Saturday, April 14, 2012

A letter to my dad...

I was inspired to write the following while visiting the Guggenheim Museum in Venice. I sent it to my dad and (with his permission) now share it with you.

Dear Dad,

Given your lack of technological savvy, I don't communicate with you much, but
that doesn't mean you are not traveling this journey with me.

You come to my mind often, especially as I see this piece of artwork or that
one. When I see sculptures of knights on horses, I wonder if you looked at that
particular sculpture when you were preparing to create your Bellarmine Knight.
Of course, I always think of you when I see Henry Moore's work. I smile when I
see anything related to Frida Kahlo, since I know you are not her greatest fan.
Sometimes I see pieces and something about them evokes your work or a period in
your artistic career. Today at the Guggenheim Museum in Venice a Marino Marini
and a Marc Chagall brought your spirit to me.

As I see these works and am reminded of you, I think about the battles you fight
with your ego, the sadness you sometimes feel because you don't have as much
talent as you'd like. Personally, I don't care. When I say that, I don't mean it
in a cold callous way. I mean this: you may not be the greatest artist to ever
live. Who cares? How many of us can ever claim to be the best _________? Very
few. And that's OK. You have spent your life developing your passion and your
talent and that is important because you have a lot of passion and a lot of

I once read something about artists' talent that compared it to currents of
water. All creative endeavors are like the water flowing throughout our world.
Some endeavors have the impact of oceans, others of rivers, or streams, or
trickles, or single drops. But don't discount the drops (and let me be clear
that you are most certainly not in the drop category). Without those drops,
trickles could never become streams or rivers, and without rivers and streams,
we'd have no oceans. Your talent has not only led to your own phenomenal art,
you have also let your passion wash over your students. Your passion has melted
the ice of their inhibitions, allowing them to join in the flow of creative

Think about the natural water that flows on our earth... Think about the natural
wonders that water has created over centuries and millennia, slowly carving our
earth and exposing beauty we wouldn't know existed were it not for water.
Artists do the same thing and often the impact of the artists, like that of the
water, isn't known until later. Through your work and your teaching, you are
doing the same. There is no way to measure how strong a current you have

Maybe you won't take this to heart because I am your daughter and you think I'm
saying it to be nice. Well, I see no point in saying things I don't believe. And
here I only have my iPod on which to write. The iPod battery only stays charged
so long and I wouldn't waste that charge on something unimportant. :)

So know that I love you and am grateful for the way your life has added to the
life-giving, creative spirit of the world. I am grateful to feel that spirit
flowing through me and washing over me.


Friday, April 13, 2012

All who wander are not lost...

After a post about a few of the times I was lost, let me wonder in writing about wandering...

Since I left Nablus, I have been Israel, in Turkey, now in Italy, soon in Spain, France, and the Netherlands.  Though most days I set out without a clear plan, the days seem to emerge just as they are meant to, always with unexpected beauty, sometimes sorrowful and sometimes joyful, often also with moments of  pure peace and contentment.

I think what I am enjoying most about this time is the walking. I have been walking and walking...and walking, regardless of what city or town or region I'm in... And I love it.

Today, for example, I arrived in Venice. Venice! It was a drizzly day, but I arrived early in the afternoon and I wanted to take advantage of my time. I'm leaving for Turin tomorrow (something I could not have told you had you asked me a few hours ago). I met an Argentinian woman at my hostel, a woman also fond of wandering, and we set off.  We wandered.  Mostly we marveled at the beauty of this city, took pictures, and shared stories.  We never once looked at a map.  She left eventually to find a friend and I kept wandering, still without looking at a map. I came across a really cool museum dedicated to the inventions of Leonardo da Vinci. The museum was full of models of his inventions, based on his drawings. Some of the models were interactive and I went through the museum, contentedly playing with whatever I was allowed to play with. The museum wasn't in my guidebook, so I'd likely have missed it had I left the hostel with a set itinerary. Tomorrow I have a few ideas about what I'll do, but will also allow for some good wandering.

Yesterday I was in Verona.  Verona is...just lovely. My plan wander.  I knew I wanted to go to the  Juliet places (her house and tomb, y'know, the ones of the fictional character) but other than that, I figured I'd just see where the day took me. In addition to the Juliet places, the day took me to the top of a bell tower, to an amphitheater and theater, to some fresh fruit, candied hazelnuts, gnocchi, wine, gelato, and pizza.  It took me over bridges and into churches. It took me through fog in the morning, warm sunshine in the afternoon, and light rain in the evening.  I was away from the hostel for 8 or 9 hours (of course, the hostel locks people out of the bedrooms for 8 hours, so I sort of had to be, but that's beside the point) and much of that time was spent walking.

