In all of her twenty years, Esther had never separated an egg before last evening.
What's that, she asked, sometime in the midst of separating thirty eggs. She pointed to a tiny reddish something in the egg yolk she had just slid into the big bowl with twenty-nine other egg yolks.
Ah, I said, sorry to have to give her the news so baldly, I'm afraid it is a former chicken. A chicken that will never grow to full chickenhood. It is a chicken whose soul is now with Jesus.
Oh, she said, a bit startled.
It happens, I said, hoping Esther would be philosophical about the former chicken and not quit on me. They are eggs, you know.
And she didn't quit. She went on making tiramisu for 40, and is now an accomplished separater of egg whites from egg yolks, one of many, many things she will have learned in Florence this semester. Other students were slicing and toasting thick slabs of bread and chopping beautiful ripe plum tomatoes into small bits for the bruschetti, and one was stirring a large skillet of chicken livers and onions for crostini con fegato. An art history major from NYU came into the kitchen with a colander full of sage leaves from the garden behind the rectory.
The International Youth Student Dinners are among my favorite moments in the week at St. James. I miss my children and grandchildren, but on Wednesday nights a crowd of people who remind me of them troop through the doors and fill my heart with an odd contentment. I see them meet each other, some easily and some shyly, see them look at each other and then look away quickly, see them begin to talk about school and food, their homes in Florence, their classes. They will never forget their time here, I know. I see them eat and enjoy their food and each other. They do not know I am watching them, do not know how I love their coltishness. They won't know how good it feels to see the earlier decades of one's own life walk the earth again in the life of someone else. Not until they are much older, a long time from now.
Mostly what I am doing in Italy is seeing. Not seeing the usual "sights" so much -- I work most every day, and so far there hasn't been time for much in the way of sightseeing. What I am seeing instead is my own life from a distance, my own world through the lens of other people's worlds. I am seeing the things I know differently, and I am seeing things I did not know. Like the students who come to the dinners on Wendesday nights, I will not forget this. Not ever.
The gnocchi were awesome, a girl said as she left, and her companion nodded agreement.
I'm glad you liked them, I said. Have you registered to vote?
Oh, yeah, how do I do that? the companion said, and I handed her a flyer about voting from abroad.
Be safe out there, I said, as they headed out into the night. They had no way of knowing that my parting words were a prayer.