Wicked Curve Balls

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.

Photo Credit: Gregorio of the guests of Casa Gregorio

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.

She’s breathtaking.

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.

49 Comments

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    1. Thanks Elizabeth, I couldn’t pass up such a good prompt, especially one that asks you to identify a time when you needed to rely on the kindness of others. I read the prompt to Larry and asked him what story he would have told and he said the exact same one. Obviously, it traumatized us both. Hugs, C

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    1. I’m all for those exciting, unexpected, delightful holiday stories but this one was as if a sucker punch, it took us down, but damn if it didn’t make for a powerful memory. I read the prompt to Larry and he immediately mentioned the same story. Twin trauma, it’s a thing. Hugs, C

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  1. I have only ever been to Italy once. To Rome, for my 50th birthday, over 20 years ago. But it was so magical, so much more than I expected, and will remain in my heart until I die. Glad to hear you also had a memorable trip, and you have heritage to make it even more special.
    Best wishes, Pete. x

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    1. I’m so glad you made it to Italy Pete, it is “magical” indeed, and once there, you always have this urge to return. I was charmed by not only the landscape, food, and wine but the people are warm and engaging, part of the enchantment. I hope to return some day, there’s so much of the country I haven’t seen and lots of pasta still to eat! Hugs, C

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    1. Thank you LA. With your recent return from Barcelona, I’m wondering if you had any exciting encounters? One’s where you were dependent on the kindness of strangers? Loved how you shared your trip on your blog, I might copy your style for our upcoming trip, walking the El Camino de Santiago. Hugs, C

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  2. I can’t stop crying from the video. You’re writing always captures my heart, C. You are a magical writer. What an experience! And traveling and celebrating with friends? The best! I traveled solo to Egypt in 2002. Bush declared war the day before. One of my ex’s worked in Alexandria as a contractor for Booz Allen out of New York ~basically helping their Navy. I flew into a military airport and my saving grace was a man from Switzerland who was a dead ringer for my Uncle Oral Gene. He helped me with every step. He had flown with me from Frankfurt. My luggage didn’t arrive for several days and I had to “trust” a driver to take me where I was scheduled, although men with weapons were all around. There was so much beauty beyond that scary moment. I’ve been lost in East St. Louis, downtown Memphis, Dallas, and on several trails. Oh, and of course the wicked curve balls of loss in general. You are an excellent storyteller and I love the life you live and how it impacts us all so positively!! I long to go to Italy! I see you there so easily! Lots of love to you dear C. 💛💕❤️

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    1. Hi Karla, I know, that Joni really got to me too! She’s embedded in my memories and to hear her sing those words again just massages my heart and brings tears to my eyes. It’s really the perfect song for our world today and it enchants me every time I listen. Thank you always for your kind words of support and continual encouragement. It means the world to me. And can I just say, you are one brave soul, traveling to Egypt alone, during a war, with only Uncle Oral Gene’s look alike to guide you. An angel in disguise if there ever was one. The thing I notice about you is you continue to live with courage and bravery in the face of real obstacles and challenges. You don’t cower in the corner and let life happen, you combat it with the bravery of a solider on the battle field. I so admire this in you and you inspire others to do the same. Bravo my friend, warrior on, keep up the good fight. This world needs you. As always, wrapping you in love and hugs, C

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      1. You have in tears, C. I’m humbled. 😭 I’ve reflected on your words. You say things that I’ve never heard before. I felt in life, thus far, that fear could never be a choice. I was so young when I traveled, the only fear I had was leaving my sons those times as they could not travel with me (Mom fears seem different~I might fear one of them being lost or hurt-which has happened ~yet, I don’t fear facing my challenges and what I had to do to keep us going at some tough tough times). Angels have surrounded me. And friends like you, although just in this space, hydrate my hope! You know a part of me not known by all just in how we’ve connected. I honor that and love it dearly. I’m hugging and loving you back. Thank you for being here. 💛💕❤️

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  3. Okay, that was a scary story, I was gripped. You are a great storyteller Cheryl – even when they are ominous tales. By the grace of God I like to say in those situations. Yes, you guys found an earth angel. Glad for the happy ending. ❤

