The spring of 2000, just about Easter, found me in Venice, Italy… heart-broken, confused, directionless, lost, technically homeless, knowing that I wanted to leave a career without any idea of what could possibly come next. The trip was a distraction of opportunity and convenience. I’d somehow hoped that getting away from my life would provide a breather from all the spinning, questions, and doubts that I was consumed by.
The three centuries of art and architecture provide plenty of awe, and a place to focus my camera. I took so many pictures, (all film) that I finally gave up trying to capture it all and quit shooting. For the first time in a very long time, I stopped seeing the world through the viewfinder of a still or video camera. It all became real again.
On that trip, I met a handsome young gondolier that showed me the city through the eyes of a local. It was truly an amazing experience. I learned so many things. Like all gondoliers have to be native Venetians… they go to school for several years to learn about all of the history, the art, the cultural changes, how to talk about all of those things in six languages, and then, and only then, do they learn how to operate the gondola, use the oar to maneuver through the city, and mapping of every single canal of Venice, large or small. Oh, and the food!!! The amazing food! On our first date, he took me to a small ristorante’ frequented only by locals. As each course came out, I would have sworn it was the main course… but no. The anti-pasta course was followed by a soup course, followed by a salad course, followed by a pasta course, followed by a seafood course, followed by a… ok, about that time a food coma had kicked in and I lost track of how many more there were. I would have thought that with this many course, there would be small amounts of food in each… but no. Each was a full bowl or plate followed by another. The past bowl was heaping… but my date assured me that he’d told them I was an American, so they were taking it easy on me and giving me lighter portions. I didn’t want to be rude, and each dish was more incredible than the last, each bite a testament to what I have learned is an otherworldly relationship that Italians have with food, that I didn’t stop, couldn’t stop… even though I began to seriously wonder if I was going to rupture my stomach. Or recreate the infamous Monty-Python “one thin mint” scene. Luckily, the rest of the date consisted of walking all around that breathtaking city.
As I mentioned, I had been nursing a broken heart… so all overt romantic attempts were thwarted. The threat to not steer the gondola through the 90-degree turn and let it hit the villa in front of us if I didn’t kiss him? I politely told him that if he did that I would drop him straight into the (famously polluted, sent you to the hospital) canal… He made the turn. Once lost in the city, the request for a kiss to direct us back along the correct route to the ristorante’? I just wandered off on my own to find the way… he quickly caught up, obliged and we went straight to dinner. But when he again tried to kiss me, as I sat under a bright full moon on the wall between San Marco Square and the bay to the mainland, the bells of the tower began tolling midnight…. I couldn’t help but think, “this is a story too amazing to pass up, how many times in my life will this happen?”
Several days later he took me on an afternoon trip through the city by gondola. I had only a couple of days left and he wanted to be sure that I had the chance to see all the wonders of his city from the water, and take all of the required tourist pictures to preserve in my memory. As he rowed the sleek black ornate boat into the traffic that is the Grande Canal, I was stuck by all of the colors, and energy, and life, and history, that is Venice. As he maneuvered into the current just beyond the Rialto Bridge, bringing the gondola around to frame the shot just right, I realized something… everything that had ever happened to me in my life, every heartbreak, every joy, every lesson, every failure, every triumph, every dream, every tear, every sigh, every laugh, had brought me to that moment… in that place, at that time… and it was beyond anything I could have ever fathomed. In that moment, I was fully aware of all the grace that I had been granted in my lifetime. Even more than that, at that moment I was also fully aware of all the grace that filled my life moving forward. You can almost see it in my face, in my eyes… the picture almost captures it, almost makes it tangible. The moment still burns clearly within me… and when I begin to doubt, get fearful, or wonder… I recall that moment, or I look at that picture and I plug back into that grace. The grace is always there, but somehow, I forget… but I don’t have to.