- One lady came through the drive-thru during a downpour and didn’t turn off her windshield wipers. I got several facefuls of water before I managed to spit out a cease fire.
- One of my more funloving coworkers and spent a happy downtime whispering like Gollum into the headsets to each other from our separate domains within the kitchen.
- I told my family about said funloving coworker’s diabetic cat who gets insulin shots on a specific schedule and everything. Clare thought the cat’s name was Diabetic Cat. If I ever own a cat, this will be its name, but only a select few will know because I will normally call it DC.
- The day after a bad storm/tornado ripped through the area and took out the power of a large swath of northern St. Louis, I clocked 12.43 hours at the drive-thru. One coworker described me as being “off my nut.” I hit a weird giggly numb state at one point. Never again.
- A lady came through with a spider on her window and refused to roll it down, forcing me to squash the intruder to keep my time down. She proclaimed my bravery and heroics as she paid me.
- Did you know every drive thru worker you come across is on a timer? The time you spend at my window is of utmost importance to my manager, how my day goes, and whether or not I’ll ever get paid more than minimum wage. Every time you ask me for a side of honey mustard or an ice cream sandwich or change your turtle caramel milkshake to a red velvet milkshake at the window, one more of my hairs turns grey. Every time you order more than $15 worth of food…you are abusing your drive thru privileges. Seriously? You’re making me count 24 pennies? I guess you get points for actually having your money ready, but still.
- Also, since when is it okay to be on your phone at the drive-thru window.
- No, I’m not trying to memorize your credit card number. I’m looking at your name, because there are some great ones out there. (Best last name so far: Erp.) Other perks of my job include wearing a bowtie, the cute dogs who come thru in the passenger seats, taking out my unquelled rage on the unbroken hunks of ice, and the rare occasion of someone I know coming through.
After approximately 19 hours of travel, fortified by Chick-Fil-A and Jamba Juice. I’m still not quite ready to process my semester. So all I have is this baby step:
My last evening in Rome was made up of a series of firsts: the Cupola of St. Peter’s was conquered. Chocolate-drenched gelato from Frigidarium was digested, as was a drink at Scholar’s. Then, because my fellow gelato and drink digesters had not planned our time well, I finally ran along Via dei Fori Imperiali, right past the Colosseum In a floor length skirt. Because we were going to be late for the school-sponsored pizza dinner. Luckily, we made it, despite my purse breaking mid-flight.
After dinner, a large group of merry students made their way back up Via dei Fori Imperiali, taking silly photographs posing as famous statues we studied in Art & Architecture: everything from Bernini’s Apollo & Daphne (with help from a bystanding tree) to the classic Venus Pudica. Once we hit the bars, the group broke into bar-hoppers and cigar-seekers. Not particularly interested in spending money (or smoking a cigar, for that matter), I used my powers of persuasion on a few girlfriends to accompany me in my continued mission of firsts: a coin was tossed into the Trevi Fountain (and my camera decided to capture the moment and make it artsy-fartsy), merriment was made in Piazza Navona (read: heads were dunked in Bernini’s Fontana dei Quattro Fiumi), and I played my harmonica on the steps of Sant’Ignazio.
Sunday, May 5, I wandered about Rome for the last time. I teared up as I turned my back on St. Peter’s Square, prayed at St. Catherine’s tomb at Santa Maria sopra Minerva, and listened to the organ at San Luigi while I admired the Caravaggios, and wondered at the Pantheon. I didn’t let my solo-ness stop me from sitting down in a sea of couples for lunch in Trastevere. “Solo?” asked the waiter. “Solo,” I confirmed. The church count for the day soared into the double digits.
Needless to say, it was a triple gelato day.
Hello, America. Hello summer jobs, Youtube, letter-writing, family, frisbee, barbecue, home cooking, and coffee with old friends. Hello organic chemistry, library books, Spotify, driving, Cardinals baseball, and making myself romesick by looking through photographs on Facebook for too long.
It’s been one whole year, folks, since I started this little shindig.
Writing publicly here provides a certain challenge I have fallen in love with: how do I write this well, clearly, and sensitively? How can I show through my words? How can I stop using so many forms of to be?
Writing for Climb Ev’ry Mountain opens my eyes to the strange and the wonderful and coincidences in my life I doubt I’d otherwise notice.
Writing publicly reminds me that I don’t just write for myself. I do write to extract these lessons for myself, but also for anyone else who happens to poke his nose around these hereabouts.
Here’s to many more years of thinking deep thoughts and writing deep writes. Thanks for reading.
“So how do you measure the worth of a man / In wealth or strength or size / In how much he gained or how much he gave / The answer will come, the answer will come to him who tries /To look at his life through heaven’s eyes” -“Through Heaven’s Eyes” Prince of Egypt
All semester, I’ve just felt lonely. Why, when I look at such great things, surrounded by such interesting, beautiful people, do I feel so lonely, I asked a friend in an email. It just goes with the territory, she explained. Seeing new things just makes you feel lonely. Don’t worry about it too much.