In Assisi I had the pleasure of wandering with other people, and even people I knew- a rare treat for this solo traveler. I wandered with boys from Trinity and later with boys from my hostel (they were actually men, I s'pose).  Good conversation makes wandering all the richer. I also got to sit and chill with my adult friends from the Trinity group, a time for which I am so grateful.  I think Assisi will remain one of my fondest memories from my time in Italy as much for Assisi itself as for the company I shared there.

In Rome my wandering led me to beautiful cello music near Castel D'Angeli and dueling singing groups at the Spanish steps, to the modern art museum where I saw Klimpt's La Tre Etat, through Villa Borghese, and happily (and once unexpectedly) to the Trinity group.

I wandered in Turkey through Istanbul, Izmir, Ephesus, Pamukkale, Konya, Goreme, and, a second time, through Istanbul. I won't try to get into the details of those 2 weeks...

So I have wandered and mostly I have not felt lost, but rather, content. I have been content to let most days unfold as they choose, not as I choose. In fact, as I think about my last post, it seems as though making plans only gets in the way of some other plans made for me. It is liberating to wander without my own aim, though I won't say my days are without aim. Wandering allows me to process my time away from home. Wandering allows me to pray about these last months and how they may guide me into the next ones... Though I don't know what is in store for me when I finish my wandering through Europe, I feel confident that my feet will continue to take me where I need to go.  I will continue to wander, and I will not be lost. 

Good Must Triumph

There is a whole lot of evidence out there that the assertion in my title cannot possibly be true.  Just look at the world and it's pretty clear that things are a big mess. From my own months abroad, I think immediately of the devastating poverty in India and the horrors of the Occupation ın Palestine. Both seem to be hopeless situations without solutions and they are only two examples of immense tragedy out of...hundreds? Thousands? More? It is clear that on a global level, things are a mess.

But then I look at the small picture, the one that immediately surrounds me and I can't help but feel hopeful. Let me tell a few stories from the last few weeks...

Traveling through Israel, I got rides from Americans, Germans, and Italians.  My phone fell out of my pocket when I was in the car of the Americans. I got it back when the driver texted my best friend in the U.S., who passed the message along to me and the necessary connections were made.  She (the driver) didn't have to make the effort to return the phone, but she did.

I was in Izmir, Turkey a few weeks ago.  I was staying with a lovely woman who helped me by giving me very clear directions on how to get to the train station so I could go to Ephesus:  what bus to take, landmarks to look for, etc. When I left the house, the only things I did right were lock the door behind me and get to the bus stop. It was all downhill from there. First, though she told me which bus to take, I was feeling impatient to get on a bus. So when a bus pulled up, I attempted a little Turkish. "Train station?" I asked after looking it up in the Turkish phrasebook I'd borrowed.  The bus driver nodded, so, foolishly, despite the fact that it was not the number my host had told me, I boarded.  That led to quite an adventure... a scenic (and sometimes not-so-scenic) tour of Izmir. First, the bus did not, in fact, go past the train station. It ended up at a bus depot where I had to get off.  There I found someone who looked official and again tried out the words, "Train station?" The official-looking guy started to explain I should take the metro and get off at some stop and then... Well, I've really no idea what he was saying since he was speaking in Turkish.  I tried another strategy: "Taxi?" figuring a taxi would get me where I needed to go. Weeelllll, that fail-safe tactic was not successful, either. I did get in a taxi and was taken...I'm not sure where, but I did at least know it wasn't the station that would get me on a train to Ephesus. So I said, "No," to the driver, trying to communicate that we weren't at the right place.  He then spoke to me in Turkish, not a word of which I understood. So he tried a new communication strategy: he drove us to the nearby motorcycle dealership to find someone who spoke English. Success! The driver explained his story (which wasn't translated, so I don't know what he said) to our new translator, I told mine, and then there was a lot of discussion in Turkish. To get me to the train station, the taxi driver said, I'd have to pay more, but at that point I was going to miss the train I was trying to make anyway.  I asked if there was a cheaper way to get there. Yes, there was, so I paid the driver, who went on his way, and got a set of new directions. These directions included a guy from the dealership walking me to another bus depot and waiting with me until the right bus came. During the wait, he used a translation program on his phone to tell me that he hoped I'd have a good time in Turkey and that I should get a dictionary. Thanks for the advice, dude.  I showed him I had one, though I hadn't explored it enough to use it effectively. He commented that it looked hard to use. He waited with me until the bus came and told the bus driver to let me know where to get off. At my stop I got down and a little Turkish grandma (I don't know if she was a grandma, but she looked the part) started talking to me and was clearly showing me where to go next.  By the way, I still wasn't at the train station.  As I was walking with the grandma, there was a big curb to step down.  I held out my hand to steady her. She held on to my hand until she got me to the right minibus (which I ended up taking to Ephesus). As it happens, coming back from Ephesus, I had a similar experience of not ending up where I expected to and people going out of their way to help me get back to my host's home (including more personal escorts from one place to another).

