The last email I received from my mother started off with her asking if being in Italy has reaffirmed my Catholicism and I really didn’t know what to reply because I didn’t want to simply respond with the abruptly dismissive answer of “no”. After visiting and seeing so many churches in such a short amount of time and thinking a lot about what it means to fully understand something, this question made me consider the idea of faith and the things involved with it.
Praying has always been something that I have done, even after stepping away from organized religious practices and these days, I pray the most by the river, my back resting against a thick barked tree. I have a special place by the Arno where the grass is still long enough that lizards stumble over my crossed bare feet and peek into the folds of my jacket spread out underneath me. I used to pray to the Mississippi during the months I was home, running there with very little air in my lungs. I suppose I have always unconsciously gravitated to rivers because they give me both reassurance and peace of mind. They represent movement, sometimes adapting and sometimes not, sometimes being absolutely vital for prosperity and sometimes carrying alien toxins that will destroy an entire ecosystem. There are two exact sides to a river and a heck of a lot of content in between. They can represent adaptability and change. Or they can just be water, forever traveling. I don’t think that any God would have a problem with me praying to the river.
When I was younger, I used to sing to God at night, especially after watching Jurassic Park because I was convinced that while my family was sleeping, a dinosaur would step on our house and the four of us inside. There is a zero percent chance of this happening but sometimes I would see them outside our windows and cringe farther under the covers, terrified of the idea that something could be that large. When I was younger, I was most vulnerable to my own mind, just as the human knee is most vulnerable to the body it is a part of, considering that much of the body’s weight is constantly rested on it.
There are roughly sixty nine churches in Florence and over two thousand churches in Rome and twenty four churches in Siena even though only forty percent of Italians consider themselves to be practicing Catholics. I have been in twelve churches in Italy but always prefer the river. However, when I can, I give my fifty cents and light a candle, whispering a little prayer. I believe in well wishes so I pray for exactly three boys and one girl and the entirety of the rest of the world. Sometimes if there are kneelers, I will be a little bit selfish and bow my head to look down, praying for my knees and increased resistance, hoping that these parts of my body aren’t as vulnerable as they seem.
Over one million bibles are sold every year. The average household owns four bibles which they read only four times every year which is three more bibles than I own and four times how often I read it. I tried to read it once, so if people asked why I am not religious, I could give an informed answer. But I never got very far with the book and so I just tell people that for years I watched people who didn’t know what faith meant kneel in front of a wooden cross because if they didn’t, they would probably get detention. The concept of religion that I was taught contained very little movement, based off of memorizing the Act of Contrition for a grade and followed a strict rigidness that was entirely not worth it if you didn’t even understand the words you were taught to say. It was supposed to be Catholicism but almost a larger teaching hidden behind that was the religion of obedience.
I guess I never really associated with those religious ideas which resulted in me finding ties in other things. Recently rereading my previous posts, I realize that they all have a common theme apart from travel and perspective, it just took me until now to see what it was: the importance of effective connection. While it may seem dramatic to say that we wouldn’t survive without connections, it is absolutely true, just in various degrees of validity.
Moving to a new country with very little idea of what I was getting myself into, successful interactions are 100% necessary for survival, primarily in relation to the language. In the beginning, with no previous knowledge of Italian, association and being able to identify logical equivalents were key. However, I will say that recognizing different societal cues and mannerisms is also essential as success within society is all about understanding different situations. As someone who is not very physically affectionate, the first time my host mother kissed me, which was also the first time we had met, I was quite taken aback as only one person in my life has gotten away with this before and it was under very different circumstances. But this was a gesture of friendship and hospitality, something that would continue my entire stay in Italy, and I was thankful to discover that this act did not happen between everyone and before every approachable interaction. Connections are understanding.
Integrating into a new place, especially one as large as Florence, many people were introduced and many people were passed by. But there are those who stick around because for some reason there was some conversation that was stimulating or a face that was more keenly remembered; a volley of knowledge resulting in a passing between: a connection has been made. This can be a result of particular wording which will erode as time flies by or it can hold on like nothing else matters. These are what count, the connections in friendships that keep us all relatively sane.
I am always nervous when I go to a new place that I won’t for some reason fit in, that I will be driven into a spiraling loneliness that will make me regret the wonderful places where I am. Thankfully, this was not the case and I have met some really interesting individuals who I look forward to getting to know more in the future. But good connections coupled with the unavoidable changes necessary for life can create a moment of sadness when one thing ends and another begins. I really will miss my little visits to the Arno and the way the Italian countryside smells but more importantly I will miss the friends I have made who I have to say goodbye to. To avoid sounding entirely like a graduation speech, I will just say this, I will see them again…just a little bit later.