Tuesday, April 04, 2017

Taking the adventure

The new garden; gardener of all I survey...

Well, that's it. The next phase is beginning. The house in Norcia is empty, and all my belongings are (mostly) jammed into one room in the new place in Perugia, so that's that done.

Spent the weekend lifting and toting. The biggest we could get was a 9-passenger domestic, and not the cube van we really needed, so it took us longer than we had anticipated. All together, it was three days and four trips back and forth

Job done. Katia, Emanuele, me, Christine and Christopher on Saturday.

... and four friends helping...

It wasn't the worst move I've ever done. I'll never forget the time I rented a house in New Westminster with two friends and we had to bring stuff to one location from four different parts of Vancouver. It took nine people, four trucks and three days. I remember sitting on the living room floor at the end of that, with four sofas piled up like a fortress around us, eating McFries and wondering when the nomad lifestyle would end. That was 22 years ago. When I turned thirty a couple of years later, I sat down and worked out how many times I'd moved. 40. I'd moved 40 times by the time I was thirty. Sometimes across town. Sometimes across the water to the Mainland and back to the Island and back to the Mainland again. Sometimes across the country. A couple times across the Atlantic. After that it slowed down. And I stopped counting, because that can really mess with your head.

My section of the garden directly in front of the shed. After that the fields of the farm and the hills beyond. Perugia is behind. There are three apartments in this complex, and it seems I'm not the only gardening enthusiast. The shed has a good sturdy work  bench with an old fashioned vice, and lots of room to work.
Anyway, here we are, done. I can't actually live in the place until after Easter, though, because they're rebuilding the bathroom and refurbishing the kitchen, so the kitties and I are staying in Santa Marinella until the middle of April. Then we rent (or maybe borrow) another car, and drive me and the kitties, a couple of suitcases and a houseplant or two up for good.

The survivors. Last year's pansies, snap dragons and day lillies. Also one rose and the sage.
But though it was not really my choice to leave Norcia in October, it has become, through an act of Providence, my choice to remain away for now. The grace of God is a funny thing sometimes. I had known for some time before the quakes that I needed to do some things, and to do other things differently. I had been trying to work out whether I could commute to Perugia (there's a daily early morning bus from Norcia even now) to enrol in the Italian language course there at the Università per Stranieri. It's an hour by bus, so in theory it would have been no worse than some of the city commutes in Vancouver and Toronto.

I also sort of knew the monks weren't going to stay down in their monastery inside the walls forever. They had that country property up the hill and I knew their goal was to move into it at some point. Rebuild the church and the old monastery. At which time they would more or less disappear from the integrated daily life of the town. I was thinking a lot about what that would mean for me.

The house I was renting in Norcia wasn't ideal either, lovely as it was. The garden was tiny once you took away all the vertical part you can't grow anything on, and being on the foot of the mountain the soil even on the little postage stamp of flat was pretty much non-existent. Stick a spade in it and you hit rock no more than a few inches down. Nearly everything I grew had to be in pots.

The position of the house was also not very good, since it faced directly back towards the town. Romans love noise, and in the summer Norcia turned into a kind of three month-long discoteque with the position of the house making it sound like the disco was happening in my living room. Every night until one or two am... "Whump-whump-whump-WHUMPWHUMPWHUMP-whump!!" interspersed with someone bellowing and screaming into a mircophone - and every night louder and louder. I slept in the living room with all the windows and shutters closed, a fan blasting on its highest setting next to my ear to drown it out, and industry-standard wax ear plugs in my ears. If someone had warned me about the noise in the summers, I certainly would never have taken that place. But of course, I guess that problem has been resolved now, at least for a few years.

So, I knew that things had to change. Of course, I was dragging my heels... as you do... but it had to change. Of course, God knows us pretty well, and knows I'm not very good at making decisions, good or bad. I really do have to be herded where I'm supposed to go. But it's nice to have a sign.

