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February 2008

Hank

“How was Rome?”

hankfaceSince returning from Rome, every old friend that I have run into has asked me some variation of the question “So…how was Rome?” I’ve tried to vary my answers. A simple ‘good’ seems a wholly inadequate response, so sometimes I pause for a moment, look my friend in the eye, and lower my voice to add emphasis. Sometimes I try a different adjective; ‘wonderful’ and ‘amazing’ have been favorites. Sometimes, when I’m really feeling saucy, I throw in an adverb like ‘very’. Hyperbole, hand gestures, and everything short of haiku have been tried; yet I am certain that none of my friends has left our short exchange with any better sense of my semester in Rome than before they asked the question.
Setting aside for the moment the inherent difficulty in summing up four months abroad in a single, carefully-chosen adjective, I believe some of the difficulty I am having conveying what my time in Rome meant for me is that I, myself, do not know. It is often said that spending time abroad will for anyone be a “life-changing experience”. I am not sure sort of change is implied in such a saying. If the change meant is a new financial outlook on life, one of frustration with the American dollar, then the saying holds true. But if the change implied is more personal in nature, a fundamental change in who I am, then I should pass it off as mere sophistry, because it could hardly be further from the truth.
We were warned during the homily of a 5 a.m. Mass given by our chaplain Fr. Carola the morning we were to leave that returning home would be like waking from a dream (and given my track record during Fr. Carola’s homilies, I was likely dreaming at the time as well). So it has been. I’ve returned to St. Paul and to classes as if it were any other semester. Looking back upon the semester, I sometimes wonder if it really happened. Being in Rome seems such a distant reality.
Yet, it is not. Very clearly I remember my times there, even if they seem as though from a different life. Very clearly do I remember the Missionaries of Charity and the Little Sisters of the Lamb, the Pope and the Vatican, restaurants and train rides, Bernardi and the twenty seven wonderful people with whom all these fond memories are inextricably tied up. I can recognize points where I’ve grown. My time in Rome did not change who I am; I am still the same person who God first created 21 short years ago. In fact, I am more so that person, because God has never stopped creating and during the past few months he has been hard at work.
Someday, when God finally stops creating, hopefully He looks upon me and sees precisely the person He created. Then I will see Him face-to-face. He will show me my life, and I will finally, fully understand what He was up to. For the moment, I can only look back upon the surface of four months of experience and see that it was, indeed, ‘good’.