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you Debby, it was a scary story, both to live and write. I so appreciate your kind words. And I truly believe we encountered an angel that day, she was full of love and compassion, and she offered it to us with no expectation for compensation or return. That such love exists makes me ever so hopeful. Hugs, C

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  4. Thank you, neighbor, for the wonderful prose.
    Yes, I remember when you returned from your trip. Wonderful memories of idyllic places always remain, even if we cannot remain there. Terrie and I are dying to go back for a month or more.
    Ahhh. Italia. . . The villages, the air, the people, the language. The trattoria wines! And the FOOD: The cold cuts, the cheeses, the breads, the square pan sections of Pizza, the Carbonara! The fresh catch fish dishes and the cioppinos! You know I’m a foodie, right? How could you not? ; -)
    Oh, and who could ever forget “Trenitalia”, their spastic Rail System. . . Their Motto: If you are Italian, moody, sullen, and have a disdain for foreigners? You’re hired! Okay, okay. Stop me.

    I am curious though about the end when you wrote: “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..”

    For you, “communion” as you use it here, obviously relates tightly to the memory of the compassion shown to you and Larry by the woman and the tall young man, whom I suppose to be her son, or perhaps a nephew. What is Jesus trying to teach us with communion (the Eucharist), that you and Larry didn’t understand?

    Cheers!

    CT

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    1. Oh my Chris, your memories of Italy are absolutely divine and spot on! You really should write a blog, as I have been admonishing you for years, it would be spectacular. Okay, the last part, when I was trying to dig a little deeper into the kindness of strangers. In my eyes communion is an experience of God, but it comes with a call to action, to go out and share this experience of “love” with each other. I think that is what Jesus was trying to teach us with this ritualized practice of blessing and breaking bread together, it’s where God is most present, and we’re called to offer this love to our neighbor. I’m reminds of the disciples on the road to Emmaus, they encounter the risen Christ, but don’t recognize him until they break bread together, and they are instantly inspired to go back to Jerusalem and share the good news. When I said “we didn’t understand,” I meant that collectively, we didn’t get Jesus, nor did we have a full understanding of Eucharist (or an experience of God) but I saw it in action with this woman, who loved us unconditionally, from the recesses of her generous heart, and it gives me hope that the action of love is still alive in this world. Hope that makes sense. Hugs, C

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      1. It doesn’t have to make sense to ‘me’ Cheryl, it only needs to make sense to you. And by sharing your thoughts in response, I now know what the Eucharist means to you, and where you were coming from when you wrote those words. The reason I had to ask was that there are sooo many thoughts and feelings on what the Eucharist is, what it is ‘supposed’ to be, what it means, etc. And promise, there is absolutely no element of a lecture in any of this to follow, only meaningful sharing to make a point of the mystery in all of it, that we all find something beautiful and different in the experience of the holy Eucharist.

        The official catchline of the Catechism of the Catholic Church to capture the meaning of the Eucharist goes something like this: “The Eucharist in the Catholic Church is a sacrament celebrated as ‘the source and summit’ of the Christian life.”

        I know way too much about all this, but really, in the grand scheme of things? I know very little if anything at all.
        What I do know though, is that as a result of having been blessed to be chosen to be a Diocese-trained Sacristan, Eurcuristic Minister, and Eurcutistic Minister to the Sick and Homebound? I learned that what the Priest is doing during the Consecration is recreating at that point in the Mass, during the transubstantiation of the bread and wine to the body and blood, the Eucharist, really represents a recreation of the pinnacle moment of the ultimate holy sacrifice of our Lord at the end of the Passion of Christ on the Cross.

        I know that one could spend not just hours but years trying to capture all that the eucharist is, and not get it all. I also know there are at least fifty, if not a hundred books written about the Eucharist, authored by Popes, Bishops, Clerics, Priests, Deacons, Nuns, Catholic Scholars, famous authors, and others in the faith, lay people included.

        Additionally, there are ‘God only knows’ how many pages that are directly devoted or somehow related to the Eucharist in the Catechism alone. Additionally, there are surely tens of thousands of pages devoted to the Eucharist and what it means in various prayers, devotions, homilies, journals, articles, reflections, and essays, either written or passed down through oral tradition since the second century. The message of the Eucharist and the impact it has on the faithful is almost as limitless as the people that have been affected by its existence.

