Sunday, August 08, 2010

Thoughts at La Stazione di Lamezia Terme

San Andrea Superiore - the ancient wall
As I sit and write these valedictory notes to Calabria, the station is alive with travellers from the North of Italia arriving for their Summer holidays.  With the August heat, Northerners have always left the cities in hordes and headed South to the sea and the sand.  Even Isca Marina was packed last evening when I went down to the local ristorante Il Sette Bello for an evening meal.  There were people everywhere and the joy in their voices was most apparent - they were all excited to be on holidays, and indeed the Italian people know how to relax.  The Mezzogiorno, while it is being developed of late and while there is a buzz of industry, is still way less frenetic than the Industrial Triangle of the North.

Having spent a month in Calabria, I have been delighted with the easy-going nature of the people.  Some would say that they are too easy-going, and are simply never in a rush to finish any job.  Yet, this fact, once one gets used to it, becomes a redeeming feature.  It makes you slow down, because you simply have to.  The fact that the base for the bed arrives, with the mattress thankfully, a week or two before the headboard and footboard or surround, is a fact of life.  There is no use bemoaning the fact that you are not in the UK or Éire or the U.S.A. now.  Things simply are done all too slowly here.  And yet, if you think about it, you are not going to die if everything does not arrive together. A returned Italian Canadian told me that the difference between Canada and Italy lay in the fact that in the former country everything worked, in the latter nothing.  Obviously, he was exaggerating and joking, but the joke does highlight a difference in emphasis between the new country and the old.

One of the problems with modern society is that our expectations have grown way out of bounds.  Not only doe we want X, Y or Z next week or in three days time. No, we want it tomorrow.  Some even dare to want their desires fulfilled now, this instant.  Truly the world has become one which seeks to gratify desires and seeks to do so instantly. How many consumer items have the adjective "instant" somewhere in their product advertisements?  A lot,  I would guess from lived experience.  I remember some few years ago several hassled providers of goods whom I know, who, when they got frustrated with the demands for instant service, replying in frustration:  "Do you want it yesterday?"

Indeed, it is no harm to slow down.  That's what I have been forced to do this last month.  My plane flight to Rome was cancelled at the last minute and I had to travel there by train.  Still, at least I had enough time to buy a ticket on the Eurostar train.  Then, travelling by train is far more comfortable than travelling by air.  I love the fact that I can wander around the train if I get tired from sitting, and that I can use my netbook if I so wish.  Once again, moving more slowly through space than flying through it is surely way more leisurely and way more conducive to the healing of the spirit, as well, of course, as being less hazardous to the environment.  Train travel beats plane travel any day.

Travelling has always been a favourite passtime for humankind.  The very act of travelling is both intreresting insofar as one learns loads of new things and also challenging as one has to problem solve as one goes along.  Things can and do go wrong along the way, and one is forced to think to sort them out.  Also I believe that travelling is also a spiritual occupation.  At college, I remember reading the famous Canterbury Tales by Geoffrey Chaucer, and how I love that book with its Middle English and all those quaint words we learned as well as the vivid pen pictures of all the pilgrims.  To go on pilgrimage was always at the heart of Christianity, and indeed at the heart of many more religions, too.  In this spiritual; sense, or if you find that word a tad too religious for you, then I say, in a metaphorical sense our travelling is representative of the very journey that is our life. 

Packing  one's things in a suitcase, making sure the absolute essentials are there is in itself a meditative activity I find as I get older.  I have long since stopped bringing "the kitchen sink" with me on holidays.  In fact,  I only ever bring a carry-on bag with me these days.  Of course, having an apartment down here in Calabria does help as I leave a hell of a lot of stuff there.  However, once again packing up one's bits and pieces is symbolic of our last departure from this world, too.  In life, I find we are either arriving or leaving, coming or going and all departures and arrivals are metaphors for our arrival into and our departure from this world.

Once I remember writing a meditation and conducting a small healing service for some boys at school for one of their classmates who sadly died all too young at the age of fifteen years only.  The image or motif that came to me was that of journey - a train journey at that.  I invited all the boys to relax, close their eyes, become aware of their bodies and then of their breathing, to concentrate on that very breath of life, the warmer air as they breathed out and the colder air as they breathed in.  When they were suitably relaxed, I began a simple visualization with them where they as a class, accompanied by their departed friend, were going on a train journey.  My visualization painted very vividly all the things young teenage boys would do when together on a train journey liike playing cards, listening to music, reading a football magazine etc.  Then, I brought them from station to station, and at one station their friend Stephen got off and waved goodbye.  They would never see him again as this train journey was in fact the journey of life - some of us get off at earlier stops while others continue right on to the end of the journey.  The metaphor was simple - the train journey represented the journey we make through life.  It just so happens that it was written in Stephen's genes that he had to get off at an earlier station.

And so as I journey I meditate upon these things, too, myself.  I realise that some day I will make a final journey, that some day I will have to get off at X, Y or Z station.  At the moment I do not know where or when that will be.  The great Roman Catholic theologian and scholar Cardinal John Henry Newman always said that it is important for us human beings to realise that as well as having a birthday we will also have a death day.  That fateful day will be marked or carved on our tombstones together with our birthday.  These are the thoughts that run through my mind as I sit here on the marble seat in La Stazione di Lamezia-Terme.  It is also a boon of modetrn technology that I can have my netbook on my knee with my internet connection TIM-Alice plugged in. While sitting in this little spot I am in contact with the whole world as it were.  Even in that there is food for thought.  And yet, as I type these words I am relaxed and am indeed meditating, giving thanks for the breath of life that breathes through me, for the blood that pulses through my veins, for the thoughts that crowd my mind, for the still beauty of the old couple and the young boy next to me, for the blue skies and the sun, for the very joy of being.

And now it is time to stop these words and go and catch my train for Rome.  Arrivederci Calabria!  Arrivevederci Italia.  Torno in Irlanda, a casa, a Dublino.

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