In the year leading up to our summer of study and travel in Europe, many of our friends shared our excitement about the upcoming pilgrimage, and they did so by asking a common question: "So, tell me where are you going?"
The seasoned travelers asking this question would take in the itinerary, ask some questions (and inevitably pass along their favorite restaurants, which were legion) and give a little advice.
But to a person, when we would name "Assisi," these well-heeled pilgrims all behaved the same way. Their eyes betrayed them – a mist would come over their countenance, as if they were being taken to another place, a place that mere words or casual conversation could not adequately express. There would usually be a sigh to accompany this change of face, almost as if they were brought back to the memory of a lover or a friend.
Sitting at the bus stop this morning, waiting for our transport to the Assisi train station, I now understand the mist before their eyes.
While at the bus stop, we happened upon an American nun from Hawaii, who was also on a European pilgrimage, and quickly started up a conversation. She, too, having been to Lourdes and other holy destinations, stumbled when it came to describing what she had just experienced in Assisi. "I need time to think about this," she said.
I need time to think about the place, too. There are lessons to be learned about poverty and integrity, about the ability to think and sing and pray with a sense of abandon. Even while I'm still traveling, I need to set aside time to ponder the lessons that this dusty little village set before me.
The swallows are still dive bombing the streets in joyful formation. The bells are still marking the hours for the folk who call this place their home. Bus loads of tourists are gathering on the hill below, ready for their assault of one more place on their itinerary. The shops and houses are opening up their shutters, ready to greet the day.
And here I sit, waiting for the "A" bus, my creative soul simply wanting to sit and write and write, in order to try and capture some of the spirit of Francis through song. I bought two sets of his prayers, tiny little books, at the Basilica bookstore – one in English, the other, a translation of the same, in Italian.
Because if I can't capture how I feel about this place in words, I can sure give it a shot through music. Somehow, I think the latter is the better medium.
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