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Retracing through Italy

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So begins what must necessarily be an occasional, perhaps even haphazard, attempt to record my thoughts on my time in Italy. It will probably finally be much less about Italy than about me, with Italy in some basic sense being merely the catalyst that irrevocably altered my life. The place itself is perhaps unimportant; that I changed place for an extended time is the important first move. That it was Italy has affected the particulars of what followed in some ways; in other ways, the changes in myself are perhaps independent of any place, and it was only necessary to be elsewhere for an extended time to give occasion for me to become who I basically already was.

A few particulars… I first heard of the Avanti Italia program in perhaps 1968. This was a program to solicit young people right out of high school to spend two years in Italy in a youth mission program. The program attracted me early on, though with some tension from my folks. My mother insisted that I have a year of college prior to going; while she could not have known its significance, that delay, not for any reason she could have planned, was fortuitous. (In retrospect I fully believe it was the unseen steering of the Holy Spirit that was behind this.) So, after studying a year in Abilene at what was then ACC, I returned to Dallas and the 1971 group, the second, flew out of Love Field in Dallas sometime in early June 1971. There were about fifteen of us, roughly an equally divided mixed gender group, including two older women. All but two of us completed our two years there, living in various parts of Italy at different times.

My time was roughly passed in Italy as follows. Our initial stopping point was in Vicenza, somewhat west of Venice. The entire group stayed there through the summer, in ones or twos among the families of the Chiesa di Cristo in that city. We then divided into several groups; I went to Genova with seven of my companions. I lived there from August 28, 1971 to approximately October 1972. During that time we lived in separate housing, not with Italian families. Around October 1972, I went to live in Vicenza again. The first months there I lived with a young Italian family; I was actually between them in age, and we bonded well. Early in the spring I moved into a tiny two room ground floor apartment not far from the center of the city, and the remainder of my time was passed there.

We returned as a group in perhaps late May 1973, sailing from Genova on the Leonardo da Vinci and arriving in New York eight days later, then flying from New York to Dallas. Little did I know at the time that I would pass the rest of my life trying to find a balance between the two worlds. In that sense I am but one among countless that have lived in intensely outside of one’s habitual setting, whether in war, or employment, or any number of other settings, and then found the need to find a median through the polar experiences.

As with any memoir or travel log, the interest is the personal interaction of the traveller with the place, rarely the place itself. There must be an engagement between the traveller and the places visited that is accessible to the reader, such that the reader can see into and through the traveller. I do not know that I will succeed in fulfilling this in the meanderings through my history there; I will at least attempt to do so. My hope of doing so is that in a real sense that compelling interest must be there in me to be able to write. I was not there as a whistle-stop tourist; I had occasion to stop, live and absorb much that only a resident can. Some things I could only learn by leaving and seeing again from a distance. The encounters of my time there remain in many ways as intense, as poignant, as they were when I first lived them, though precise details may be lost. As sharply etched stone exposed to time and weather gradually softens, the memory of many experiences that I felt then has matured, softened and aged during the thirty-plus years since leaving. I shall hope to follow again those etchings as I write, guiding the finger of the reader through a few of my life-traces. If that be sufficient to hold the reader’s interest, then the work will have been doubly rewarded; the first is in the pleasure of revisiting those times and writing it for myself.

A final note to those that may have known me then: there may be some surprises, perhaps some disappointments, in what you learn through this. Some of you have expressed sentiments about me that clearly were what you thought I was, and perhaps even I thought I was, not what I have discovered myself to be. I only ask that you hear me through; if you do not understand, I only ask that you accept that I have, through fault and stumble and failure and occasional success, sought to follow the same Jesus of Nazareth that I thought to follow to Italy. He is the one that I have always desired, and it is to him that I commit my yet unknown steps.

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