But the loneliness plagued me everywhere I went, and I couldn’t shake it. It latched on for dear life and wouldn’t let go. I traveled to the far ends of Europe, to Barcelona, to Berlin, to Delphi…and it tailed me all the way. Go listen to Mike Posner’s “Save Your Goodbye” and maybe you’ll get an idea of how this loneliness both hounded me and haunted my thoughts.
Giving up plugging into my mp3 player for Lent gave me a lot of pure, unadulterated time for thought while sitting on the class trip buses shuttling us around Greece for ten days, and instead of not worrying about being lonely, I grappled with it. The typical, “Oh, I feel so small and insignificant when I look at Grecian vistas and the Parthenon and the Mediterranean Sea because they are so big and so great and I am not,” lent me little satisfaction. I don’t feel humbled or insignificant or small. I feel lonely and too complex for my own articulation and entirely alone in the vastness of the universe. I’ve read about this rapidly expanding universe and how much it contains and how complex it is. I felt like that. I felt like the universe, expanding to absorb these experiences and their greatness. I felt like the universe, utterly incomprehensible. I felt like the universe, containing so much stuff but so much emptiness as well.
Sorry to get all angsty, I’m just trying to convey how difficult a loneliness it was.
I kept grappling with it through spring break, through 12 silent train rides through Austria and Germany and mountains. The loneliness and I trudged through Holy Week, too. And then I found it, the answer. I found the antidote to my loneliness.
If you only get to do one thing in Rome (granted, I still haven’t been to Villa Borghese), go straight to the Vatican Museums (grabbing some melone gelato on the way, because that’s important, too). In the Pinacoteca, in the Leonardo da Vinci room, drink in the sorrow Bellini portrays in his painting, Lament over the dead Christ. There is the suffering and the haunting and the loneliness and the helplessness. Mingle that image with the other breathtaking works of art: Laocoon and Sons, the Belvedere Torso, the Achilles and Ajax Playing Dice Amphora, the Raphael frescoes in the Stella della Segnatura. Let the portrayals of the struggle of human activity remind you of your own struggles. Then let the Sistine Chapel convince you your struggling is worthwhile.
Nothing can prepare you for the Sistine Chapel. My mind was quite literally blown apart; I had been meditating on loneliness so long, it had become a pattern of thought, and the Sistine Chapel, and Michelangelo’s genius ripped it to shreds:
As I ignored the calls of “No foto” and “Silenzio” and drank in the colors and the emotion and the story, I saw the universe. Michelangelo & Co. depicts salvation history: from God forcing apart light and dark, to the creation of Adam, to the fall, to the flood, to the narrative of Jesus Christ’s life, all the way into the future and the end, depicted in The Last Judgement fresco that spreads across the wall behind the altar. There I was, somewhere painted into the soaring, beautiful figures. Before I had felt unable to articulate my struggle with loneliness. Good thing Michelangelo used his paintbrush to articulate THE human struggle 500 years ago, and I could now clearly see that I am part of something bigger. I matter. My actions, like those of all the characters on the ceiling, like those of everyone surrounding me in this sacred space, echo in eternity.
And that’s The Antidote. I’m not alone, because I’m a part of this epic and all epics that insist upon the importance and weight of human actions. Mattering trumps the loneliness. But it’s more complex than that; the fact that I matter means the loneliness that is a part of me also matters, via uniting the suffering of loneliness with the sacred suffering of our Lord. No longer are reminders to “Offer it up!” marked as condescending or annoying; they are reminders of The Antidote.
Pope Emeritus Benedict XVI once said, “The world offers you comfort. But you were not made for comfort, you were made for greatness.” Catholicism is like a mountain; it gives you a chance and a direction. Even better than a mere mountain, it gives you the means as well: a wealth of knowledge, sacraments, heroes in the form of saints. To top it all, the Church insists that climbing the mountain is what I was made to do, and it is vitally important. I get to help others learn how to struggle upwards. I get to struggle with purpose instead of aimlessly.
“No life can escape being blown about / By the winds of change and chance / And though you never know all the steps / You must learn to join the dance” -“Through Heaven’s Eye’s” Prince of Egypt
We celebrated New Years’ over three months ago, you say. Better late than never, I say.
Normally, I hold off on “New Years’ Resolutions” until my birthday, in late January, anyway. And they aren’t actually resolutions…I like to think of them as missions. And the number of missions I attempt is determined by the age I am turning.
I finally brainstormed up twenty whole things during one of my many train rides over spring break, so here they are:
Try gelato: so far, my favorite flavor is melone. Other recommendations: pistachio & ricotta, See St. Peter’s with my glasses on
- “Learn” one piece of classical music a week. As in, be able to identify the piece when I hear it
- Learn a piece on the piano
Run in a race: during the class trip to Greece, I participated in a footrace in the original Olympic Stadium. Climb a mountain: climbed the Mt. Parnassus in Delphi.
