This week I got a package in the mail from my uncle Doug in Victoria, B.C. Enclosed was the most unexpected and thoughtful Christmas present I have ever been gifted. He had lovingly laid-out the entire contents of my travel blog from 2009 - photos and all, and had it made into a beautiful hard-covered book. There in my hands was my very first published book. Tears of joy and amazement mixed with residual grief rolled down my face as I read his enclosed letter:
I gave a copy of this book to Paula [my aunt] for Christmas. She has kept a printed copy of your blog, which over time has become tattered. I think she finds it comforting to read and provide a physical and emotional connection to her sister and you guys back East. This book and the one I gave Paula are the only two in existence, but hopefully one day you will find your way to writing and publishing a book for all to read. You are a talented young lady and we are grateful for the gift you share over the internet.
This gift, was so much greater than a hard copy of my very first book, (which I didn't even know I was writing at the time!) It was a reminder to trust my own story and my own voice in this difficult digital age with so many voices yelling over each other. It's a reminder of the eternal bond of family, that with all the communication technologies available, we still struggle to stay connected to. It is also inspiration to keep moving forward, one foot at a time, and remember who and what is truly important on this journey.
Below is one of my favorite excerpts from, (gasp!) my book - about the ritual of prayer.
Much love to all of you out there, and especially my family, near and far, here and gone, but ALWAYS in my heart.
* * *
In the intense stickiness of the mid-day heat I wandered up a small gated lane-way that meandered through to the center of Palantino Hill where I found a tiny little church. It felt humorously subversive to be in a Church in what was once the center of the Roman Empire. Because I have been a doubting Thomas on the god front my whole life, walking into a church and feeling good about it, not to mention, feeling god in it, is a new thing. But I felt peaceful. It was quiet active church, not a remnant of the past to be photographed endlessly, to be seen and experienced via an LCD camera screen. It was relatively unimpressive, (for Rome) which was comforting, like the church was free from the expectation of grandeur, it could breathe easy knowing it wasn’t trying to live up to the Pantheon or St.Peter’s Basilica.
Sitting on a pew in the back row, I slipped off my sandals, and let my sweaty feet press against the cold marble floor. My ears were flooded with choir songs over the pa system and I could feel my eyes resting from the straining sun. I felt my shoulders relax away from my ears, and, looking around at the domed-roof and frescoes that surrounded me, I thought of my favorite Joseph Campbell quote: “I don’t believe people are looking for the meaning of life as much as they are looking for the experience of being alive”. At this moment the quote became something new to me from a spiritual interpretation: I am not looking for the ultimate answer to what/who really is ‘god’, but I am looking for an experience of the divine. Chipping away at that dividing wall, I removed the prayer brick, and I saw something.
We assume prayer is only for the religious. But prayer can be “...an unfailing device for bringing introversion into the mind” (Swami Kripalu). So I sit, and pray. I find that prayer is about connection not only to god, or the divine, or that which cannot be named (which is also good for humility), but its also, are more importantly, about connecting with your intentions.The ritual of prayer It keeps you connected to what is important in your life, and to you personally, not necessarily in a selfish way. It allows you to focus your daily thoughts and energies moving towards these priorities, therefore you are less likely to be distracted by other things. In my experience, if my rituals and prayers include the awareness of being compassionate to others, or to maintain a focus on my craft, giving to others, acceptance, forgiveness, and contentment, then I am less likely to move around in the world and act and behave selfishly, from hurt, fear anger or pain. The ritual of prayer keeps us focused on our values, and this focus needs to be re-affirmed and re-adjusted constantly. Like trying to balance on one foot, It is only in the continual striving for balance that we achieve it. So, the inherent merit of the act of prayer is as a ritual that lends focus and awareness to your personal morals and dreams goals thereby bringing your life into true alignment with these values. This can happen anywhere, even in, gasp, a church.
One hour in 'intention' feels as long as my whole trip. My thoughts have been filled with intentions of courage and connection, streaming from myself to others and then back to me. I feel lighter and nourished when I open my eyes: I am satiated, my perspective is sky-blue. As I leave the church, I notice a small table. On it is an old clay bowl, with a sign above it reading: “Intenzioni di Preghiera”. One is supposed to write their prayer on a piece of paper and leave it in the bowl. The inter-lingual substantiation of my new and mildly subversive interpretation of prayer leaves me glowing. I scrawl a sentence in my journal and rip it out, leaving it unfolded, face-up in the bowl.
Over the course of my last few days in Rome, I meet an Italian photographer and spend an hour talking about aesthetics, music and macchiato; a waiter serves me Champagne and Limoncello, ‘especial’ (for free), and I meet Luigi, a ladies hand-bag salesman who drives me around the city for an afternoon of sightseeing. Could Rome have finally warmed up to me? Or Have I warmed up to it? Like a fine wine the city it was tasting better to my pallet with time. Gelato might be cold, but it is delicious, and statues may be large and imposing, but they tell you a story. Rome may have at times felt inhospitable, but it also it gave me a strong experience of being alive and of the divine, and in the end, that’s all I was really looking for.