Tuesday, October 04, 2011

I Remember Ten Years Ago Tonight

I was sitting at JFK airport in New York City awaiting my flight to Rome, Italy. Ten years ago today, I took my first trip to that amazing, wonder-filled country. Yesterday I pulled out my journal from that trip and reread parts of it. Here are a few of the highlights from that momentous night.

October 4, 2001 - 6:18 pm - I'm sitting at a table at JFK, watching flights take off. Thinking. Praying. Incredulous about being here. Leaving here. But very excited. So many wonderful people, sights, meals, museums, and experiences await me. I am thrilled. I anxiously await and anticipate a life-changing experience for all 5 of my senses and for the most important sense of all: my heart and soul. 

I remember vividly how tense we all were, all the passengers at JFK, just a few short weeks after the horrors of September 11th. No one complained about the new inconveniences related to boarding flights. No one minded being scanned and wanded and asked a dozen questions. Those of us who awaited Alitalia Flight 611 departing at 7:40 that Thursday evening sat quietly, nervously, eyeing one another, measuring each other up, trying not to look too nervous and hoping that no one around us looked excessively nervous. Fear hung thick in the air.

The approaching sound of women's voices speaking rapidfire Italian began to fill the waiting area. It sounded like a posse of very energetic and happy women. To my great delight, it was a group of nuns, all in their habits, simple carry-on bags in hand, plain black sweaters over shoulders, sensible shoes underfoot. A collective sigh of relief went up from everyone in the area. We all knew that we would be fine. If there was going to be a gaggle of nuns on board, then there was also a cloud of saints flying with us. I laughed at how silly that line of thinking was, but I also embraced it as an implicit promise from God. I mean, how could God let an entire gaggle of nuns go down in flames somewhere out over the Atlantic Ocean, on their way back to the Vatican, no less?

The flight crew is being processed. I like the looks of Italian people already. My God, this is gonna be people watching at its very best. Thank God for dark sunglasses. I'm so glad I decided to go thru with the trip, that I didn't back out. This is gonna be really good for me. Excellent. Just said my final goodbyes to Steve. He's so amazing. Beyond amazing. No fear, it seems, at letting me go. Possibly losing me. Amazing. I need to treat him better. 

7:50 pm - On board: mother and son team, interracial couple with a new baby, a gaggle of nuns, 4 black women on a journey. I'd love to talk to them. Maybe I will.

I didn't talk to anybody on the flight, except to my journal. Which is filled with such funny little details, questions, hopes, dreams, prayers, descriptions of the flight attendants, other passengers, the "dinner of tasteless fish," and a summary of the book I was reading on the flight, a book I still take with me on every overseas journey, The Way of the Traveler. I read it for the first time on that flight. I have since bought a second copy because I underlined so much and written so much in the margins.

Ten years ago right now, I was sitting at the airport awaiting a flight that would take me to a country that, second only to Spain, is my favorite country in the world. The art, the architecture, the churches and duomos (cathedrals), the language, the people, the food - I loved it all. I wept copiously at the beauty, the history, the trees, the gardens, the sunlight, the way light bounced off of fountains and church facades, the small cups of powerful espresso, the dainty heels on the well-heeled and spectacularly dressed women, and the breath-taking beauty of Italy's handsome men. The respectful way in which the people lived in, across from, and behind buildings that were hundreds of years old reminded me that there are people in the 21st century who care about history, who care about preserving their history, and who welcome others into their ancient way of life - it all awed me.

I remember that there were many times on that trip when I would sit on the back pew of a church, on the steps leading up to a cathedral, on a bench outside of a museum, or at a table outside of a caffe and close my eyes, soaking in the sounds and smells of the place. I would open my eyes and make a list of everything I saw, smelled, heard, felt, and even the smoke that I would often taste wafting through the air. Those lists, those passages are some of my favorite momentos of that journey.

Every one of the ten nights I spent in Italy, in Florence and in Rome, when I lay down to sleep, exhausted, foot-sore after hours and hours of walking, I would close my eyes and, smiling broadly in the darkness, I would say some variation on the same theme: "Thank you, Lord, for every minute of this. Every single minute of it."

One truth penned on that flight ten years ago tonight still rings true: I need to treat Steve better.

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