Italy – 5

7-31-06

 I am sitting down in the tall grass that covers sections of the Italian Alps. The purple wild blossoms surrounding me tickle my arms as I write. In front of me is an elderly priest, dressed in the classic Italian white t-shirt, high-waisted grey pants and a gold chain. He is speaking in seasoned Italian about Christ to the 26 of us resting beside the trail. Behind him is the spectacular Monterosa, her valleys blanketed with snow, and her peak so tall it is hidden from view by billowing clouds. To my left is an expansive valley shadowed in blue and green, framed by a deep blue cloud-speckled sky. Far, far below is the humble town of Macugnaga, my home for the month of August 2006, with its metal church steeples reflecting in the light of the sun. An ice-cold mounting river flows straight through the middle of the village, growing in size as it is joined by water from the various glacier run-off waterfalls deep in the crevices of the mountain.

From here I can see the distance we have climbed. As I recuperate, I feel proud to have accomplished such a hike. I laugh as I look at my plaid pants and hiking boots borrowed from Piera, knowing I probably would not have made it here in my usual shorts and flip flops. Now, our group is singing a joyful Catholic hymn and as the song carries up to the heavens, I imagine that it probably doesn’t have to travel very far to get there.

We’ve moved on now, to our final stop where there will be a mountaintop mass, then we’ll descend a different way than we came up. We are stopped at a small stone house quite a ways up the mountain. The woman who owns it brought out hot tea and lemons for our whole group. Such a warm gesture of hospitality after such an exhausting trek. The weather up here is cool enough that it is actually quite nice, sipping this warm tea. Next to the small house, there is a fresh mountain spring where I refilled my water bottle. Arrowhead has got NOTHING on a spring in the Alps!

As I sit here on the stone steps of this very old house, I glance over to the rugged woman who owns it and I wonder about her life. Does she receive mail? Does she live here year-round? Does she know what email is? So many questions I’d like to ask this person who lives a life so very different from mine. I would bet it is nice to have church come to you rather than going to church. I wonder if she would even survive in the brutal corporate world of California. That world seems so far from this peaceful place; almost like another planet. Although the only life I’ve known is the rush and hurry of Southern California, as I rest in this masterpiece of God, the busyness I know so well seems completely futile. Here, there is no need to think about what I wear or what I have to do next. I simply enjoy the moment here now, and realize I may never have an opportunity like this again. The breathtaking sights I see today will be etched in my mind and heart for the rest of my life. That I know for sure.

What is equally as beautiful as the mountain views is the warmth and friendliness of every person on this hike. There is the elderly priest, Mauricio, leading the way even in his old age. Then there is Elena, the learned professor, and even Andrea, the ten year old avid hiker from Lago Maggiore. They all treat me like I am family; smiling, joking; sharing their food. It’s amazing how KINDNESS has a way of turning complete strangers into instant friends. Here I am on the other side of the world, where everything familiar to me is far away, yet I am treated as if I’ve lived here my whole life.

In one short month, I will be back to my daily grind of school, work and family, and though I will appreciate those things more than I ever have, I will also be able to look back on a summer of growth, of learning a new culture, of making new friends, of making an impact on a family, of experiencing amazing, never-to-be-repeated adventures, of maturing, of learning new pain, of learning new joy, of being alone, of trusting solely in Christ, and finally, of getting to know MYSELF a little bit better.

When I really think about what I’m experiencing here, it’s nothing short of miraculous. The number of people who get to do what I’m doing at this moment is so incredibly few…. yet here I am, taking it all in. And on top of that, the number of people who get an opportunity to impact young lives, or even an entire family the way I am able to is so few. I’d better begin taking this chance more seriously. I want to stop regretting and start taking hold of each opportunity. Lord, THANK YOU for giving little old me the chance of a lifetime. I will do my best not to put it to waste, but to live it to the very fullest.

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