Did you hear about the time I accidentally kissed my husband’s boss’s wife on the lips?
More on that special moment later…
We have recently returned from a week-long trip to Europe. As many of you know, our younger daughter is studying abroad in the Netherlands this semester. Additionally, my husband’s company is owned by an Italian company, so several times a year, he travels to Milan for a board meeting. These unique circumstances, combined with some frequent flyer miles and the freedom of my empty nest, spelled “trip to Europe” for this lucky lady.
At the top of the list of my very favorite things is the opportunity to explore a new city. Having never been to Amsterdam or Milan, I had no choice but to turn to my boyfriend Amazon Prime and order 2, ok actually 3, guidebooks. I carried my beloved guidebooks with me everywhere the week before our trip, poring over the various maps and must-see lists. When the desk person in any hotel asks “would you like a map?” my answer is always an enthusiastic yes. All maps are treasure maps to me.
Not wanting to turn this into the blog version of you watching my vacation slideshow, here are a just a few nuggets I have gleaned from my travels:
There are A LOT of people in the world. My favorite part of being in a new city is the opportunity to immerse myself in the vibrant energy which makes each city unique. In my opinion, this is best done on foot. The traditions, the language, the food, the architecture and the history of each city make up the sights, sounds and smells which beg to be explored and experienced. Because of my husband’s work obligations, I had several occasions to explore on my own. First in Milan, and then in Amsterdam, I had long stretches of time to wander through the streets of these beautiful, old cities and watch the people while I enjoyed the sights. So many, many people. I was struck time after time by the stories represented by the faces I passed. People with joys and heartaches, people with jobs they love and jobs they hate, people with complicated families and messy relationships, people who love, play, struggle, hurt, grieve, and celebrate just like me and you. Wouldn’t it be something to hear all those stories?
The ancient story of humanity has been unfolding long before I arrived and will continue long after I am gone. I think as Americans we can become enamored by our own importance on the world stage. If I’m honest, I too fall prey to the arrogance of my own inflated significance. Yes, my story is important in my little corner of the world, but it is only one story in the sea of stories in which we swim. Looking up at the magnificent ceiling of a building built in the 1st century or walking down a street with cobbled stones laid in the 3rd century reminds me how brief my turn at the helm truly is. Did all those millions of souls who walked these paths before me grasp how quickly it passes or did they too live as if they had forever? I was reminded once again I would be wise to keep my eyes open so I don’t miss anything.
God’s presence has been constant throughout the unfolding story. I had the opportunity to spend time in two of the most beautiful cathedrals in the world, The Duomo in Milan and St. Mark’s Basilica in Venice. These magnificent houses of worship are overflowing with symbols and reminders of our Christian faith and the journeys of those who have come before us. While I was occasionally uncomfortable with the opulence and use of wealth displayed in the gold encrusted works of art, I was also grateful these fellow pilgrims felt compelled to worship the glory and magnificence of God in such majestic ways. Clearly, in their estimation, a big God deserved a BIG display of praise. While the cynical side of me might argue the resources used were more about the power of the church than the worship of God, there is the another part of me which celebrates a community who gathered artisans, craftsmen, and laborers to spend hundreds of years and the toil of several generations to create something which would stand testament to the glory of God for centuries to come. Standing in those cathedrals, I felt very small. Yet, I also felt a powerful connection to the great cloud of witnesses who had also stood in that very place worshiping their understanding of our mighty God. A small part of something very, very big and meaningful.
We are all mostly the same. Again, because of my husband’s work, I had the privilege of spending time over dinner with lovely Dutch and Italian people. Luckily, they all spoke English beautifully, so we were not limited by language barriers in any way. My husband’s work associates in Amsterdam were gracious and kind in answering my questions about the Dutch people and what they truly think of the Red Light District and the legalization of prostitution. For the record, interestingly enough, they reported the coffee shops where marijuana is sold and the Red Light establishments are mainly in business for the tourists. We talked about our children and our aging parents and the interesting places we had visited and hoped to visit in the future. They were proud of their beautiful city and pleased to share it with us.
In Italy, we had dinner with a number of my husband’s associates and found the same gracious hospitality. As I mentioned before, because my husband’s company is owned by an Italian corporation, one of the gentleman with us at dinner on this one particular evening was the President of the Italian company and thus, my husband’s boss. Anxious to not embarrass my hubby, I tried to behave myself and act like a grown up as I spent most of the evening visiting with the boss’s lovely and smart wife, Francesca, a college professor there in Milan. I was immediately put at ease when we discovered we both have 2 young adult daughters and most of the evening was spent talking about our girls and what the world is like in American and Europe for young people today. Her hopes for her daughters were the same as my hopes for my daughters- two middle age moms trying to find the right balance as we let go and watch our offspring take on the world.
The difficulty came when we were saying our goodbyes.
And we are also a bit different. In the Italian culture, it is customary to kiss on each cheek as a way of greeting and saying goodbye. I had watched this happen on several occasions at this point in our journey and felt certain I understood the basic protocol. Apparently however, there is an etiquette to which side you lean first of which I was unaware. I’m sure you see where this is going…
I leaned to my left as she leaned to her right and I awkwardly planted a kiss less than a half inch from her mouth! To cover up, I grabbed her firmly and gave her a big Texas bear hug. She was, of course, extremely kind and played along as if this happened to her routinely when the loud Americans come to town! Ciao baby!
Are you familiar with the phrase “you can dress her up, but you just can’t take her out?”:-)
Less than 48 hours after we arrived back in the states, we heard the news about Paris. I have no words to describe the anger, confusion, fear and deep sadness I feel as I watch this story unfold. However, as I think back on the extraordinary things I saw, the interesting places I visited and the beautiful and diverse faces I passed in the streets of these ancient cities, I believe the evidence still overwhelmingly points to the triumph of good over evil, the resilience of the human spirit and the presence of God in the midst of it all.
When God created the world, He said “It is good.” In my heart of hearts, I believe it still is.
If you would like to learn more about a variety of cities in Europe as seen through the eyes of a 19-year-old college student, my daughter Brooke is blogging her way through her semester abroad. She is a MUCH better writer than me and her mom thinks she is really funny. You can find her blog, Stroopwafel and Shower Shoes, here.