May 26, 2013
"Delayed!" "Delayed!" "Delayed!" The ugly red words flashed again and again, all over the flight information monitor, confirming what I could already see - torrents of rain were pelting the gigantic plate glass windows of the terminal where I stood clutching my bags. The anticipation of this trip, the months of detailed preparation and language lessons in my rare free moments, the monumental task of getting all five children settled temporarily into four different homes - nature obliviously disregarded all of my efforts and had preempted my well-laid plans. I was hesitant at first to accept this news. Surely, they could reroute us through another city? Maybe the connecting flight to Rome would be delayed also? If we ran at full speed through the next airport, could we possibly make the 15 minute connecting time after all? Finally, reluctantly, I accepted the disappointing reality: Our trip to Italy to celebrate our 20th wedding anniversary would have to wait, at least for another 24 hours. We returned home to our empty house to wait.
Twenty years! Where did they go? Wasn't it just yesterday when I said, "I do" to this man? When we promised to love and cherish each other, in sickness and in health, until death parted us? The Lord brought our lives together that day and He proclaimed, "That's love." Or, if God speaks Italian, he would have said, "That's amore!"
Like married couples everywhere, we have experienced the good with the bad, the laughter and the tears, the affection and irritation, the commitment to press on and the temptation to give up. And through it all, we have become a team, partners, amici, friends.
And yet, somewhere in between “I do” and “What am I going to do today?”, we sometimes get lost in the busyness of life. He has his demanding job. I’ve got the craziness of corralling kids and keeping a home. I get this nagging feeling in the back of my mind sometimes, wondering, Who will we be when the kids are grown and it’s time for retirement? Will we have anything to talk about, anything in common with each other? We were about to get a small taste of life without children. Well, if the weather and the airlines cooperated, that is.
Okay, day two. Let's try this again . . . mechanical failure causing another delayed flight; the scramble to get re-booked in time to make our connection; a sigh of relief when our plane finally took off; a long, sleepless night of turbulence, cramped legs, and stiff necks as we crossed the Atlantic; arriving in Rome with no luggage. What was supposed to be the trip of a lifetime, a chance for us to reconnect and celebrate, wasn't exactly starting out too well.
If I hadn't been so disappointed when our flight was delayed, exhausted after the 18 hour delay, and disoriented at being in a foreign country without a change of clothes or even a toothbrush, perhaps I would have noticed that this trip was a reflection of our 20 years together. How many times have we made our plans, assuming things would turn out a certain way, only to have the Lord show us that what we had anticipated was not what he had in mind for us? Our plans to raise a family together took an unforeseen detour when we became foster parents and when we adopted our children instead of adding to our family in the traditional way. It wasn't a lesser route, or even a second-best journey; it was just different than the one we had envisioned. It was God's way of surprising us with the unexpected.
And like arriving far from home without our luggage, how often have we found ourselves in strange, unfamiliar territory without the tools to move forward? Children in our home with behaviors that we have no idea how to handle. Navigating the social services system without a roadmap. Pressing on through hectic days without a chance to rest, regroup, freshen up, and get our bearings. Parenting can be difficult under the best of circumstances, but when you find yourself ill-equipped and unprepared for the needs of a child whom you have only just met, it can be exhausting and humbling. It has a way of turning intelligent, high-functioning adults into tourists, bumbling and disoriented.
Despite the rocky beginning, our trip to Italy turned into an adventure, a wonderful journey that we were able to fully enjoy together. As we explored the Coliseum and tossed coins into the Trevi Fountain in Rome; toured the Renaissance art, sculptures, and architecture of Florence; hiked between the coastal towns of Cinque Terre; and got lost along the winding canals of Venice; we were able to put the pressures of our many other roles aside, and just enjoy holding hands. Being together.
During the trip, my husband and I also rediscovered our teamwork. Together we figured out confusing train schedules at the stazione; we took turns carrying our heavy day-pack filled with maps, local currency, biscotti (that's like an Italian energy bar, right?), and a water bottle that we refilled often at the many ancient fountains around the city; and almost every day we shared spoonfuls of creamy gelato. We were truly travel companions.
