RETROSPECTIVE ON FLORENCE,
I write to you on the eve of my departure from Italy
with optimism as I reflect on the year past and
the year ahead. I also am looking forward with anticipation
to my return to California. Yet I leave Italy
with my heart filled with so many beautiful stories
of life among
this immensely devotional, loyal
group of people. The Italian way of life is so much slower – and
less logical - than our American way of living. This opened my mind
to a wider range of what is "acceptable" – and helped me
learn what is truly important.
I learned that life goes on even if you have to buy your train ticket at
the station’s Lost & Found, or face an hour wait at the ticket
window. And that it’s okay when the only place you can buy a bus
ticket is in a tobacco store. Forget about buying a stamp at the post office.
stamp at the tobacco store too. And I learned that when all offices and
stores close for the month of August so that progress as we know it comes
to a virtual
standstill, life goes on. And I found that nothing happens when the
prices of common items in stores change daily based on the mood of the
weather (literally) and whether the cashier likes you. Even with the apparent
life is fine just the same.
Yet despite the quirks, Italy is a place where it is practically impossible
to go hungry or to be without a home. I will never forget the day I was sitting
in a restaurant and an obviously penniless person walked in. She was ushered
to a table, served in complete dignity and she was not expected to pay. This
level of care is quite common. It also is not uncommon for companies to keep
beds in empty offices for employees who need a place to sleep. And once a
company hires a person, no matter what the person’s performance, the
person will never be fired. Even if a person is ill and can never return
to work, he or
she will forever remain on the payroll.
Along with the sense of humanity, the sense of humility is quite strong
too. For example, the word for "I" in Italian is "io," but
it is never capitalized. In contrast, the formal way to say "you" is "Lei," and
it is always upper case. Incidentally, when the Italians get to know you,
you are reduced to "tu," which is back to lower case.
The Italian sense of history is also quite expanded. When we think of history,
we think in terms of decades. We speak of the "60s" or the "70s".
The Italians would never refer to a decade in the same shorthand we use.
When the Italians abbreviate a period of time, they will say that a building
or a statue was sculpted in the 500s or the 600s, meaning the 1500s or
1600s. When Italians speak of what we would consider the ancient past,
they speak of it
as if it is yesterday – and they speak proudly. The Italians have
done an incredible job of physically preserving their history going back
(pre-Roman), Roman and Renaissance times, in protecting the natural environment
and in carrying on tradition. I think this may be the
only place I
have ever routinely heard people in the streets whistling Vivaldi.
Aside from experiencing many incredibly beautiful, spiritual and well-preserved
spaces in Tuscany and Umbria, I also had the opportunity to get to know
the hearts and minds of many Italian people on a deeper level through my
I know that many of their stories have touched me
and I hope in some way my work here in the last year has made even a small
I also want to take this occasion to extend my personal
prayers and wishes to all of you!
Blessings for love & light,