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STUDY ABROAD
August 28, 2008
 
We have a bunch of envelopes containing little metal crosses: you're supposed to carry the cross in your pocket and let it remind you who you are. And whose you are. We can give those out. And we'll have some laminated cards telling students how to get to St. James. We can take some flyers about the thrift shop, which is next Wednesday -- students love thrift shops. I did when I was a student, anyway; none of us had any money in those days. And some flyers about the food pantry, in case any of them are in the mood for a little volunteer work. And we can bring some flyers about the Parish Quiet Day on forgiveness -- because who knows, maybe they have forgiveness issues. I've never really met anyone who didn't have any.

They are young, of course. Maybe they've not done much in need of forgiving yet. Maybe they haven't yet been betrayed. In any case, they have other things on their minds besides past slights and injuries: they are young and far from home. They are excited to be here. Tomorrow we will meet many of them, I hope, at NYU's fair for students studying in Florence, where St. James will have a table. There are students and faculty from about sixty institutions of higher learning represented here in Florence. Some of them have already been in church -- we had five young architecture students from Kent State on Sunday.

Our main product for them is the Wednesday night dinner for students that St. James has served for decades. Five Euros gets you all you can eat, which for an 18-year-old can be a fair amount. Parish volunteers do the shopping and the cooking, and the students help. Anywhere from twenty to a hundred young people come to it. There's a talk on some topic of interest to them, and then the meal.

Many Americans who live in Florence came here as students themselves, then fell in love and stayed. Some fell in love with a handsome Italian. Some just fell in love with Italy. And now here they are: fifteen, twenty, thirty years later -- Italian mothers with American accents, who know how to cook incredible Tuscan food. Transplanted artists who never went home again except to visit, and whose visits home grew less and less frequent as the years passed. They move back and forth between English and rapid Italian when they talk, even to each other: they now have two thought languages in their heads, instead of only one.

Was it the right one, that decision they made all those years ago? To leave home and never live there again? For many it was, I imagine -- for most, probably. As right as anything can be -- no human decision guarantees a life of unbroken happiness. There are trade-offs in everything we do: every day, we buy this delight with that annoyance.

All anybody can do is what seems right at the time. Every day is another leg on the walk into an unknown future. Maybe you did something unexpected years ago, and then time passed. And maybe now you're harvesting its fruits and paying for it, both at once. As you would be if you'd decided to do the expected thing back then. Neither one of them would be free of charge. Nor devoid of gift.
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This is the 45th anniversary of Dr.King's March on Washington. One of our readers was there -- visit the HodgePodge to see her photographs of that day and read about what it was like.
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