I consider myself to be well-organized, optimistic and out-going, and fairly confident. However, I have also been humbled to learn that I am not always as autonomous and strong as I like to think I am. When things didn’t exactly go as planned, I so appreciated this man that the Lord has given me. One day when we had forgotten to bring along our umbrella, we got caught in a sudden down-pour . . . my hero husband dodged puddles and searched through the town shops until he found a new one for me. When we arrived at a little village along the rocky coast, we had to climb hundreds of steep, slippery stone steps to reach our rented room . . . my strong man carried my bags for me. And one evening, at a quaint trattoria along a little side street, he proved what a selfless gentleman he is when he volunteered to trade dishes with me when I inadvertently ordered something that didn't taste as I had expected it would. I'm sure I would have survived the trip on my own, but traveling with him by my side definitely made me feel protected, secure, and loved.
In life, as well as in travel, I have been thankful many times for my husband’s strength, support, and encouragement. Sometimes, when I find myself in over my head, and all I can think about is giving up on a difficult, troublesome child, he encourages me to continue and finish well. He offers me breaks from the daily stresses, even if it’s only the rare opportunity to go to the market all by myself, or to have a week-end getaway with my older children. At other times, when my mama instinct says, “Yes, I want to care for this child whose story is so tragic!” . . . his is the voice of reason, caution, and wisdom. He is the sense to my sensibility.
Besides the sights and monuments, buildings and statues, it was a joy to meet interesting people during our trip, and to be reminded of the universal nature of the human spirit. Like the brilliant history scholar, well-versed in Latin, who is convinced that if he lives a good life (Sunday through Friday; Saturday night doesn’t count), then he will earn God’s favor and possibly be allowed into heaven. Or the middle-aged tour guide who is concerned that the history and culture of her city is being lost to the tourists and cruise ships. Or the young couple who are in the final stages of the adoption process, and are anxiously awaiting the arrival of their two new children. (I found out from them that the Italian word for foster mother is “madre in affidataria,” which means mother who has been entrusted. What a beautiful phrase, a reminder that it is an honor and a privilege to be entrusted with someone else’s children to care for and to love!) The Lord intimately knows and cares about people everywhere, including those vibrant, passionate, beautiful Italians.
We shared so many magical, memorable moments . . . In Rome: stumbling upon a small family-owned pizzeria, and tasting freshly-baked pizza with creamy buffalo mozzarella, the crust slightly salty and perfectly crunchy. Gazing at the enormous Basilica di San Pietro, admiring Michelangelo’s masterful design that has inspired worshippers for centuries. In Tuscany: sipping cappuccino on a terrace overlooking the tile roofs, domed churches and surrounding hillsides, the scent of lemon and lavender in the air. In Venice: strolling through Piazza San Marco at night, mesmerized by the lights of the cathedral reflecting in the water. Watching couples dance to the familiar songs played by a small orchestra just outside a café that’s been there since the 1700’s. Hearing children laughing as they play with the little trinkets that their parents bought for them from a local street vendor.
In Cinque Terre: The sun was just setting, reflecting brilliant golden light onto the tiny village that had been built right into the rugged hillside. It was so beautiful, it seemed as if it had leapt right off the pages of a storybook. We were in the coastal area called Cinque Terre (Five Lands), which consist of five small towns that are only accessible by boat, train or by hiking trail. Between two of these towns is a path called “la via dell’amore”, the path of love. Like many lovers before us, we winded along the path, enjoying the panoramic view of the waves crashing against the rocky coastline below. Just as the sun was setting behind the hillside, we found a perfect spot along the path. We removed the lock from our bag (my thoughtful husband had specially-ordered one just for the occasion), secured it to a nearby railing, and then together, tossed the key into the sea. It was truly a romantic, magical moment! It was a physical, visual symbol of the commitment we made twenty years ago . . . a promise to each other that no matter what happens, no matter what life brings our way, the key is forever in the sea, never to be retrieved. Our love is securely, irrevocably locked.
Our Italian vacation resembled our life together in many ways: a few disappointments, the occasional bump in the road. However, those “light and momentary troubles” pale in comparison to the amazing adventures and life-long memories that we make along the way! And honestly, there’s no one else I’d rather be on this incredible journey with, enjoying the adventure and experiencing the magic. I can only say “Grazie!” to the Lord for the life and love He has given us to share. That’s amore!