Then there was Rome... For the most part getting around Rome was a breeze, but my last night I stayed a little out of town so I could spend some time with friends. I also decided to go to an opera aria extravaganza that night... Leaving from their hotel, I set out for the metro station. I asked several people how to get there and, though their instructions were not always clear or particularly helpful to me (not for their lack of effort), I got to the metro and found my way to some lovely singing.  Getting back was the tricky part. I decided to get off at a different metro station, because on my map it looked closer than the one I'd left from. Big mistake. I had thought I'd be able to use the map as well as ask people along the way. Well, the streets were pretty empty, but there were a few people out. When I saw people, I'd stop them, pull out my map and ask for help. Again, though not for lack of trying, most were not so helpful. In fact, they told me contradictory directions... I continued trying to get help.  I finally stopped a woman who spoke English- yay! She started to tell me to take the #whatever bus. I asked if the distance was walkable- nope (so I must've strayed pretty far). I said I'd just take a cab. At that point she said no, I couldn't take a cab, it was too expensive, she'd drive me. So we walked to her car and she drove me to the square I'd been asking her about. I found out she was from Argentina and had been living in Rome about 10 years. She said not to ask Romans how to get anywhere, because they don't know their city!

In big and small ways people have gone out of their way to help me. Have there been unpleasant experiences along the way?  Yes, a few, but the positive encounters greatly outweigh the negative...

And so I live in hope that ultimately good will win...

Wednesday, April 11, 2012


While I wish I were not attached to stuff, I am. It is not all stuff I am attached to, but certain things that have a sentimental value have traveled my journey with me.  I have a cross, a New Testament signed on the last senior retreat I worked (just a few weeks before I left on my journey), a retreat medallion, and a book my students and I created together, a copy of which I received the day I left, from my last year of teaching.  Every day I wear two bracelets and a ring given to me by friends.  I have cards, letters, and prayers given to me before I left or sent to me while I've been away. I have a "Keep smiling" pillowcase my dearest friend gave me many years ago. The picture on my phone is my family... I have the two cars my youngest nephews gave me as going away presents.  If you've been following my blog or are my Facebook friend, you've seen the cars featured in many a picture. I post the pictures so my nephews know I am taking good care of Lightning and Finn... Some of what I carry is functional; most, to a practical sort of person, is not.

As I've traveled I have bought things and been given gifts.  At various points, most recently a few days ago, I've had a chance to send accumulated items home.  I have sent some of the souvenirs and gifts home already. I simply can't carry them all.  Others, the smaller things like jewelry, I continue to carry. When I think about all the gifts I received in India and Palestine, I am in awe of the generosity they represent...

The things I listed at the beginning of this post continue to travel with me. They must continue the journey with me, despite the weight and space they take up in my luggage.  They represent everyone who is on the journey with me. I know the people they represent would be with me in spirit even if I didn't carry physical reminders, but I like the reminders, especially the ones I wear each day...

This morning I walked with a guy from my hostel to the train station.  When I walked out of the hostel with all my stuff, my walking companion looked at me incredulously and said, "I thought you said you gave the school group things to carry home." I did. My big backpack is much lighter than it was before, but I still have a small backpack and a carry-on suitcase with me.  The carry-on now primarily holds items that will serve as gifts to people who host me as I travel. I want to pass along some of the generosity I've received.  Today I gave my latest host a spice mix from Palestine and a book by an author we were discussing yesterday. I hadn't sent the book home because I thought I'd re-read it, but this morning when I opened the suitcase to take out the spices, I knew the book must soon belong to my host...

My  morning walking companion's  question reminded me of my stated mission many months ago "to be light."   I haven't yet perfected "being light" in the physical sense!! But because I know what I carry in my bags, I'm ok with their weight.  I'll carry the weight until I get home, just as I know my loved ones are carrying me in so many ways across so many miles... The things I carry remind me of so many reasons to be grateful... I don't ever want to lose that sense of gratitude.  And so I continue carrying my reminders.