Italy the Ordinary


“I believe it is in the way we handle the ordinary that gives us the foundation to step into the extraordinary when it calls.”
– Margaret Stortz

“It’s only time, it will go by. Don’t look for love in faces, places; it’s in you. That’s where you’ll find kindness. Be here now.”
– Ray LaMontagne

Zeit ist immer. Time is always.”

It has been five months since I moved, and I guess you could say that I’m in the middle of my journey. Life in Italy has begun to turn faster, travel itineraries are traded like cards and the sunshine has started to melt all of the clouds in the sky into a holy blue canopy. Consequently, I have not been able to put things together in my head fast enough to write about them.

But tonight, with a promise to myself to deliver something of substance, I stumbled upon a page I had written last April, before boarding a plane to Italy with two suitcases had even been a realized possibility.

I remember sitting down to write the reflection at the shiny wooden kitchen table in our Green Street apartment. I had just returned home from a yoga class with one of my favorite teachers, and her interpretation of the Guru Mantra we chanted before moving into less prostrate postures was still reverberating in my mind.

In yoga, chants from the Yoga Sutras (basically the Yoga bible) are sung in the very old, fairly stoic language of Sanskrit. Like any time you change one language to another, there can be slight differences in the interpretations of the words, flavored with a pinch of your own culture. Here is the chant (though it’s so much cooler if you hear it):

Gurur Brahmaa Gurur Vishnu
Gurur Devo Maheshwarah
Guru Saakshaata Parabrahma
Tasmai Shri Guruve Namah

And a bit of interpretation/take-home notes:

  • Brahma is the Hindu god of creation
  • Vishnu is the preserver of the universe
  • Maheshwara (Shiva) is the destroyer of the ego and, ultimately, of the universe
  • Brahman is the “unchanging, infinite, immanent, and transcendent reality which is all matter, energy, time, space, being, and everything beyond in this Universe”
  • All of deities are teachers, so show reverence to them all

Off sticky mats and outside of yogi circles, “talking Sanskirt” tends to make some eyes roll, so I promise that there are only English words from here on out. But I had to outline the mantra because what the gurus (Hindu gods) represent are the beginning, middle and the end. (And you thought all we did in yoga class was tone our abs!)

Last April, I had written:

  • There is a teacher in the beginning, middle and end. The beginning of a day, the middle of a class, the end of a relationship, for instance, all have lessons that would be different if presented at any other point. There is a responsibility in each of these points – as teachers – to bring to us an understanding of that moment’s experience.
  • Beginnings tend to bring excitement and nervousness because they are new and fresh and still a bit uncertain. This lesson tends to take a lot of energy because things need to be built, created, started.
  • Currently in the middle, I feel that same satisfaction and joy, but also some sadness, as I see hints to an end. Almost three years since this new beginning, duties at my job are becoming a bit old hat, good friends are moving, old friends are growing apart, my body is changing and life is pushing forward.
  • As easy as it can be to define the beginnings and ends, it’s the middle of things that – in my experience – requires the most patience and carries the most potential. Like in Warrior II – the pose of the present, my teacher said – your body should not be placed too far forward (in the future) or too far back (in the past). Being right in the middle creates a firm burning in your quadriceps (!)…but also feels really stable. That’s how the middle can be: sometimes it’s frustrating because it feels uncomfortable, but ease can be had if you let it take over. A balance can be struck if you let yourself be in the middle, the present, the now.

Reading last April’s words, I realized that they are almost identical to this April’s feelings. Does anyone else get antsy in the Spring? Perhaps it’s because when us North bloods hear the urgency of the sun’s gunshot, we strip off our sweaters and sprint at full speed in the warm grass, knowing that we’ll blink and, just like that, in a few months, we will have to put our sweaters back on. West coast kids and those who live in warm climates don’t have to deal with the impermanency of fair weather and are therefore move even keeled, more steady.

Like Pennsylvania, northern Italy too has cold winters and, just as the sun has consistently been showing its face, so has grown my itch to make something new happen. It’s like the Spring is my warm open window of opportunity to use up the rest of the juice in my Middle; to get things in line so that I know where I will be when I have to pull my sweater over my head again.

Let’s face it: stability can be boring. I had tons of material for the beginning of my adventure, and will most likely have some tear-stained stories about the end. Yet the middle can feel a bit old hat if you’re not careful. And the way to be careful, as last year’s lesson taught, is to let yourself feel at ease, preserved, protected. Relish the stability because it often signifies that an end and, therefore, new beginning is right on the horizon.

There are so many miracles in an ordinary day that can be realized if you pay attention to them. So, cultivating the opposite of wanting something else, I relish in my favorite things:

v In certain spots around the town in which I live, you can see the Alps on the horizon, stained on the sky like a lightly pressed temporary tattoo on a child’s arm at a fair.

v Every afternoon from around 2:00 to sundown, the sun shines directly into my bedroom, making it impossible not to throw open the doors, sit on the balcony or take a nap.

v The generalization that every kid in Italy grows up knowing how to play soccer is true. Running through the park, I see little guys as young as 18 months kicking a ball with a wobbly leg, and 5-year-olds chest bumping and dribbling with the ease of David Beckham. I love watching my classmates play the same game and engage the kids we meet on our study trips in kicking the ball around. I love how the sport is a universal language.

v Gelato. Mostly fior di latte. Lord help me not every day.

v My commute to school is down a catapulting hill and through bucolic farm land. Now that the grass has turned “new green”, as my friend Maria and I call it, it’s even more stunning to pedal through. It almost puts me over the edge that the commute ends in front of what was once the Savoy family’s summer house – these buildings are our classrooms. Earlier this week, I was lying on the grass imaging the Italian royal family roaming around, enjoying the same warm sun as I was feeling on my shoulders.

v I’m terrible at math, but I will venture to estimate that there is approximately 1 church per every 300 people in Bra. I see two from my apartment – one from my front balcony and one from our back kitchen window. There is nothing like getting sandwiched between the ringing of bells thrown from these holy walls when the clock strikes noon.

It is precisely these sights that welcome me to keep my eyes open; these tastes that make me close them in order to savor; and these sounds that jolt me awake, rendering me helpless to be anywhere but the middle.


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