Wednesday, April 17, 2013

Are You Scared to Go Home?

A stranger asked me a scary question after I told her I was from the US.

“Are you scared to go home?”


I was confused.

“Well, just because of everything that’s happening. You might get shot somewhere or blown up or bombed by North Korea.” She said it nonchalantly, like it was as foregone conclusion.

And I just stared at her. I didn’t say anything. I couldn’t say anything. How do you respond to something like that?

And I wondered, “Should I be? Is that the kind of place the US is turning into? Where people need to be afraid?”

I realized that I already am.

I didn’t go see The Dark Knight Rises in theaters because I knew there’d be copycats. Not that I really seriously thought I would get hurt, but the thought of going to see it made me sick.

And though I tried not to think about it, I was scared some days at school while I was student teaching. The school didn’t have locks on many of the doors and teachers didn’t have keys to their doors for part of the semester. One of the side doors was always open, so students from the other campus could get in without hassle.

And that scared me. Not because I ever once felt unsafe at East Campus. Not because any of the students seemed dangerous. Not because of any particular reason at my school, but because the world has shown how scary it can be.

My school was a safe, welcoming environment with such great faculty and students, but so was Sandy Hook. And so were so many other places that have been ravaged by violence.  

There’s been so much violence in the past year, my head can’t even think about it. I can’t even read anything about the explosions in Boston. It’s just too much.

I got a text from a friend that said, “I can’t handle this coverage on the bombing. I’m going to bed.”

I am saturated. Full. Done. My heart can’t take any more of this. We, not just as a  nation, but as a world, have been through too much.  People weren’t made for this. We are being bombarded with wave after wave of death and hatred. It crashes over us, eroding us, dragging us down.

And in the face of such a terrible force, we come together. We stand united. We pray. We send care packages. We raise money. We do all things we should to help those in the wake of the horror.

We fight evil. Our prevailing goodness shines through. We read (or perhaps are a part of) the stories of the heroic people who rushed toward the explosion. The kids who raised money for the survivors. The churches that went on missions to help rebuild.

We see the light overcome the darkness, and try its best to heal the deep wounds on our society. We are strong. We endure. We carry on.

And we say never again. We draw up bills or regulations that inevitably get stuck somewhere in the government machine. We make speeches, make videos, write blogs. We sit and debate. We try to make progress. Maybe we even make a few steps. But then the next wave comes, and it feels like nothing has changed.

We say if we had better gun control… If we were better at dealing with mentally ill people… If the “system” didn’t fail...

If… if… if…

And though I strongly believe we need reform in areas like gun control and the culture surrounding mental health, it doesn’t take a gun to kill someone. And it’s not only mentally ill people who do harm. We are fighting deeper problems.

And after so much senseless violence, we all desperately want to make a change. We want to do what it takes, whatever it takes, to heal the brokenness. To put stopping force behind our “never agains.”

We all desperately want the same end results. We want peace. We want the safety and security, the love that we are all entitled to. And so we ask ourselves, I ask myself, how do we end this?

There isn’t an answer. There’s no magic fix. The safety we want can’t be found simply. It will take a profound shift in our culture to make it a reality.

Whether you seek it out or not, violence is everywhere in our world, and I don’t mean just the US or just the Westernized world. On the news, video games, movies, books, advertisements. There’s no end. I know violent video games aren’t why people shoot other people. But enactments of death, destruction, power, and greed saturate our entire lives. And they are and valued in our culture, making millions in all types of media. I’m not blaming the media exclusively. I can’t say whether the media reflects us or we reflect the media, but in what is being shown there, you see the roots of our extensive problems.

We can’t ban violence from the media, and even if we could, it wouldn’t make the problem go away. I’m not na├»ve enough to think that stopping kids from watching R-rated movies or playing violent video games will fix the problem. I know it won’t.

Instead, it will take all of us, choosing light over darkness, valuing all life, all life, above all else and respecting all people.

One of my favorite quotes touches on this idea: “We must live by the conviction that each human life—even the humblest—is of infinite worth. Each soul is an icon of Christ.” Sophia House.

It will take all our strength and conviction to make this happen. We must choose to fight against the bullies, the racists, and those who seek to harm us. Ignoring the problem is no longer enough. It’s not going away. We have to stand above the violence, meeting its hate with our love.

I ask myself, how can I help? How can I actually make my idealized version of life a reality? What can I do that will make a difference?

I don’t know. I wish I did.

But I know the answer doesn’t lie in waiting for someone else to start the movement, letting someone else show love and compassion. We each have to make the decision to show everyone love, and it won’t work if we all don’t change. I have faith. I believe that the goodness of people can conquer the evil we are faced with, if we choose love and life.

