His only day to see the Eternal City and he was in a lousy mood. Then it started to rain.
Sep 17, 2014
I thought I was going to love this trip to Italy, but instead, everything went wrong. I got stuck with the dreaded middle seat in the very last row of the plane from New York to Rome. The guy sitting to my right snored like a pachyderm, and I didn’t sleep a wink.
By the time we landed I felt like a zombie. The hot and sticky weather only made it worse.
I was an ambitious young journalist, and I’d jumped at this chance to report on a conference at the Vatican. But the complex theological debate was way over my head. I couldn’t follow a thing. Was it my lack of spiritual depth, or just that I was suffering from jet lag? I couldn’t tell.
I might have recovered from the latter if I hadn’t been staying in a tiny, cramped pensione with no air conditioning, making sleep impossible. What a disaster!
Finally, on the last day of the conference, I had an afternoon to myself–only one afternoon to see the Eternal City. I was determined to make the most of it.
Naturally, it started to rain. Not a romantic summer shower, either. A storm of biblical proportions. Lightning. Thunder. Rain cascading in sheets. So much for “sunny Italy.” I grabbed an old umbrella in the hallway of my pensione and darted out anyway.
The muddy Tiber was a swollen torrent and I could barely see across it. I headed toward the ruins of the great Colosseum, but even its vastness was veiled behind low-hanging clouds.
Soon my suit was drenched and my shoes were so water-logged they squeaked with every step. I couldn’t find an empty taxi to save my life, although the streets were full of cabs, all blowing their horns. It felt like New York at rush hour.
Enough already. I dodged past closed-up churches and empty palaces, then ducked into an ancient side street to escape the wind. I wanted to find the way back to my pensione, but realized I was hopelessly lost in a maze of alleys and narrow, cramped streets.
I kept walking, slogging on through the wind and the rain, when I came out, quite unexpectedly, into a wide piazza. There, looming in front of me, was the magnificent Trevi Fountain, one of the most famous landmarks in the city, and usually mobbed by scores of tourists.
It was raining so hard that it was difficult to distinguish between the water from the fountain and the water pouring from the sky. I slumped onto one of the low railings and wiped the rain from my face.
My gaze settled on the baroque columns of the façade and the central figure, Oceanus, rising from a shell-like chariot drawn by winged horses. The gray-white stone of the statues gleamed like armor, their images reflected in the water, as if they were part of some mysterious dual universe.
Ancient Rome, the Middle Ages, the Renaissance and the dawn of Christianity all seemed to be contained in that one pool.
Sitting there looking at the shadows and reflections in the rain, and at the magnificent statuary, I felt in awe. Not just of the fountain but of life itself, its beauty and its storms, its pain and its rewards. In the middle of it all, God’s love pours down on us, in sunlight, rain and clouds.
Then I looked around. I was all alone. Not a single other soul was in the piazza. Impossible but true. It was as though God were telling me, This moment, Anthony, is for you. Treasure it. As I treasure you.
The words plumbed the depths of my soul, depths I hadn’t realized I had until that moment. My clothes were dripping, my feet were soaked, yet I was joyful, ready for whatever adventure lay ahead.