We’re Going Home

It was late May, 1982 and I was sitting on a wooden bench at a roadside bus stop in a small Italian town.  In my mind, the Beatles’ song “Two Of Us” was playing on repeat loop as I silently watched the traffic lurch and weave, honk and gesture in that aggressive way Italian drivers have perfected.

I was twenty-one at the time and halfway through my seven-month study abroad trip.  This was my third journey into Italy.  My travel partner this time was John Edmund, a fellow exchange student from Alfred University and the valedictorian of our class.  John and I “knew” each other in a small college kind of way, but we weren’t particularly close.

Let’s Visit Uncle Joe

It was John’s fault that we were sitting there waiting for a bus.  John and I had been sharing a room in the international student dormitory for the past month.  As our mid-term holiday approached, John surprised me by asking if I’d travel with him to Italy. 

I remember agreeing with some reluctance.  I had a poor opinion of Italy; I felt it was dirty and coarse.  I preferred the clean and punctual northern-European countries.  Still, I had no better plans for the holiday, and I knew the loneliness of travelling alone.

We had travelled first to Florence, then to Rome, and it had been a good trip so far.  The art, the architecture, the history – I was seeing a better side of Italy.  Even the bustle of the city streets and the volitile way the Italians acted seemed less threatening to me.  I had to admit, it had been a good trip, right up until that morning when John said, “Let’s go visit my great-uncle Joseph.”

“Who?” I asked, my mind still struggling to shake off the last cobwebs of sleep.  Uncle Joe was John’s grandfather’s brother.  He lived in a town not far away from where we were staying in Rome.  John had met Uncle Joe once back when John was a young boy. 

I asked some further questions, alarm rising in the pit of my stomach, and John replied: no, he hadn’t kept contact with Uncle Joe after that visit; no, Uncle Joe didn’t know that John was currently in Europe; yes, he was sure that Uncle Joe would remember him and would love to have us visit.

This did not sound like a good idea to me.  Being self-sufficient and shy to a fault, I was sure that John’s distant relatives would want very little to do with him, and nothing to do with me.  I tried to explain my concerns to John, but my words just weren’t getting through.  The idea of visiting his ancestral home had taken hold on him.  There was no stopping him from going to visit his great-uncle, and I couldn’t keep myself from going along too, as if sucked along in his wake.

Homecoming

We had to take a local train to a small town to catch a bus to his Uncle’s even smaller town.  By the time John led me to the bus stop, I had resigned myself to a painful death by embarrassment.  No doubt I’d burst into flames under the withering stares of a group of Italian strangers as they guarded their home from the unwelcome American stranger.  The final straw came when John read the posted bus schedule and commented that there was only one bus to his Uncle’s village scheduled for that day.

“My mind screamed, “You’ve got no way back to Rome tonight!  Leave!  Now!  Before it’s too late.”

John sat down on the bench to wait for the bus.  Then a strange thing happened: my butt sat down next to John.

This surprised me so much that my thoughts were stunned into silence.  For half a minute, maybe more, all was still in my mind.  Then quietly, that Beatles’ song rose out of my memory, its words half remembered, its melody soothing and calming me.

…Two of us sunday driving/ not arriving/ on our way back home.

We’re on our way home.

We’re on our way home.

We’re going home.

 That song played like a theme song for me as we waited on the bench for the bus.  It played as we rode that bus, watching all the other passengers exit until only the two of us and the driver remained.  The bus climbed up steep mountain roads, weaving between pastures and fields as we drove far out into the countryside.  Finally, our bus turned off the country road and onto a lane made of ancient stone pavers, turning a corner and coming to a stop in a small town plaza circled by a dozen stone houses.

John was out the bus door as soon as it openned.  I made my way off the bus at a more reasonable pace.  By the time I stepped down from the bus, John was already surrounded by two dozen people.  Half the town had turned out to gawk at the strangers from the bus. 

John was valiantly wading through the crowd pointing at a piece of paper he was holding with his great uncle’s name written on it and asking, “Do you know my Uncle Joe?”  No one in the crowd spoke English, not that it mattered that much.  It was all but impossible to hear anybody speaking over the noise and bluster of the gathering crowd.  We were apparently the most excitement that these villagers had seen in a long time.  More doors were opening, more people were joining the fray.

Then, just when all looked lost, a young man not much older than us was hustled into the center of the crowd where we stood.  The crowd grew quieter as he explained that he was attending the university and was studying English.  Then he listened as John explained why we were there. 

It took a couple of tries, he wasn’t used to John’s American accent, but eventually the man’s eyes grew wide, and he turned and spoke to the crowd in Italian.  They roared and cheered.  He turned back to us and explained that yes, Uncle Joe lived in their village.  John was also related to the English speaking man and a good portion of the crowd there in the plaza.