        Rereading that all above (sorry, sort of …) I need to end this note before my catholic nerdiness really gets out of control.
        I want to express to you Cheryl, how joyful I was, and am, as to your choice to write about it in a way that touched my heart, and might I dare say, a few others’ hearts as well.

        Pax Christi,
        CT

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        1. Your knowledge of this topic is extraordinary Chris, it far outweighs my attempts to understand this as the pinnacle of our faith. Thanks so much for sharing your thoughts on such an enormous and profound practice, one that connects us to the passion of Christ. xxoo, C

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  5. Wow! that would have terrified me too! I have a very unrealistic fear of being lost. So glad that your adventure ended well and the obvious “point” …. we do, at times, have to trust unknown “angels” sent to help us. I love the beautiful description you give of the woman/son who helped you. It reminds me that true beauty is found within and revealed when we give it to others. God has graced me with countless “destiny helpers”. Some with directions, a helping hand, a meal, an invite, a sweet note, a hug, silent company, furry cuddles, giggling phone calls, a bottle of Chardonnay, and most importantly to me, His Word, which always seems to reveal what I should do next. Clearly, I seem to need a lot of direction! LOL Love your post and Best Wishes Always! Leigh

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Leigh, it was terrifying and I’m with you, I do not enjoy being lost in an unfamiliar place. We were lucky. I honestly believe Larry was divinely inspired, it was a if a calm came over him, and he knew where to stop and who to ask for help. I really love this line of yours, “true beauty is found within and revealed when we give it to others.” Brilliant. And yes, the word of God has pointed many in a new direction, towards love, and compassion. We all need directions on occasion, and I’m forever thankful for the kindness of strangers. Thanks for the kind words, sending some love and hugs your way, C

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Cheryl, such an exciting and well written story. I was expecting you to be kidnapped at gun point anytime. Sometimes we think only the U.S. cities have bad areas but they are everywhere. 🤗❤️🙏

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    1. Thank you, I was expecting the same, so imagine my surprise when a woman with a generous heart stepped up to help, to calm our fears, to guide us to safety. It’s a good reminder to reach out to those we encounter who seem lost or in need of our assistance. Thanks so much for joining me in the comments. Hugs, C

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  7. I was on the edge of my seat Cheryl… we had a similar experience with me driving in Los Angeles and we found ourselves lost and not in the best of places late at night. Finally we found an entrance to the freeway and have never been so relieved in our lives. Great memory and what a wonderful guardian angel… I have read part one by the way and about to start part two… riveting..♥

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    1. Oh my, I’m thrilled to have put you on the edge of your seat Sally. I know the feeling well of being lost in the wrong part of town and finding that escape ramp to the freeway must have felt like a stairway to heaven. Thanks for all the time you’ve spent on my manuscript, I can thank you enough, especially for your kind words. Hugs, C

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  8. Your story inspired some amazing responses. Fun reading! No doubt more fun than being there. I remember being ten and lost alone on a hike in Angel Fire, NM. I found my way home through fields of tall grasses and covered with hives. Once in the time before smart phones, my husband and I detoured in Mississippi after dark due to an interstate closure. The pine forests on the back roads were ominous, the drive intense. In 2011, I wandered away from my family in a museum in Cairo. I wasn’t lost, but I felt unsafe. Tourism had just reopened after their revolution. Clearly, I made it out alive, even without hives.

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    1. Hi Crystal, I think it’s interesting how and why we carry our trauma. And more importantly what instigates it’s reappearance in our lives. I noticed when I was writing about the experience it brought up many of the same emotions I felt when lost in the ghettos of Naples. But the same thing happened when I was remembering the wonderful woman and her angel eyes. I think we recycle our strong emotions especially when we reexperience trauma. Maybe we harbor them for our own safety, to remind us when we’re in danger, or warn us that shit is about to hit the fan. The stories you share of being lost in dangerous situations repeatedly, but somehow survive (with hives mind you), might be part of a pattern, a pattern of survival, one where you use your ingenuity and resources to escape or manage the danger? I know, I know, I’m a wannabe psychologist, but I find the human condition fascinating! I think it’s why we write. Thanks for sharing some of your “dark shadows”! Maybe we should just stay home this weekend? Hugs, C

