thrilling and terrifying. Thrilling because it is turning out so much better than I ever could have planned. Terrifying because I have so much hope and anguish tied up in it. It is precious to me!
I started this book way too many years ago to honestly confess, but here is a clue: The second semester of my senior year in college I was workshopping with Andre Dubus III. He was trying to get us to open ourselves up to our own creative potential – to unlock the imagination and let it take our writing places we might never go without it. I had been trying all semester to script flat stories where I made my characters say things or symbolize things that I wanted to communicate, and it wasn’t working. By the time Spring Break arrived, I had nothing.
I was married my senior year of college, but my husband was busy at a high-intensity consulting boutique and couldn’t take any time off during my break, so I bought a ticket to Italy and went alone. I spent the week quietly traversing the crooked, busy streets of Florence, hiking through the terraced hills of Cinque Terre, and eating tons of food with my friends in Padova. On my return flight to Boston, I had nothing.
So I closed my eyes, used every effort to block out the very loud tour group seated around me, and tried to lose myself to my imagination. In my mind a scene opened up. It was an outdoor Italian market. There was a fruit stand, full of ripe oranges. And then a girl appeared. She reached her hand out toward the oranges, took one, and ran out of the market, disappearing down the crooked alleys. That was my idea. I couldn’t believe it. My imagination had given me a shop-lifter. But I decided to trust it, and here I am, a decade later, finishing up a story that is just so beautiful to me I can hardly stand it.
Thinking about it on my way home from the preschool drop-off this morning I realized that there were three crucial components that initiated this long, laborious, rewarding process. The first was the deadline. I have come to be very grateful for deadlines. The second was the imagination. I had to take the risk of letting my creative side have precedence, even if just for a moment, before I could do anything real or resounding with my writing. The third was the focus. The willingness to trust the creative part of me and pursue it. Years later I find the same three things to be absolutely necessary to me accomplishing anything: deadlines, imagination, and focus.
The kids are home now, looking for mom. Which brings me to this admission: my deadlines are always flexible, my imagination is most active in the shower, and my focus runs in short, madly sprinting spurts!