Remembering Santana's unremitting complaints on the flight over last year, we had asked the vet for some of the really good stuff for the trip back. But we didn't use it; they went into suspended animation. Ben was the Buddha of business class: silent, his paws tucked up under his body, not a quack out of him. I kept checking to make sure he was still alive. And Santi managed to calm himself without chemical help, refusing even the complimentary mimosa the attendant brought around. The cats were quiet, even on a trip that ended up taking as long as a flight to India would have done. It must have been being in business class that did it. They must be business cats.
But things are not as calm here at home. The cats seem not to know where they are. They even seem not to recognize each other: they have hissed truculently a couple of times upon encountering one another in the hall, and each tries to stake out and claim the highest spot: on the bed if the other is on the floor, on the railing if the other is on the stairs. They have not groomed each other sweetly, as they did for hours on end in Florence, nor have they slept together in a cute ball of fur. But they'll get there. Blood is thicker than water.
I seem not to know quite where I am, either. Or maybe it's not where I am that is uncertain; maybe it's who. I am not the same. I see things I didn't notice. The electric lights in America are so bright, and they are left on all night! The buildings are so large, and the streets, and the cars! Everything is so big! Hardly anybody hangs laundry out to dry! I stand in the door of my office: there are the books on their shelves, there are the photos and the paintings. It is all as it was before. It is four in the morning -- 10 am Italian time -- and I sit in my chair by the window and write, as I did every day for years. The insistent rhythm of a rector's life is gone from mine now; I am just a writer and itinerant evangelist once again.
But I am not the same as I was. All of life changes us, of course, but travel shows us the change suddenly, disconcertingly. You take yourself with you wherever you go, and then you bring yourself back again. But you also bring the places you have gone and the people you have loved back with you when you return, with a permanence you do not expect. You are not the same.
I slide a CD into the computer, turning the volume down low so as not to awaken Q, asleep in the next room. It is the music of the twelfth century church, simple and mysterious music still used today in monasteries. I haven't heard this recording in a year; I didn't bring it with me to Italy. But I heard the music many times in the basilica of San Miniato, high on a mountain overlooking the city of Florence. The monks sing this music at their daily office and their daily mass. I hear it and I see them now, their white habits behind the ancient iron screen, the dim outlines of ruined frescoes on the walls, the brighter shapes of the restored ones, the brilliant mosaic ceiling of the apse. I took no pictures there. I never do. But that's all right; I have it here.
You might want to see a few pictures, though. http://www.san-miniato-al-monte.com/
We are home again. For an up-to-date list of coming Geranium Farm events for the remainder of the year and 2010, visit www.geraniumfarm.org. Here are a few in the near future:
Saturday, September 5 Church of the Good Samaitan, Amelia Ohio. Quiet Day with Barbara Crafton,September 5. To attend, visit www.goodsamaritan.org.
Tuesday, September 14, 8pm EDT eMinistry Network Teleclass with Barbara Crafton. A year in Italy: What happens spiritually when one is away from home for an extended period of time? What do you learn, and how do you learn it? This is a phone conversation lasting one hour. You can attend in your pajamas. http://www.eministrynetwork.org/cmcspirituality.htm#Italy
September 19-20 St. Philips' Episcopal Church, Durham, NC. Quiet Day with Barbara Crafton on Saturday. She preaches on Sunday. http://www.stphilipsdurham.org/
September 25-27 Parish Retreat at the Bishop's Ranch with St. Mark's, Palo Alto. Saturday morning will be given over to a discussion of forgiveness with Babara Crafton, with the afternoon session, "A Closer Walk With God, for People on the Run" open to everyone. 'Visit' the parish at http://www.saint-marks.com/ to learn more about this weekend.