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Hi Liz, you are so right, and that is what gives me so much comfort and hope! It’s those brave souls that reach out when someone is in need to offer comfort, guidance, and care. I try to remember that kindness and return it when I can. Thanks so much for joining me in the comments! Hugs, C

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  9. Hi Cheryl,
    Terrifying story, especially if the driver of the car that pulled up next to you appeared to be “ill tempered.” It appears that all of Larry’s watching of Formula 1 racing finally payed off. I love how the story turned, with the beautiful words of “we’re going to have to trust someone.” As if divine intervention opened the way.
    And how would I answer the prompt that you began with?
    Well, no one asked, but here goes anyway. Age 17 or 18, me and a friend were out skiing on Lake Shasta on a weekday (no crowds!) My boat, known as the Pink Revenge” ran out of fuel from one tank, and when we switched to the other, the line was clogged or some such thing, and it would not run. The boat was a relic that I bought for about $500, and a lot of fun, but let’s just say it had issues on occasion. Anyway, we sat forever in the middle of nowhere on that lake for hours. We finally got someone to tow us to a gas station on the water (thank you wonderful stranger,) and then headed home on the lake in darkness. We were going pretty fast on the water when we hit an island. The boat flew over the island and landed on the shore on the other side and then scraped and grinded into the water. The outboard lower unit flipped up while this was going on and all the while kept running. My life flashed before my eyes, and then the boat kind of floated to a stop on the other side. After checking that my buddy and I were still alive, we drove the boat back to the launch. When we finally made it back, the boat had started to take on water, but we were able to pull it out of the water in the dark. Divine intervention indeed.
    I am torn on the song. Was going to go with Find My Way Home by Blind Faith. Then thought about a Seekers song as sadly, the Golden Pipes herself, Judith Durham passed away last night. But for some reason, this song makes me feel really spiritual.

    Can’t wait until we see you all. Hopefully, with the proper amount adult beverages, we will be able to solve all the world’s problems and figure out the meaning of life (though I understand it is 42.)

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Mike! Wow, what a story. I’m not surprised by the person who rescued you two bobbing around in the middle of the lake and towed you to an on-lake gas station. I’m always amazed at the kindness of boating people. We have been towed several time by good souls who stopped to help. To this day we can not pass a boat that looks like it might be in distress without stopping to check on them. When you hit the island I was imagining the worst. I can’t believe one or both of you didn’t fly out of the boat, hit some unforgiving object, and get hurt. That’s the miracle, the divine intervention part, the guardian angel literally strapping you in the boat! Then, in the dark you find the launch ramp, while taking on water, and no doubt you two were a little shook up! Now I’m struck by the name of the boat, “the pink revenge”? Seems telling in some way. Great story Mike, thanks so much for sharing. It would be fun to talk to your buddy and see how he remembers the horrific tale. Looking forward to the visit! Come thirsty! Hugs, C

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    1. Thank you Olganm, I so appreciate you taking the time to read and offering such kind words. I too am thankful for the happy ending, one I can consider years later and still be thankful for the experience. It could have easily ended differently. Blessings on your week, hugs, C

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  10. Wow, that is one incredible story. I would have been terrified. I love traveling but moments like these make my heart jump to my mouth. I also tend to always expect the worst which doesn’t help.
    I remember getting lost literally a few days after I moved to Canada. I was in a city in the middle of nowhere and had just gotten off a bus that was the last bus for a while. It was terrifying.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Hi Pooja, it was a crazy episode, and I’m so glad it’s behind us, even though I too expected the worst! Thank goodness for good people. I can’t imagine moving to a new country and trying to figure it all out like you did. I would have been terrified even taking the bus. You must have it down by now and I hear Canada is a beautiful place to live. Hugs, C

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    1. Hi Diane, we’ve all had those moments in life when you make a wrong turn and end up in a place you never thought you would be. The ghettos of Naples is one of those places. The cooking classes at Casa Gregorio are well worth the time and expense. If you ever have the opportunity I would say get on the next plane and go! You especially would enjoy the classes and all the local markets. It was extraordinary! Hugs, C

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