Uncle Joe was the Postmaster.  He was hurried out to the plaza and he greeted both John and I as long-lost family.  It was immediately decided that they would shut down the post office and the town one store early, and prepare a feast for us.  The women in the crowd bustled off to their homes to prepare the meal.  Meanwhile, some of the men and a number of curious boys gave us a grand tour of the town, which dated back to early Roman times.

Soon it was time to eat, and we sat crowded around a long table with at least twenty of John’s relatives.  We had a tasty, traditional Italian meal: pasta as the first course, meat for the second, and wine through out.  What a happy gathering!  We bonded quickly with our new-found family.  By the end of the meal, we were laughing at each others’ jokes, correctly interpreting them through hand gestures and inflection before John’s cousin could interpret.

That visit meant more to me than I could express at the time.  John’s family welcomed a stranger into their home and adopted him as a son.  Years later, their open acceptance stands out clearest of all of my travelling memories.  I couldn’t repay their gift to me, I couldn’t even properly thank them, but I’ll always remember them.  And perhaps it’s not too late to work at taking after my adopted side of the family.

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DugMugg Guilty Of Being MIA

Image by permission of KM Cheng, Hong Kong

Image by permission of KM Cheng, Hong Kong

Yes, it has been a long time since I last posted to this blog.  I’m sorry.  It has been a struggle for the past few weeks, but in the end very rewarding.  Twice now, I’ve started writing posts describing all that has been happening, but the words fell way short.  Maybe once I get some distance between me and the experiences of August, I’ll be able to write about it in a meaningful way.  For now, all that I can say is that I’ve learned a great deal over the past month, and I’m excited to say that I’m ready to move forward.

First, regarding this blog, I need to do a better job of posting consistently.  There’s nothing like a looming deadline to spur a motivated person to action.  Therefore, I pledge from this point forward to post at least once a week each and every Thursday.  Why Thursday?  For no other reason than I’m writing this post on a Thursday, and I’m going to post it tonight or die trying.  I’ll strive to post more often than once a week, but for now I’m going to set a goal that I feel I can achieve.  It’s time to start building a record of success. 

Now that I’ve committed to doing a better job moving forward, let me explain what I’ve been doing for the past few weeks.  I’ve been pulling together a resume to begin a new career as a freelance commercial writer.  I’m applying to a local creative staffing agency in Columbus as well as spreading the word through my own network of friends and family.  I’m looking to get started on a part-time basis, establishing a reputation for myself while earning some extra income for our family.  We’ll see where it leads from there, but I’m very excited about the broad possibilities.

So there it is, short and sweet for this week.  One final request: I’m counting on you to help me with my writing.  Your comments and questions to this blog mean a great deal to me; they encourage me and inspire me towards new writing directions.  Also, please feel free to hold me accountable to my newly stated posting schedule.  And finally, if you’re aware of anyone who can use my writing talents, please pass my contact information to them.  Thanks!

Thoughts From East Aurora

Our family is visiting Carol’s twin sister’s family in East Aurora, New York.  We made the five hour car ride together yesterday to attend cousin Drew’s high school graduation celebration.  I set a goal for myself to write a post on the road, just to be able to say that I did.  I’m a geek, no need to deny it.

There are no great themes from this trip to report at this time; I’m still to close to the event, living within the experience of this weekend.  Following are some of the thoughts and observations so far:

1. Yesterday, I awoke before the rest of my family to do my morning chores and pack for the trip.  I also made my way to my study, as is my habit, to do my daily prayer journalling.  I’ve learned to start my journalling first in scripture.  I’ve been reading Genesis, and I was up to Genesis 50.  It came as a surprise to me to discover that 50 was the last chapter in the book of Genesis.  Later, as I was reflecting on the back porch, I was reminded of Carol’s observation that this trip to East Aurora may be the last time that was travel as a complete family with all three of our children.  Erika is 19 and in college, Brett is 18 and planning to attend college after his upcoming senior high school year, and Derek will be starting high school next year.  This thought also came as a surprise to me.

I’m saddened by that thought.  I wish we had done more travelling together in the season of childhood.  This is the end of an important chapter in the life of my family.  Still, we did the best we could at the time and there’s no opportunity to go back and change the past.  I’m grateful for the opportunity to travel together, and I pray that this will be a happy trip where we can grow closer, sharing with and listening to each other.

2. We went out to dinner last night at a diner located on the shore of Lake Erie in Hamburg, NY.  The kids sat at a separate table from the adults.  It was amazing to see the cousins all sitting and talking together.  They’ve all grown and changed so much.  They only get to see each other very occasionally due to the large distance between our homes, yet they talked with in an easy and familiar way.  Yet it was different as well; they had a lot of catching up to do, filling each other in on the happenings and changes that have occurred over the past year.

