It’s been a little over a month since I’v­e returned from Rome. I’ve reported on official business of the Oblate Congress in a four-part blog series on Being Benedictine.

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It takes me awhile to unpack my feelings and the higher purpose or meaning within my experiences, but I’m getting there. For so many months I was filled with vorfreude, German for “anticipatory joy”, that bursting-with-excitement, overflowing-with-enthusiasm, oh-my-God-I-can’t-believe-this-is-happening-to-me-this-is-a-trip-of-a-lifetime feeling (just like the Germany pilgrimage.)

Here are a few things I’ve unpacked so far:

Worry is hardly ever worth it. 
Before I left, I confessed I felt guilty taking time away from school, that I was nervous about leaving my classroom for so many days. But it turned out there was absolutely nothing to worry about. Projects and assignments were graded, questions (if there were any) had been dealt with, students worked hard and truly didn’t miss a beat. I am so thankful for Karen Kay, my former department chair, friend and substitute teacher extraordinaire for giving me the gift of peace of mind and an easy transition back into the classroom (despite the jet lag)!

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Things often turn out differently than expectedSometimes there are disappointments, sometimes pleasant surprises—the Rome experience was no exception. The night before I left, I pulled a muscle in my back while packing. It was one of those I-thought-that-only-happens-to-old-people moments when I simply bent down but did not come back up in a painless fashion. The pain ripped up my back, down my leg and I collapsed on the floor.

So many feelings—pain, fear, self-pity, anger, sadness, pain, worry, pain—coursed through me that evening, during a sleepless night and into the morning when I became worried that I wouldn’t be able to make the trip. And what if I did go and couldn’t walk when I arrived? But this was a trip of a lifetime, well-planned and prayed for, I was determined to go. I might as well try, I told myself, inching my way to my parent’s car to go to the airport.

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It’s always about the people.
Before I even left, my heart was full of love and support from those who sent wishes of joyful and safe travels. Oblate friends, Betty, Teresa, and Diane, gave me a special blessing and Dee promised to pray a novena and have her husband light candles for me at daily Mass while I traveled. The prayers helped sustain me and give me confidence during some uncomfortable times.

Because I was so busy before I left, my husband got spending money and exchanged it for Euros at the bank, helping to take a few things off my list of things-to-do. When I became concerned that my accommodations would be too far away for sight-seeing, Fr. Mauritius helped secure a room for me at a monastery on Aventine Hill just a few minutes from his.  The night of my I-guess-this-means-I’m-old back injury, my friend, Beth, gave me a new box of pain relief patches for the journey and my physical therapist friend, Barb, gave me advice for surviving the long flight. On the way to the airport, my dad hurried into the pharmacy to get a prescription for me.

At the airport, the kind woman checking me in asked if I needed help lifting my luggage onto the scale (thank God, under 50 lbs) and the sweet young lady who sold me a snack noticed that I was a teacher (since I was proudly wearing my I ♥ Public Schools t-shirt) and said, “Keep makin’ the world go ‘round, darlin’!”

These simple, thoughtful words and gestures made such a difference to me. Love one another, it really works. “And be ye kind one to another…” -Ephesians 4:32

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Amazingly and miraculously, the flight wasn’t terribly uncomfortable. Even without back pain, an international flight can be rough, but I was providentially seated next to the sweetest special needs woman from New York City named Dorothy, “like the Wizard of Oz”, she said. This introduction began a lovely 8-hour relationship that still brings a smile to my face.

Looking over the beverage menu before our flight even took off, Dorothy exclaimed, “They have Starbucks coffee; this airline is first class.” Later when Dorothy was asked if she wanted sugar with her coffee, she responded, “No, sugar. I’m already sweet enough.”

Traveling with a group and a few counselors helping out, Dorothy said she wants to “travel all around the world.” When I asked what was taking her to Rome, she said “I work at the Shop and Go and I paid for this trip. I work hard for my money.”

The day before, her counselor had taken Dorothy shopping. She got two new pairs of jeans and a shirt and she told me not to tell anyone, but she also snuck a pair of jeans in the cart that she really liked. She had cleaned her room that morning and had done laundry. She was thrilled to get free earbuds, to have video games to play and a variety of animated movies, including Cars 3, for entertainment.

Whenever anyone sneezed she said, “God Bless You”, when she needed something she said, “Jodi, Jodi, I need help”, and she mentioned a few times that she hoped she would have a coffee pot in her hotel room. Dorothy loves coffee.

A kind heart and simple mind, Dorothy truly lived in the moment. She kept busy with entertainment while I napped. I learned when we landed that she had slept not a wink on the eight-hour flight. She enjoyed it to the fullest. I thought of Dorothy a lot in Rome and since I’ve been home.

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Miracles happen.
I survived the flight with very little pain. When I got off the airplane, I could walk. When I was dropped off at the wrong entrance to the monastery where I was staying for a few days, I was able to pull my luggage around the block and even help carry it up three flights of stairs to my humble accommodations.

After a Roman nap, I explored the area near me—including quaint, crooked streets, simple churches, ruins and the Colleseum. I walked over 6 kilometers and enjoyed my first Italian meal of lasagna and red wine. And I was in very little pain. I was grateful, so grateful, to be moving, to have arrived.

Rome. It begins.

I guess there will be a part 2 to this post.

Packing and unpacking can be a lot of work.

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