beginning of the end.

when we were leaving the mountains, heading to the car, walking down the stone lane, the echoing footsteps never to come again, the village’s parting gift to me was dog poo. on both feet. thanks to everyone who lets their dog take care of business not quite off the side of the street. everyone is really happy about it.

I have spent the last couple days back trying to catch up on emails and connections….and also I may have spent some of that time reading. Rachel says we need to have an intervention. They think I read too much. I think the fact that I read while I walk pushed her over the edge.

And on that note I finished another one today: Jonathan Strange and Mr Norrell. Wonderful. If you have never heard of/read it, stop what you are doing and leave now. Don’t let the fact that it is 1,000 pages long deter you. It’s worth it. I feel like I will be thinking about this book for the next week. Brilliant.

Ready for a small world moment? There is a group of high schoolers here touring around Italy and meeting up with various ministries in the various cities. And get this: they are from Stephanie’s (my girlfriend) old high school. As in her brothers know people on the trip and one of the leaders was Steph’s chemistry teacher. And then it gets better. That same chemistry teacher worked for International Teams in the past in Italy, and had met Rachel when she was going off to her year in Greece with ITeams way back when. We think this kind of stuff is pretty cool.

So last night we met up with the team of youngsters and their leaders and teachers at a restaurant and had a lovely dinner talking about things, lives, and bizarre connections. We left with them back to their hotel and all gathered awkwardly in the bizarrely apportioned space that passes as some sort of lobby. Rachel and Tim filled them in on the overall situation of refugee events in the world and Rome in particular as they tried not to sleep. This was due mainly to fact that they had only just arrived the day before and the beastly clinging demon of jet-lag was still a constant presence. One young lad sitting next to Tim decided about half way through to just give up and go to sleep. He was later jolted awake by his own noises, at which they all had a good laugh. And in response the boy rolled over and mumbled some things and closed his eyes again. I was more than anything amazed at his brash actions and, shall we say, disrespect. But oh well.

Joy offered mostly silent entertainment by opening the little drawer in the circular coffee table and eating invisible somethings. At one point she looked across the group and mouthed words to me, asking if I wanted some. I mouthed back, yes, of course. She nodded knowingly and tossed me an invisible something which I promptly invisibly ate and was pleased in my belly by its invisible goodness. She smiled and went back to eating them herself. She is a bustling fountain of cuteness.

I shared briefly just about the whole thought that there is a side to ministry more than just handing out sandwiches and patting yourself on the back. Rachel added some things to that as well. And before they all fell asleep, we went over the events of the next morning, which will be related to you presently.

Lindsey and I met them at their hotel and the festivities began. We had been informed that they had brought much in the way of toothpaste, soap, shampoo, and other such toiletries to give out to the refugees. They also were fronting the bill to make up a sack lunch to hand out. Upon hearing this information I most likely grumbled rather bitterly something about how one would certainly hope that a private Christian school from the suburbs of Chicago would be able to pay for such a thing. But I am judgmental jerk like that, so pay me no heed. So I went shopping with half, and the others made up bathroom stuff bags with Lindsey, and then upon our return with the foodstuffs we all had a fun fun fun time packing it all away into bags and running out of our miscounted bread, finishing the task after I had returned from the grocery store with more. The next task was to give the lunches away. This proved a little more difficult. Our hope was that we could find a fair number of guys to hang out with, but there was nobody at the train station, and only a few guys at the nearby piazza, who we could only mildly communicate with. We wanted the kids to interact with some of the refugees, but this was proving hard. I called some people. Nobody was around. We went to the park near the Colosseum and hung out and shared food with a bunch of Bangladeshi street merchants, some successful in selling the kids some scarves. After hitting up Termini, most of the lunches were handed out, and they took the rest with them to see if the could find anyone else in their later adventures. We bid our farewells and Lindsey and I hopped on the metro towards home. On the way out of the metro I get a call from Eli twenty minutes before we had planned to meet, asking where I was. Why, I was at Piazza Bologna. Well, so was he. Indeed, there you are across the way. So I started the next leg of my day.

Eli and I had his usual smoke on the post office steps, then went back for our usual tea and had our usual writing session and our usual hang out time for the majority of the afternoon. Never a dull moment. Except for the moments that are dull. It has been great to make real lasting (hopefully) friendships here. Honestly something that I didn’t really think would happen. Becoming harder though, as my date of departure looms ever closer.

When Eli left I sat on the in rapt suspense until, slowly, the final page consumed, I closed the book and sat in awe and contentment.

Then I ate some amazing rice and beans, with some green beans and toasted bread. What a wonderful dinner! And dirt cheap, too!

I went out to the train station for my final Wednesday. I didn’t bring my uke to play with Walter as I figured I should reconnect with the friends I hadn’t seen in a while. And also because I just plum didn’t think about it. But I had a good conversation with my Afghan friend who stayed many years in England about Islam and Christianity. He is very……..solid in his Muslim ways, shall we say. I did not try to debate with him – I do not try to debate with anybody about such things – but we shared our differing views in calm and civil ways. But he is pretty set. He denied that followers of one branch of Islam were even Muslims. I mentioned our friend with Walter who had converted and was told outright that it didn’t really count, he wasn’t really a Muslim before. I have never encountered that before. I also feel like I will listen for hours about what they have to say, but when I talk about how cool Jesus is and peace and love and all that great stuff, Muslims usually tune out more or less. They tend to look at other places and nod their head at nothing and go ok, ok and then keep talking. So it often feels really fruitless. But the farmer plants the seed and the rains come and the sun comes and he sleeps and the plant somehow grows. So maybe me sharing Jesus-y things will have some importance later in his life. I certainly hope so.

Rode the metro back with Ali. He told me of the last time he had alcohol, when he was a young man. His father was so angry he wouldn’t allow Ali to talk to him for an entire week. He learned his lesson. I wonder where his father is now.

And so begins my last week and Rome.

……or is it the end of the beginning?

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