This week I’ve been transcribing interviews and sifting through photos from my time in Italy. I wrote this post right after I got back but had other things I wanted to share in those first few weeks of being home. Now seems like a good time to return to some of the things I experienced this summer and share them with you here on the blog.
I woke up at 4:45am (Italian time) on Monday June 17th and began my journey home. The day started with a cab ride to the train station. My friend accompanied me and made sure I got on the right train. I rode for an hour amidst commuters. As we neared Florence, I looked up at a man who had been sitting across from me throughout the ride. Excuse me, do you speak English? I asked. He did (his NFL shirt gave him away as American). He told me that ours was actually the next stop and then we chatted about writing, life in Texas and Virginia, and our travels. We shook hands as I got off the train and I began making my way to the airport shuttle. I couldn’t find it, though. I had a picture of it in my mind, I had been dropped off there just 10 days earlier, but I couldn’t find the shuttle. In my searching, I came across a monorail type vehicle that said airport (at least that’s what I assumed the Italian meant).…I climbed on and smiled at a college aged woman and asked her if this was in fact going to the airport. She smiled, said yes in Italian, and then ran with me all over the vehicle and its platform helping me buy a ticket. I thanked her profusely as she stepped off at her stop, the university. I arrived at the Florence airport about 4 hours early. (I didn’t see any reason to wander around Florence worrying about missing my flight—I had toured for a few hours when I arrived on the front end of the trip.) As I walked up to the check-in desk to get a printed boarding pass the agent looked at me and said I was very early. Then, he asked if I wanted to switch to a flight leaving in an hour. I said sure and thanks and was in Munich hours early with a nice connection time that allowed for a lunch of schnitzel and a short nap at my gate. 8 hours later, I landed in Washington, D.C. and Nick drove me home to Charlottesville. We rolled into our driveway at 10:45pm (4:45am Tuesday morning, Italian time) and I showered and crashed.
I received a ton of grace and hospitality as I made pilgrimage through Italy earlier this summer. This story of my journey home and all of the people that offered kindness and time out of their days, though, is one example of something I experienced deeply throughout my time on the Via Francigena.
My days walking in Italy were full of conversation, beauty, and connection, but they were also some of the most physically challenging I’ve experienced. I got bad blisters early on and had to fight through a lot of pain to finish each day I walked. I ended up taking a bus on two of the days to give my feet a break, which was humbling because I wanted to be able to do it all. I learned so much about listening to my body, allowing other people to care for me, and I got a taste of what it means to pray and receive strength when it seemed like I wouldn’t be able to take another step. I am grateful for my new friends who slowed their pace so that I could walk with them. I found myself overwhelmingly thankful for sleep and food and people sharing their stories and asking to hear mine, which helped keep my mind off the pain.
All of this has made me think about what it means to journey through life with other people; about how much we need each other and how so often I try to do it on my own and avoid being vulnerable. What I was reminded of while in Italy is how much richer and bearable and possible our journey through life is when we walk through it alongside one another.
My relatively short time on the Via Francigena formed me in profound ways, some of which I am just beginning to discover. I found God to be intimately present and faithful with each step I took. I found the people beside me on the journey to be generous and open and welcoming.
As I am home now I am thinking about the ways that I can choose a posture of pilgrimage each day and keep my eyes fixed on God whose presence is unwavering no matter where I am or what I face. I am thinking about how I can foster deep community and receive as well as offer hospitality. I am praying that the things I practiced and experienced and received while walking slowly through Tuscany will calcify and leave me forever changed.