This is the most difficult thing I've ever done--to be in a country where I have so few words. Yet I choose to be here, reminding myself it is important to be grateful for the experience. This is how I grow. This is how I increase love and empathy for others. For myself. This is how I trust God. 'What is it like?' I ask myself.~Journal entry for September 7, 2023
Being underwater. The experience in Italy is like being underwater without an oxygen tank. I have only so much air in my lungs, only so much language. Even experiencing the beauty of Italy, like an underwater world--brilliantly colored fish and vivid orange coral--I can't stay long. I must surface for air, gulp down more oxygen. Sometimes if feels much easier to stay on the ocean surface than to take another deep dive.
Giovanni and I vacationed a few days with his sister and her friend on the Lago di Garda. His sister's generosity allowed us to stay in an apartment with breathtaking mountain vistas. Yet when you are spending a few days with others, you need words for soap and sheets, language for how to open the sliding glass door, and to tell others that you wrote another book and how to respond when they ask what it's about. And what's the word for "towel?" I knew it, but can't remember. "Breathe," I remind myself. My lungs are bursting. My oxygen is language and I have so very little. Dive again. Do it again.
Several times a week while in Italy, I walk along a trail that winds through the countryside. It is here that I gather courage to keep speaking, review words I'll need for occasions I'll engage in with friends and family. There are usually few people on the pathway. I don't mind the isolation. I feel free on the trail. Sometimes I even sing or pray (quietly). The etiquette in Italy, when passing others, is to look ahead, not make eye contact. A brief smile is acceptable. This is unlike the American south where people greet others with "Hey, how ya doing?" I've gotten used to offering a quick smile and moving on.
Over the past weeks, though, I see a man, 50ish, riding his bike. He wears dark sunglasses and a bright orange turban. The first time he passed me on the trail, he smiled, waved and robustly said, "buongiorno." I was caught off guard by his greeting and almost tripped. I responded back to him with my own hearty "buongiorno." Now when we see each other we wave and smile. Sometimes I turn around and watch him keep riding into the distance on his bike, the orange turban like a wink from God reminding me to take another breath, to dive again.