If you’ve been following my blog, you know that I recently had the pleasure of spending several weeks in Europe. My days were bright and beautiful, full from morning to night. I ate gelato with my daughter in Rome. I traveled to the countryside, visited glorious museums, reconnected with old friends, and created new ones. I drank barrels of cappuccinos at intimate cafes and talked up a storm with cousins and aunts and uncles I hadn’t seen in years. Every waking moment burst with light; every waking moment was invigorating. A part of me didn’t want it to end.
I’m home now, and silence is all around me. I fought it at first, as an addict might when thrown into a solitary cell with access only to water. I’m exaggerating, of course, but the first few days back—where I was mostly alone, where I was trying to find my footing again in the place I call home, where I missed the comforts of my beloved Italy—were akin to coming down from an intense high. I felt a vague sense of loss, and along with that, a tad delusional, as if I’d been returned to a life I couldn’t quite recall how to lead.
Which brought me to my Elizabeth Gilbert moment, who, in the middle of a great upheaval in her life, asked for God. I awoke one morning with the very same plea on my lips, and my voice seemed to arrive on its own accord: I need God, I said. I. Need. God.
My bedroom didn’t respond. My ceiling, which I stared at for a good, long while, didn’t either. My kitchen was quieter than usual, to the point that my plea sounded almost deafening. For days on end, this prayer was the only thing I could hear, like a song stuck in my head. I need God stayed with me through all of my regular activities. I tried listening to meditation music. I tried focusing on NPR, an audiobook, a movie. Nothing worked. God was staying mum. God was giving me time to think.
At long last, I went for a hike in the woods near my home, where I tend to do my best thinking. The sky was a luminous purple, dotted with clouds that resembled sheep. There, memories surged through me. Memories of the Italy I’d known not on vacation but as a little girl. I remembered the cold nights I spent alone while my mother was out on the town, and how I sucked my fingers to keep them from freezing. I remembered the debris that littered the streets of my home in Calcinara. I remembered the hunger that bit holes in my stomach, and the confusion I felt in shuffling from one home to the next. I also remembered that despite my surroundings, wherever I was, I felt protected, and loved in a way that didn’t require physical affection. I could be in my mother’s condemned flat, or terrified and alone at a summer camp several hours from home, or in the back of a frigid classroom—it didn’t matter, because I somehow managed to tap into a reservoir of profound love and warmth that filled me with comfort. I knew on a deep, instinctual level that I would be okay. That I would be able to carry on, regardless of the circumstances.
I saw the little girl I once was while I was walking in the woods. I saw her power, her strength. She wasn’t certain of her beliefs quite yet, but she was in tune with the knowledge that God would always look out for her. Even if he wasn’t directly speaking to her in the way she’d hoped, or giving her the material things she wanted, she knew that she was safe. She was protected by someone or something that was beyond her comprehension but existed in an undeniable way.
I need God persisted as I left the woods and returned to my home and started my day. But it had far less urgency, because in recalling the girl I once was, I was reminded that the God we search for resides within us. When we leave ourselves for too long—as I had done in Europe—and try to find answers outside of us, we are not only abandoning our faith but we’re also distancing ourselves from that quiet, internal place where we know, without a doubt, that God’s love exists, and will follow us anywhere.
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