Friday, April 12, 2013

Perfect Moments

This past year I’ve been lucky enough to have several what I like to call "Moments I Don’t Want to Leave." The most recent one happened to me just the other day while I was hiking around Laveno on Lake Maggiore, but I’ll briefly tell you about the first two.

The first moment came on my very first outdoor climbing adventure on the first Flat Iron in Boulder. After waiting hours to even start climbing, I finally made it up the first pitch and it was incredible. We ended up getting stuck at that spot for quite a while because someone climbing a head of us broke their leg.

I climbed the one on the far right.

So I just got to sit, all by myself and enjoy the spectacular view. Below me, I could see the entire town in the distance and the mountains and forest surrounding it. From such a distance, the town looked perfect, nothing was broken or dirty. It appeared to be a perfect man-made community living along side the power and beauty of mother nature. I could see everything happening in the town; the stream of cars hurrying about their day.  Their frenzied movements contrasted perfectly with the stillness and calm of nature around me. And that moment was just perfect.

The second one came my last day in Venice. It was the first truly warm day I’ve felt since last fall. I grabbed lunch and sat on the sidewalk by the beautiful, blue-green water. The hum of the city seemed to fade away, leaving me with the sound of the water gently rolling in and the warm sun on my face. I watched the ships float by for what felt like hours.

The third one is similar to the first one, but how I got there was different. I knew it was going to be a nice day, and I wanted to go to a farmer’s market/fair that happens in a neighboring town. When I showed up, nothing was happening. So I thought I would just continue on the train to Lake Maggiore and catch a ferry to a few of the islands that looked pretty.

But when I got to the ticket office they told me that ferries only went there in the morning, which I am pretty sure was a lie, but I just accepted it and moved on. I almost went home, but I decided I should at least take a look around the town and that’s when I saw it.

It basically was a ski lift, but instead of seats, there were buckets to stand in. If you know me well, you know I am a heights/adrenaline junkie, so this was right up my ally. Though I prefer climbing, I’ll take any chance I can get to get my feet off the ground. I made my way up, down and around the hills to the platform. The views on the way up were incredible. I took waaay too many pictures. Here are some of them.

I got to the top of the funivar and saw that while there isn’t much up there besides a restaurant, there was kind of a trail heading the rest of the way up. I say “trail,” but what I mean is if you have an active imagination and a strong desire to roam around in the trees, you can find a suitable path. So I picked my way through the leaves still coating the ground and scrambled up a series of rather large boulders. 

Unfortunately, I was only wearing my Birkenstocks which aren’t exactly made for trailblazing, so I took them off and went barefoot. I love being barefoot as much as possible. People always tell me something horrible is going to happen to my feet, but the only time I've stepped on glass was inside. So, I’ve been okay for 22 years.

But I digress. I made it up the hill and the views were beautiful. I saw a guy paragliding and ended up helping him get his equipment set up. As he was taking off, I wanted to grab a hold of him and shout “take me with you.” But I didn’t. I just watched him jealously.

After helping him, I just sat at the top of the hill and soaked in the view and the sun. It was beautiful to see how the towns all melted together, connected by the train tracks until they reached the edge of the dark blue water. The towns seem to exist without interrupting the beauty of nature around them. 

It says "Sasso del Ferro" which means something like rock of iron. 

Eventually, I realized that I had find out when the next train was coming to take me home. I hiked back down and discovered I had some time to kill. So I decided to order whatever drink was cheapest at the restaurant which was, of course, wine. I sipped that sweet wine and enjoyed another great view. So in the end, what started as a series of busted plans turned into one of the most memorable experiences I've had in Europe.

Monday, April 1, 2013

Cinque Terrific

Ciao! This post is kind of a grab bag of different small things that didn't quite merit their own entire entry.

My latest trip was to the lovely towns that comprise Cinque Terre. I was lucky enough to get to meet up with the people I met in Munich and spend a few days there. If you are unfamiliar with Cinque Terre, it is 5 towns on the coast of Italy that are now a national park. The towns are all connected by a set of trails, so it's possible to hike from one end to the other.

It was nice and different to be traveling with other people again. I'm so use to doing exactly what I want to do when I want to do it. Not that I probably would have done anything that much differently if I had gone by myself. Though there are some pros to traveling alone, it was really nice to be able to have people to talk to consistently and laugh with.

The first day, much to our disappointment, we found out that most of the trails were closed because they've been having landslides. We did not get to go on the famous Via dell'Amore or several of the other trails that connect the towns.

That did not, however, stop us from going to the beach! It was warm that day. Not exactly the kind of hot weather you want for the beach, but it was warm enough for us to don our suits and jump in (briefly--the water was COLD). The boys, Zac and Dusty, went all the way under, while I opted to keep my hair dry.

