Springtime in Sicily has been for me a time to reflect on love. Not only the romanticized bits, but the painful, self-sacrificing, pride-stomping parts of love. Valentine's Day brought both blooming almond trees and my 4-year flame, Tim. He arrived in Palermo on Feb. 13th, armed with GF flour, tea tree shampoo, and several books of philosophy and theology (the first articles for me and the latter for him). A book that I bought him of Thomas Merton devotionals was in the collection, as it rarely leaves his side. Tim's religious discipline is so much greater than mine; he and the modern Catholic mystic (a Trappist monk who lived in Kentucky in the early-mid 20th century) have developed quite the intellectual/spiritual relationship.So I'll use Merton to help guide this post, beginning with this summary of love. The pictures will give you an idea of what my day to day activities have been like, but the text will show you what has been going on inside my head.
Though Tim and I discuss love vs. pride most explicitly (as he is a great one for self-reflection), I've been thinking about it this spring in relation to my friends here in Sicily (my bosses, fellows interns, my film partners, the staff at Case Vecchie, my priest friend, etc.), my best friends from home (from Florida, Iowa, from college), and my family (grandparents, parents, sister). I have always had an overactive pride, sensitive to criticism and fond of affirmation. And I've managed to develop strong relationships in my life despite it, but I notice those flourish most when my pride is curtailed. Oh how I struggle not to be bossy, ambitious and bull-headed. Particularly in working relationships. But the remarkable thing to me is how nice humility feels once you manage to let the pride go. Gripping the pride seems to hurt more than letting it go. But we lie to ourselves about this.
Even while living in paradise, cooking and eating marvelous food, meeting fantastic people from all over the world who come to the cooking school, taking stunning hikes in the verdant hills and picking vegetables from the blooming garden (covered in tulips at the moment), there are moments when relational strife appears and dulls all that beauty. It's no worse here than any other place I've ever been, but the point is, it isn't better either. Aesthetic beauty only supplies so much happiness. And without love, it is meaningless. (I should say that for my grandparents reading this, I am very happy and my relationships here are wonderful...I'm just meditating on this subject at the moment. Don't fret). Without God, all things fall apart, no matter the setting.
And my, what a setting! Even the most curmudgeonly of individuals couldn't help from melting in joy in the landscapes of Sicily in February and March. But prayer makes it one thousand times brighter. Gratitude makes every hill sing. Even love in regards to these landscapes is better when it is given, rather than received. In "Anne of Green Gables" style, I have started to develop relationships with the local wildflowers, bird, and the hills--getting to know them--and it makes my walks so much richer. It was a treat to share this with Tim and with the new interns.
I was expecting to come home from Sicily in May saying to people, "I learned a lot about slow food in Sicily..." or "I learned a lot about Italian culture and recipes in Sicily..." or "I learned so many film techniques in Sicily...," all of which I'm sure will be true. But the biggest lesson I will take back with me is that in Sicily, I've learned a LOT about relationships. I don't think I had the proper space to reflect on relationship deeply in high school or college. But I've had the space here, and God's grace here, to really think about them. I had several new people enter my life and simultaneously had to balance that with care towards my existing relationships on a long-distance basis. I've failed and I've succeeded. I've grown and I've back-tracked. I've had moments of being loved, loving, and moments of being disrespected and disrespecting. Moments of neglect and moments of nurturing. Moments of awareness of the Spirit and moments of darkness.
To bring it back to the pictures between these musings, Tim and I went to Cefalù, a famous seaside town in Sicily, so he could see more of Sicily than just the estate. He spent a fair amount of the time fantasizing about climbing on the roofs, Assassin's Creed style, but we also had a lot of deep conversations (a daily event in our relationship, really) about what love should look like in our life at the moment. Toward each other and toward others. As we walked the narrow streets, toured the magnificent Cathedral, and ate a glorious seafood lunch, we pondered our long-term fates. Neither of us have a clue really, about what everything will look like in a year, or 20 years, but we are both hoping that God reveals all in time.
And in the meantime, keeps blessing us with experiences like this and conversations like this, to guide us along the way.