I learned at the end of February that I was not going to be able to move back, so spent all of March charging around all over Umbria looking for the next step. It finally came down to Perugia, and I went up to sign the lease documents and hand over some cash. The plans had all been set, all the details of buses and transport to make the commute to the college, the locations of supermarkets, the church in the centro for the Sunday Mass, signing up for the local Trad Mass weekly lectures, making contacts... all the preliminary work... I came back to S. Marinella and had an email waiting from Fr. Prior who had promised to keep his ears open for a place in Norcia. There was an "agibile" flat available inside the walls, 3 beds, for 500/month. The news was two days after I'd signed on the new place.

If it had come only two days before, everything would have been different. But the decision was made, and the course plotted and laid in. In all this time, and through all these thousands of miles, I suppose I've finally learned how to read the signs. Nervous as I might be about leaving Norcia and striking out somewhere new, it seemed only a confirmation that I was on the right track. My lease is for a year. In that time I think we've learned that nearly anything can happen.

And now that I've had a few days to recover, it's made me realise something else. When I was a Dumb Young Person, I think my main goals in life mostly revolved around finding a good place to hide. A traumatic upbringing had taught me that the world was mostly just a place of danger, mainly to be avoided as much as possible. But the mindset that always looks for safety more or less makes it impossible to accomplish anything positive. This attitude towards the world was the common one among my peers when I was young. We were a traumatised generation, we all grew up expecting the Bomb to annihilate us and everything we loved. We tended to retreat into nihilism, or at least existential despair, and refused to make plans or harbour hopes for the future. The entrepreneurial mind that looks on the world as a place of opportunity, a place to do things, was unknown to us.

But a conversation I had with Fr. Prior some time ago revealed the limitations of my thinking. In all this time I had been seeking self-preservation and motivated by fears. In trying to find a safe place in the world - 40 moves in the first 30 years - I had been stuck in survival mode all this time. And here in front of me was a group of men who had taken exactly the same situation - a world that was bent on destroying itself - and instead of seeking shelter had dedicated themselves to building something lasting and Real. The goal was not only to provide themselves with a place of safety, but to start building something for the future for everyone else. Benedictine life is a funny thing; it was never intended originally as a civilisational rescue operation, but in times of great crises the formula has served not only to preserve but to build up while everything else was falling down. Starting a monastery (the community was founded in 2000) in that particular place, and in times such as these was a deliberate sign.

We live in profoundly uncertain times, and nearly everyone is focusing on survival. Maybe it has to do with Generation X's systemic, innate uncertainty. We were the generation that our Boomer parents loved to terrorize. They dismantled an entire civilisation, like demolishing a house we were still trying to live in, and it left us with the core belief that we were all doomed. Even if our societies didn't collapse from social unrest, we would be incinerated by nuclear war before we were thirty. If we survived, we would "envy the dead" as we stumbled around blind and dying in a radioactive wasteland. This was the future our hippie parents taught us to expect. None of us made any plans, few of us got married and had children. We are the generation that has no belief at all in the future and very little trust in the present.

And now we're in our 40s and 50s, and more or less in charge of the world. Is it possible that this is where the western world's sudden malaise of anxiety has come from? Perhaps. I know that all my life I've had to fight the urge to retreat into the safety of despair. But a Christian has no business indulging in despair.

I have resisted talking about the earthquakes in St. Benedict's home town as some kind of metaphor. There are real people - people I know - whose lives have been flattened by the quakes, and they deserve better than to be turned into a rhetorical gaming chip. But if you think about it for a moment, it does seem like a mad thing, to think about building in a time when all around you is crashing down. And of course, those monks were doing exactly that 17 years ago when they first arrived. The quakes - coming at the same moment as the worsening crisis in the Church and the world - have simply made the reality that much more obvious, and made the task that much more clear.

Whatever the World is doing, we are called to the same thing as believers; we are called to build up the Kingdom. Now, while all the world is either willingly participating in this civilizational self-destruction, or trying to find a place to hide, we are being given quite a different sort of task, wherever we are.

On my own two feet, and by my own choice.

When I got, essentially, an offer of a place to continue hiding it just became clear that the time had come to do the next thing. To go voluntarily and so take the next adventure that's sent.

[All pics, H/T Christine Broesamle]


~