I had a bit of an inspirational moment today, so bear with me. I couldn’t help but picture a well-known baboon sitting on top of a tree. He rose to catch some seedlings from the air, examined those wind-blown portents inside his tree house, bit into some fruit, and it dawned on him: “He’s alive! He’s alive! It is time.” He laughed and ran to an old picture of a little lion on his wall. As a final touch, he drew a mane on the little lion, making it into a big one. In a similar, yet less maniacal way, I have become well aware that “it is time” to recognize the sifting Rome-based thoughts in my head—the ones about just what last semester was. In a way, I’m putting the finishing touches on my Rome reflections: putting the mane on the lion.
You might be wondering why this has taken me so long. That’s a valid concern. I have spent the last couple months settling back into American culture, have been posed question after question about my European experience by curious family and friends, and have been increasingly dissatisfied with my answers and reflections on the topic. How can I sum up what has been one of the most life-changing time-periods in my entire (admittedly short) life? How can I possibly use limited words to describe so many experiences even I don’t fully grasp yet? How can I adequately testify to things that can only been seen first-hand or personally learned and embraced? In short, I can’t. And that key realization, more than anything, now leaves you free to read and me free to write.
As I promised, I’d like to briefly allude to Cinco de Mayo (aka, Quattro a Maggio—we held festivities a day early and in Italy). It was great and fostered a lot of fun and handmade-tortilla-making.
But, back to my main reflections…
I remember going on a few past vacations and excursions with my family or my friends, as well as a couple trips for school. No place I’ve been has left such a deep imprint on my consciousness and my heart as the Eternal City. Fittingly, since there is not a day that passes when I don’t think of it and remember, I think it will be on my mind forever. When remembering, I often smile.
One of my most bittersweet memories explains much of the impact Rome had on me. What felt like a couple hours (and wasn’t far from a couple hours) after our last final, those of us who had slept at all woke up. We did the last checks of our rooms, weighed our suitcases for the last time, attended our last Mass together in Bernardi, and many of us found ourselves awaiting outgoing rides while standing inside the Bernardi gates. We hugged, we said goodbye, and I hoarded about 5 packs of Kleenex for the bus ride to the airport and flight out from it. Once aboard the bus, a much smaller group of us drove past St. Peter’s Square for the last time. I used a tissue.
I spent a couple hours of the long plane ride reading and re-reading the encouraging and affirming words of many of the 33 people I lived with for 4 months. We kept one small notebook in every mailbox downstairs so the Bernardians could write to each other. By some miracle (maybe because I was so busy studying and squeezing sight-seeing in the last few days) I had successfully saved the first reading of those words for my flight home. I expected to cry as I read them—I had all the armies of Kleenex at the ready. And, instead, I simply laughed.
I laughed with the joy that comes from an understanding of how ridiculously blessed I was, and am, to have known these people, to have been quite literally embraced by the Church and to have been loved by the Trinity. Most especially, I laughed with the bittersweet joy brought by an empty tabernacle in Bernardi’s Chapel. Something beautiful had indeed ended there, but Christ, His mercy and His torrents of grace went with us.
It’s admittedly harder to laugh these days. In many ways it’s much easier to see and believe in Catholic-infused Rome; the Church’s heartbeat is very loud at its center. It’s easier to stay in touch when people are near and it’s easier to pray when my schedule comes with prayer time already built in. However, it would not have made sense for the 34 of us to stay. And so, the adventure goes on for all Bernardians: those of the past, and those of the future….
Speaking of future Bernardians, here’s our advice (compiled by the Spring of 2013 Bernardians pre-departure from Rome; with advice they learned themselves or heard from wise Bernardians before them):
- Make memories. Stop every once in awhile and just soak in where you are and what you’re doing.
- Remember, even in Rome and abroad, you are still you and life is still real.
- Know thyself.
- Be brave and take smart risks.
- Eat gelato and lots of it.
- Speak Italian, even when people respond in English.
- Pack less than you think you need but still take along slippers, vanilla extract, baking soda, baking powder, peanut butter and a semester’s worth of Cheetos…
- Be intentional with your time, in your relationships with others in the house, etc.
- Spend your time with the real, live people around you, not your computer.
- Make an effort to organize community events (i.e., Talent Show, Monte Cassino, Cinco de Mayo, etc.). They tend to bring out the best of household gifts and friendships.
- Ditch the camera, at least every once in awhile.
- Do your homework, kind of…
- Shout this every chance you get: “Viva il Papa!”
- Get to know the saints, especially Mary and St. Peter.
- Speaking of saints, seek out relics- they are everywhere!
- Bring comfortable walking shoes!
- Take some days just to look around.
- Don’t buy the roses (just smell them).
- Your umbrella will probably break…
- …but still bring/buy an umbrella (or mooch off others!).
- People are more important than places, which are more important than things.
- Always be patient and kind with the Italians and remember you are their guest.
- Try not to rip your pants.
- St. Peter’s has been around for a long time. It’s not going anywhere, so enjoy other Churches too.
- Bring shorts. No one thinks you’re European anyways.
- Don’t ever leave your Facebook open.
- Go to the station Churches in Lent- they’re worth getting up early for!
- Rome is so dynamic; don’t come with too many set expectations.
- Don’t rely too much on advice (Ironic, isn’t it?). Make the semester your own.
Grazie a mille for reading the blog this past semester. I have enjoyed the opportunity to think deeply and to type vigorously. I hope the reflections herein have shed light on incredibly blessed adventures and given glory to the Author of all. I also hope you feel joy after reading, and that you keep up with the semesters and semesters of Bernardians to come. Be assured of my prayers and thanks for any of yours.
Finally, a special shout-out to Mom for putting up with my lateness (but, really, what would you expect from Italy?! 🙂 )! Mwah! Mwah!
Ciao ciao, a tutti!