God speaks Italian - did you know that? Oh how He loves to speak it. He loves to let those words wash over His people as they totter through the cobblestone streets of Orvieto, and Roma, and Fiorenze. He loves to shower them with flowing Italian in San Bernadino, the Duomo di Orvieto, in Santa Maria Sopra Minerva, in Santa Maria Novella... And so in Italy, in Italian, English, Polish, sign language, and the most wonderful language of all - silence - I hear God speaking.
Rilke tells me that the "point is to live everything." That's why when questions are unresolved in our heart we are to love the questions themselves, not be angry or upset that the answer has not arrived. Rilke tells me that I do not have answers because I cannot live them yet. And so I ask, "Why Italy, Father?" Why this Piazza Giuseppe Garibaldi, with its luxurious vision of the city at my back, the sun beaming its way through stray shirts on the line, green plants on rooftops, twinkling trees in bloom? Why this overwhelming love as the air cools my face, soothes my anxieties (there are so many of them) and nudges me forward to see basilica domes peeking above the brightly colored buildings? How can anyone bear to leave Italy? Why must I leave, I ask myself.
And the question is unresolved in my heart, right next to the question of leaving DC, of leaving, generally. Why must we go? Why must we separate from places we love and people we love, tear off corners of our heart and plant them deep into soil we may never tiptoe again? I find at the end of every journey, however short and seemingly insignificant, I must return into my heart and tear off this piece for the place I am leaving. I rip it slowly, each tear trying to be precise, and end up with jagged edges - not cut along dotted lines but cut like jigsaw puzzle pieces.
And as I stoop down to the cobbled streets in front of St. Peter's Basilica, I scratch open a little piece and leave the raggedy heart-piece behind, and I remember in a rush of warm delicious sadness all those other places and pieces - 8th St, Quantock Hills, Chartres, Le Volcan off the Place Monge in Paris, Waring's backstage area in the theatre, Jubilee Center in Montgomery, AL, the nightswimming hole in Austin, TX, Campobello Island picking up trash in fog and windy rain, Ebenezer's coffeehouse, the beach Dad and I always go to together, Grandpa's grave in Kentucky - spring up before me. How many heart pieces I have scattered all over this earth. Hello, I call out to them - hello, ache of return. Hello, heart wobbly and full.
And then I remember the most miraculous thing of all - that even as I messily tear off corners of my heart for Italy, God pours a little more love into me, fills me up beyond the brim of what I can bear, so that saying goodbye is sweet sorrow, full of the best kind of homesickness. It's the homesick of children hungry for Narnia, for the Aslan who calls "all times soon." It's the homesick of cups of cocoa by a fire you built remembering your dad, or the homesick of a shirt that smells the special Mom-smell.
I can speak no answer into being - Rilke is right about that. But I carry the answer forward in cupped hands and we live the answer, the homesickness, the ever-filling of love even when we don't want it, even when we are cranky and jet-lagged and just wishing for a really good cappuccino and for someone to say, "I understand." He just keeps on loving until we burst with the love and it seeps from us into all of the corners of ordinary - of my room that needs cleaning and my reading that needs reading and my legs that need to take a walk and my hands that itch to write.
"Fear not, little flock, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom." - Luke 12.32. Sitting on this airplane, cramped up in the seat with children fussing and moms wearied and teenagers plugged into their own quiet worlds, I hear these words and I think, am I afraid to take pleasure in gifts? Am I afraid to receive the life, this dolci vita, this gorgeous broken beautiful life in my hands? And Jesus gently scolds away my fears - for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the kingdom. He delights in giving gifts, even the hard ones of homesickness and confusion and sadness - because they lead to Him, always to Him, the Giver of Life.
And so I'm looking for vita as our plane bumps down and my handwriting scrawls big on the pages of this journal. Life, in its fullness and its rich sweet hard things. Vita in lazy Italian breezes and heavy New England snows, in the passing of winter into spring, the emergence of new friends and the challenges of holding tight to the ones I already love.
Look with me - for there is so much to see that we need to look together to glimpse it all.