- Write a letter to my future self (post-Rome)
- Go to the Art Museum at Washington University in St. Louis
- Make Dean’s List
- Play the lick from Macklemore’s “Thrift Shop” on the sax
- Read 30 books
- Write up college advice for my sister
- Go to 10 performances: So far, I’ve been to Aida at the Staatsoper in Vienna, Lang Lang at the Koln Philharmonic
- Watch 5 new films from the AFI’s Top 100 list: possibilities include Gone with the Wind, Schindler’s List, Bridge on the River Kwai, 2001: A Space Odyssey, The Maltese Falcon, North by Northwest, Butch Cassidy & the Sundance Kid, or The Philadelphia Story.
- Figure out Fun.’s “Some Nights” on the harmonica
- Go stargazing
The Research Project: pick a random topic to read about each month. Possibilities: cartography, astrobiology, Laura Ingalls Wilder, Pixar, operas, saxophonists, Cardinals baseball history, music theory, hair dye color theory, geology, eyes, John Steinbeck, epigenetics…
- Post every Sunday (at least)
- Punt a pigeon: kicking a pigeon is good luck in Italy!
- Not lose my glasses
Here’s hoping I’ll be posting again very, very soon.
March has been the most jam-packed whirlwind of a month in the history of…well, my life at least, but I think it’s in the running for the history of the world category as well. I have spent the night in 11 different cities in the month of March, in 4 countries, as well as a night on a train, and two nights on a ferry.
March 1 through 10 I traveled through Greece with my class, hitting up Olympia, Nafplion, Athens, Mycenae, Delphi, Epidauros, Thessaloniki, and Meteora.
March 11 through 14 I attempted to pay attention in class, but actually was thinking about Greece, the papal elections, and Ten-Day/Spring Break. Yes, I was in St. Peter’s Square when the white smoke went up. Yes, it wins the coolest moment of my life award.
March 14 I took an overnight train to Munich, and I’ve been traveling through Austria and Germany by train ever since, visiting Salzburg, Vienna, Munich, Cologne, and Berlin.
I can’t wait to sit down and go through all my notes from the past 22 days, and start writing again. I’ve climbed a lot of mountains, literally and figuratively. Get ready for this.
Immediately following the canonization of St. Francis in 1228, the construction of a church was begun in his honor in his hometown of Assisi. The entire complex, known as the Basilica di San Francesco, contains an upper and a lower church, as well as the crypt of St. Francis.
Upon entering the lower church, the visitor is inundated with an overwhelming collection of frescoes adorning any and every surface. On either side of the main part of the church are scenes from the life of St. Francis mirroring the life of our Lord: when Jesus is stripped of his garments in the moments leading up to his crucifixion, St. Francis is stripping off his clothes, denouncing his father.
The numerous frescoes were painted by a variety of artists: Giotto and Cimabue are the most famous names, but many more artists contributed as well. The more I looked around, the more details that popped out at me. One of the “filler” paintings (my own name for the strips of space that someone just filled in with a pattern between actual scenes or saint portraits) was filled with feathers, recalling the preaching of St. Francis to the birds. In another spot, there were some blue squares where normally a saint would be painted. Perhaps the reason for the blank canvas is due to the ongoing restoration following the 1997 earthquake that struck Assisi, but I like to think that the spots are beckoning us to be saints, and to live lives to fill the blue square.
In stark contrast with the lower church’s intimidating grandeur is just down some steps on the left side of the main part of the church: the crypt of St. Francis. The simplicity of stone walls and the muted color scheme (brown, brown, and more brown) is like a breath of fresh air. Don’t get me wrong, the lower church definitely earns a spot on my favorite churches list, but I think it’s good that the tomb of a saint that lived so simply is so simple.
The upper church’s main collection of frescoes is more coherent, all focusing on 28 scenes from the life of St. Francis. There are other frescoes in the church, but I didn’t really get a chance to look at these in great detail.
I also paid Chiesa di Santa Chiara a visit, early Sunday morning. Two very impressive crucifixes reside here: the Crucifix of San Damiano and a crucifix for which I cannot find a name.
The Crucifix of San Damiano is housed in the Capella di San Giorgio, the entrance to which is on the right side of the church. This is crucifix that addressed St. Francis in the nearby chapel of San Damiano, saying, “Go, Francis, and repair my house, which as you see is falling into ruin.” As we entered the chapel, the Poor Clares could be heard singing their morning prayers from the hidden wings off the sanctuary. I was surprised to find that the crucifix was very familiar; copies of this crucifix can be found in many places, including the UD Rome campus’s chapel.
The second cross dominated the simple interior of the main part of the church. It was larger than life, and at such an early hour in the morning, the only decoration lit up. The picture below really doesn’t do it justice. Definitely visit Santa Chiara twice: once when the crypt is open, and once around 7 in the morning, because that is Santa Chiara at its most dramatic.
Unfortunately, none of these places allowed me to take photographs inside, nor was the crypt of Saint Clare open.