Sweet Victory.

The next day we ended up going for two hikes and the views were BEAUTIFUL! I didn't really appreciate the beauty of the area until I was above the towns. The towns themselves are only okay. 

View of Vernazza on the hike!

The trails were very tame, but the walk was steep!

Our first glimpse of the destination, Corniglia!

That night, we ended up having to take another unplanned hike. We wanted to visit some friends that they had made in Rome and found out when we got to the other town that the normal path was closed. This meant we had to hike up to a monastery in the dark and back down the other side. Thanks to cell-phone flashlights and a bright moon we had more than enough light to see. 

The views of the town lit up was beautiful. Emily really accurately described them: "They all look like candles."

Unfortunately, I left the house without my phone and camera, so I didn't get any pictures. Instead, I stole one from the internet. It's not exactly the view we got--ours was better--but you'll get a sense of it. 

I'm not exactly recommending walking around the trails at night per se, but it was a very cool thing to see. If you are ever in Italy, Cinque Terre MUST be one of your stops. 

I have complied another section of "Things I've Learned"

  • I am not very sensitive to cold weather. Comparatively. As the weather has warmed, I have started shedding layers (and not just because I lost my winter coat). Most days I am comfortable in my jacket. Everyone else remains firmly bundled in their winter wear. For example: Easter was beautiful: sunny, windless and over 60 degrees. I sat outside for several hours reading and writing. I started in sweats but eventually shed layers down to a t-shirt and shorts because it was really warm in the sun. Everyone looked at me like I was actually out of my mind. When we went to church, I saw people still wearing their winter gear as if it was below freezing. Never in my life have I felt so well adjusted to cold weather. 
  • Seat belts are a "silly American habit" when riding in the backseat. Apparently. I still firmly wear mine.  
  • Americans have big cars for a reason. Namely, when your entire family wants to go somewhere, you can all fit comfortably instead of being packed in for several hours. 
  • Chocolate-Pear cakes is pretty great (meaning the chocolate cake actually has slices of pears in it). I am not as big of a fan of chocolate and orange that get paired together a lot here. 
  • Italians don't dye eggs nor do they do Easter Egg Hunts which is sad. This was the greatest lamentation of my Easter. NO Easter candy, no nothing (although my mom allegedly sent me some). We did have a very nice lunch, but it wasn't the same. And, of course, Easter isn't about the candy or eggs. I just missed them. 
  • Italians have developed the ability to drink freakishly hot things. Whenever we make tea, they always finish their scalding drink before I can even sip mine! And often times I still burn my tongue. I have to imagine they have seared off all their tastebuds. 
  • I found where I'm having my wedding reception. It's the dancing hall in the Northern Italian version of Versailles. You can host an event there for the small sum of 20,000€. So dad, start saving.
20,000 Euro? That's it?
I'll send my servants over in the morning the begin the preparations.

  • I said this in Versailles (and though I was laughed at, I hold firm that it is an excellent idea). Palaces should have actors dressed up as characters who use to live in the castle. For example: You could see Marie Antoinette in Versailles. Or the Sun King or whomever in whatever royal dwelling you visit. 
  • Spring has not sprung yet in Italy. Sure, the weather is mild and it rains all the time but nothing is blooming yet. There aren't even little buds on trees. It still looks like winter outside even if it doesn't feel like it. It's very depressing. And despite all the rain, there are no thunderstorms. I miss the storms, just like I knew I would. 
The last thing I've learned is a little longer and maybe more important, so I have given it its own section: 

My Italian family does a great job of spending quality time together. They have dinner together every single night, and dinner tends to last at least half an hour, usually about 45 minutes. And on the weekends we have a sit down lunch and dinner together. It took me a while to realize what a big deal this is because my real family was able to eat several meals a week together but never that consistently or for so long. 

It's not like they're not busy: both David and Vanda work full time and Nico and Elisa are both on sports teams, but this nightly dinner still happens easily. They're just not as busy as most Americans seem to be. Each of the kids is in one or two extracurricular activities, not five or 10. 

Now I am not criticizing anyone. I thoroughly enjoyed being really busy in high school and college, packing almost my entire day with productive activities and homework. And I know that to be competitive in scholarships, college and jobs you have to be involved in a million things, but it's been really great to see what a family can be like, how close they can be, if they do something like this every day. I really think it does help them stay close and connected. 

The next major trip I have planned isn't until the end of April when MY DAD IS COMING!! Yay! We're going to Florence. I am going to try to sneak in a small trip or two in the mean time. Until then, 

Ciao Bella!