As a kid, I always hoped for the perfect day. I had this grandiose idea that a day was out there in which nothing would go wrong, everything would go my way, and I wouldn’t be anxious or feel awkward.
Well, I think I just had that perfect day, but it wasn’t what myself as a child expected in the least. And for that, I am very glad.
My class consists of around 105 students, and we loaded onto tour buses early Friday morning, heading a few hours northeast of Rome to Assisi, with stops at Subiaco and Orvieto along the way. Having slept very little the night before, I slept through the scenery on the way there, fell asleep standing up on the tour of the Benedictine monastery of Subiaco, and turned in early that night.
But Saturday. Oh, Saturday. From the top: I attended a tour of the Basilica of St. Francis led by an American expat who’s lived in Assisi for 6 years now. I’ll write more about the art later, but this is probably my favorite church yet. I prayed in front of the tomb of St. Francis and admired all the frescoes.
After lunch with the tour guide, a large group gathered in the main piazza, and many of us began to untie our shoelaces, preparing to hike up Mt. Subasio barefoot, as St. Francis did, despite the weather being overcast and quite chilly. After an hour’s hike along switchbacks, with my boots tied together and slung over my shoulder, offering up my shoelessness for my family, and sustaining a cut on one of my toes, we reached the hermitage. After navigating through the maze-like interior, I reached the site where St. Francis received the stigmata, as well as a classmate with band-aids, and the tree where it is said the birds sat and listened to Francis preach. With shoes retied, we then rushed down the mountain to attend Mass in the Basilica.
Still not used to eating dinner so late, some of us went to a bar (which is like a cafe back home, selling pastries and coffee) and grabbed coffee and the most amazing cake: it was chocolate, but with some sort of citrus jelly in the middle.
After dinner, to celebrate the best holiday of the year, Groundhog, I went with friends to a restaurant and drank wine to Punxsuatawney Phil’s health. When we got back to the hotel for class trip curfew, my roommates and I talked for another hour. And so ended my perfect day.
Also, my English professor poked fun at me twice today, which I took both times as high compliments.
It wasn’t the best day ever because it was easy or because it was actually perfect or because everything went my way: I cut my toe, it rained, I lost my glasses (another story for another post), I was challenged by the homily at Mass, someone asked me what I wanted to do before I die, and I couldn’t come up with a decent answer.
The American spoke about the gradual conversion of St. Francis, and how everything clicked into place in front of the Crucifix of San Damiano, where our Lord spoke to him, asking him to repair his Church, and in that moment, “What was bitter to him became sweet.”
My own conversion has probably been even more gradual than and, I know, less dramatic than Francis’s, but I know I have changed, because all these bitter things are becoming sweet. Allowing suffering to change you into a better person instead of a bitter person is the biggest challenge I have ever known, but it is worthwhile. Allowing bitter things to become sweet gives a much deeper meaning to freedom than the modern world is willing to give the word, and expands the possibilities for squeezing the most out of every day.