Sitting and watching them, I became aware of those changes.  The changes are gradual, one small step each day, but over time those steps add up to a great journey.  It’s easy to loose track of those small steps of growth in the daily hustle and noise of life.  It’s good to be able to participate in these family gatherings, to come back together after time spent apart.  Old perceptions and beliefs can be challenged.  We can see those we spend our lives with in new ways, letting go of old, out-dated peridines and allowing them new space to accept their growth and change.  It gives us space, if we’re open to it, to see them as who they are, not who we believe they are.

3. That knowledge helped me to gain insight into my relationship with Carol this morning.  We’ve had a couple disagreements over the past few days that resulted in Carol stating, “You always…”  Fill in the blank.  (The specifics of the arguments aren’t important, the insight from our discussions are).  It’s a familiar argument.  We’ve danced to this tune a million times before.  This time, I defended my view that I’ve changed, that she’s right that I used to fill in the blank, but I’ve changed and no longer do blank.  I challenged her to give me a recent example of my bad behavior, and she couldn’t do it in the moment.  So I encouraged her to point it out the next time that I do it.  We’re still waiting on that example.

The insight this morning?  I am changed.  I’m not perfect, and I can’t say that I’m even a better person than I used to be.  But just as our children have changed and grown, yet are still themselves, so have I changed.  I was given the space and the confidence to accept my change, regardless of Carol’s opinion.  I’m grateful for that change, which is the work of our Higher Power, and the peace I felt in my heart at recognizing myself.  Carol is still more comfortable holding to her old way of seeing us.  It’s not my place to make her change.  I love her, and I’m grateful for the grace and patience I’m given to see live with the differences that we share in our marriage.

4. Cousin Drew’s graduation is going on as I finish this post.  He has lived with difficulties in his family life, and I’m impressed with how strong he is.  He has turned out far different from what I predicted when he was just a boy.  Thank You Father.  That strength has come at the cost of his trust and intimacy.  He’s only just turned 18, so perhaps I’m expecting far too much of him.  Still, as a loving uncle who is amazed at the teenager soon to be a young man that he has become, my prayer for him is that he learns before too long that true happiness and fulfillment comes from allowing yourself to be vulnerable to the others in your life.  Living with an open heart will be painful, but it’s the only way to live a full and abundant life.

Signing-off from East Aurora,

Dug

When God is Shouting at You

It has been great hearing back from many of you now that we’ve gone live with the Serendipity Journal.  Thank you all for your kind words of encouragement.  Please let me encourage you to leave your thoughts and comments in the Leave a Reply boxes below each post.

I heard some bad news in an e-mail from my good friend Suzy in North Carolina: her husband Alan has prostate cancer.  Extensive testing has shown that the cancer is thankfully confined to his prostate at this time.  They’re currently waiting on Chapel Hill to schedule the date of his surgery.  Thanks for keeping them in your prayers.

My father is a prostate cancer survivor.  He just celebrated his 5 year anniversary of being cancer free.  I found the story of how he decided on the best course of treatment for his cancer to be truly inspirational, and I shared it with Suzy in my e-mail response.  Here’s what I wrote:

My father was diagnosed with prostate cancer back in 2002.  He did a bunch of research on the best way to treat it, surgery or radiation.  Both methods had their drawbacks.  After a very thorough investigation, he decided to rest from thinking about it over the weekend, then make a final decision the following Monday.  

On Monday, he arrived in his office and began a final review of his two treatment options.  Almost immediately, the phone rang with a friend on the line who had just learned of Dad’s cancer.  “Have you heard about the treatment program at Sloan-Kettering in Manhattan?”  This friend told him about the advanced radiation technique they had developed that used a much finer-focused beam to pinpoint the cancer.  “You should check them out before you make a decision,” his friend insisted.   Dad thanked him, but hung up the phone convinced that his best option lay in one of the two processes he had already researched. 

But within 5 minutes, another friend called to tell him about that same hospital, and within the hour a third friend called with the same advice.  Dad decided to put his decision on hold and check out Sloan-Kettering.  Once he checked them out, he realized that their treatment program was superior to everything else that he had investigated.  They successfully treated him, and he has remained cancer-free ever since.

During his treatment, my father confided to me that he felt that he had been led to that hospital; that God had spoken to him through his friends. God has many different ways that he communicates with us. It may be a feeling or an intuition; a new way of thinking during a prayer; or an inspiration during a quiet moment. He may send you a song on the radio that answers a question that you’re pondering, or reveal a new truth to you through scripture. Or sometimes, when he really wants to get your attention, he may have three different people give you the same message.

I’m finding that He’s guiding and encouraging me on an almost daily basis (I wonder, on those days when I don’t receive His communication, is He not speaking or am I just missing it?).  He seems to especially enjoy communicating with me through serendipity – I no longer believe in coincidences…  Best save that for another post later.

How about you?  How is God speaking to you?