Below is my response to the prompt: What story from your life would you offer of a time you felt lost and found your way?
Thanks On Being, for the wonderful prompt and the opportunity to share.
There is a time to take our lives in hand, but there is also a time to take our hands off our lives, and to leave what seems apparent and trust ourselves to the hidden. Marv and Nancy Hiles
It’s 3:00 am, pitch dark, and life is about to throw us a wicked curve ball. With the suitcases loaded in the rental car, I twist around in my seat for one last glance at Sorrento, Italy, through the rear window.
We have an early flight out of Rome and miles to traverse before we land in San Francisco, California, after two glorious weeks of travel.
I miss home, but Italy has captured my heart as if a lover, and I’m finding it hard to escape her moreish embrace.
As the view of my beloved slowly fades, unbeknownst to us, trauma is about to pay us a harsh visit, and we will be forced to depend on the kindness of a stranger.
I suppose wariness is an evolutionary capacity because humans who developed their wariness were more likely to survive. It’s safer to assume the worst.
Historically but not always.
Larry and I are adoringly reviewing our time in Italy. It’s our thirtieth wedding anniversary, and Italy has delivered.
We landed in Rome two weeks ago and spent one unforgettable night at a curbside restaurant with a gaggle of dear friends who have accompanied us on all our major anniversary trips. We were deep into our friendship when we realized we were all married in the same year and decided to spend our thirtieth together in Italy.
I call it destiny, some might call it fate, but the truth is you haven’t been anywhere until you arrive home safely.
The next day we landed at Casa Gregorio, a cooking school located in Castro dei Volsci, and spent a week in the capable hands of Gregorio himself, learning to make homemade gnocchi, frittatas, and casseroles. We enjoyed private tours of local wineries, a cheesemonger, a sausage manufacturer, and even an olive oil farm with the gorgeous Vincento describing the unique flavors.
We ate as if royalty. Farm to table. Hand to mouth.
One of Gregorio’s staff drove us all the way to Sorrento, where we spent a week in this miraculous playground. The food is fabulous, the wine superb, and the people are generous and welcoming. We were enamored by an abandoned hotel, and for a week, we imagined making her our own and restoring her to her former beauty. Italy is like that, you want a reason to come back, even a hotel in ruins balanced precariously on the edge of the rugged coast.
It’s from the splendor of these sweet musings that we encounter an unexpected detour. I mean, it’s practically the middle of the night, and for reasons unknown, they’ve closed the entire freeway, rerouting us through Naples.
And, of course, our navigational devices no longer work.
This is how one gets lost. Extremely lost.
Following the detour signs was nearly impossible as they were oddly spaced. At some point, we must have made a wrong turn because they completely disappeared as we continued to weave our way deeper and deeper into the worst part of Naples.
When we passed a pack of wild dogs literally pulling apart a rat, or what looked like a rat, with their bare teeth, Larry started breathing hard.
I don’t want to elevate his panic but wild dogs?
The further we descend into this unfamiliar location, the greater the fear and the harder it is to breathe. I can feel his panic as if he were a passenger in the car.
The bunched muscles in my shoulder start to ache as I sit there pondering our situation, lost in Naples, in danger, with nothing to shelter us but the darkness, the stars, and a pitted road.
Our wariness is on overdrive, and we can not seem to escape this maze. I’ve known Larry since I was fourteen, and I’ve never seen him so terrified. His fear is palatable as I start praying to a noticeably silent God.
It seems as if we’ve been driving through hell for more than an hour when in reality, it was probably twenty minutes.
We pause at a stop sign trying to decide which way to go, when a car with darkened windows, right off the set of The Godfather, approaches us and rolls down its window. We sort of freak out and crack ours an inch. In the most cynical voice, I’ve ever heard, a rough-looking character says, “you lost?”
Larry performs a remarkable u-turn given the tight space. He had to drive across a median, but as if a bat out of hell, we tear off in the opposite direction leaving rubber marks on the street behind us. I’m not sure, but I think the devil smiled.
Now Larry’s panic has shifted into overdrive.
I’m no longer praying. I’m pleading for mercy, and for my partner’s benefit, I act as calm as a Hindu cow at a barbeque.
We drive in maniacal silence for another mile when Larry turns to me and says, “we’re going to have to trust someone.”
He pulls up to the curb outside of a very small and shabby-looking restaurant. He turns to me and says, “I’m leaving the keys in the car and locking the doors.” Meaning that if he doesn’t come back, and I’m forced to, I have the ability to escape.
I wordlessly nod my understanding.
He enters the establishment through a door that is left ajar. He’s gone for what seems an eternity as I scan for that pack of wild dogs, or worse, a pack of wild humans.
I wait. My hands are shaking, and a trickle of sweat is streaming down the center of my back.
He finally emerges from the restaurant accompanied by a stout and well-rounded woman wearing a soiled apron. She has an arm around Larry’s waist as if she were a beloved aunt, and she’s talking to him slowly, using her other hand for emphasis.
Keep in mind neither of us speaks Italian.
I can see that she senses his fear, and as if a mother, she is trying to calm him.
Behind her is a tall young man with dark hair, also wearing a worn apron, drawing a map for Larry on a paper napkin.
I unlock the doors.
In broken English, the man explains the map to Larry as I catch the woman’s eye, and I’m telling you, she had the eyes of an angel. Pure love. She smiles at me, and I know she knows. This is what Jesus was trying to teach us with communion.
But we didn’t understand.
As we drive away, I glance back at our savior through the rear window, she stands on the curb watching for our safe departure, and I marvel at the kindness of a stranger as her image slowly fades.
I’m Living in the Gap, share a story from your life of a time you felt lost and found your way.