On Spring, Solitude and Serendipity

A spring holiday to lovely Vernazza!

“Let him who cannot be alone beware of community… Let him who is not in community beware of being alone.””

–Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Life Together

It is almost nine and mostly dark by the time we get back down to village.

It’s our second night staying in a house on the cliff 450 steps above Vernazza, one of the famous Cinque Terre of Italy’s northwestern coast. At home in Seattle, Erika and I are avid hikers, scaling the ridges and dipping down to the lakes of the North Cascade mountains that form the backbone of our region. She has come to Europe to visit me during BFA’s spring break, and we’re spending three days backpacking in the foreign warmth and grandeur of Italy.

We woke this morning with only a nebulous plan to “hike around a bit.”  Twenty minutes away from Vernazza, our path ran together with other travelers.  Two we’d met the night before, Australian mothers traveling together after their sons went off to university, and we heard them long before we saw them, their laughter and accents heralding their presence around the corner.  Walking with them were a couple from Southern California, celebrating ten years of marriage with an Italian getaway.

The six of us fell in together, spent the rest of the day navigating steep, narrow paths through the countryside, between improbably soft seas and the bone-dry steps of terraced vineyards.  We stopped for picnic lunch in one village, treating each other to the tastes of the region and dipping our feet into the still-cold Mediterranean before continuing on to the end of the road, the Riomaggiore I loved five years ago.

We drank in salty air, breathed out conversation, telling gradually the stories that had brought us here.  Of children born, educated, learning, leaving.  Of marriages that last and those that don’t.  Of jobs and loves, found and lost. Of forest fires, Alpine backpacking and Australian politics, biking to Versailles and Vespa tours of Florence.

From California, Seattle and Australia, new friends on the trail to Manarola.

We’ve made separate dinner plans to suit the budgets and appetites of three different decades, so Erika and I take a table on the main street, savoring caprese, warm foccocia, and the proprietor’s favorite €10 wine.  It’s only a few minutes before our hiking companions join us, finished with their suppers, ready to pull up chairs, order pizzas, and keep talking.  Vernazza’s already quiet streets hush to a whisper as the conversation continues, long into the evening, leading us to family and future, God and the gifts of being alive and here, tonight.

As we linger in the warm Italian night, sharing life with people who were strangers a day ago, I’m remembering the inquiries of last spring, the concerned refrain that met me at every turn:

Are you moving to Europe… alone?

The shortest answer was always yes, but even then I knew there was more to it.  From starting high school to working at Starbucks to spending a summer on a farm in Ramsau, I’ve done a great deal alone.   Yet in all of those places, I’m only alone for a day or two.  I go to class, learn some names, put on an apron, bake a cake and speak in broken Austrian German.  Though many ways it is a time of solitude, being young and unattached by marriage or its precursors, the lonely spaces of airports and trains, passages between known and soon-to-know, are the only true islands.  There’s a promise that follows me, wherever I go, a promise of God’s provision and affection, gifts that have always included the people He’s created.  Though it’s not always the community I’d expected, I’ve never been disappointed.

In a few days, Erika and I will travel back to Germany, visiting friends acquired in the decades of a Torchbearer childhood.  I’ll think more about the connectedness of the body of Christ, of the spirals that bind us together, the intimacy I enjoy with friends and family, even here on the edge of where I’d imagined life would go.  I’ll stare out of train windows filled with spring green, thinking about seasons of the earth and seasons of life, of the dance of connection and loneliness common to all people.  For now, though, Erika returns from the restaurant with more glasses, and I take a bite of pizza and listen, as yesterday’s strangers become today’s friends, somewhere along the Mediterranean.

Sunset over the Mediterranean Sea

9 Comments Add yours

  1. Pat Collins says:

    Kristi, thanks for the beautiful reminder…of God’s provision…of the beauty of friendship, old and new…of the joy of reveling in God’s love with friends. I miss you but am so blessed to know you!
    You are loved,

  2. raincitypastor says:

    Every single person in the world should read this. It might not bring to them the tears of joy, and pride, and the sense of solidarity I feel with you – but it will bring hope. Thanks daughter. I love you

    1. raincitypastor says:

      …and by ‘every single person’, I mean every ‘not married’ person, in distinction to the more universal alternative. 🙂

      1. Kristi says:

        Thanks either way! Love you, Dad.

  3. Katie Collins says:

    Beautiful and poignant writing as always, Kristi. Cinque Terre is such a special place! It’s amazing how stepping out alone into adventure can open our eyes and bring us wonderful people we may have never crossed paths with, or noticed at all. Miss you!

  4. Jennifer Porter says:

    Thank You Kristi for writing this, and for your father in sharing your post. I was really touched by the poignant observations you have made and how they strike me at where I am personally and spiritually in this journey called life. You are a wonderful writer. Do enjoy Vernazza–as it is such a delightful place to visit!
    Blessings, Jen Porter (I attend Bethany; Krystel’s sister–if that puts things into perspective)

  5. Beth says:

    What an awesome post!! 🙂 It’s so encouraging to read about your travels and your new communities- I hope my daughters have similar takes on life when they are grown up. I really admire your willingness to do stuff “alone” and it’s so true how you make total friends out of total strangers. It’s one of the best parts of doing stuff “alone” 🙂 Keep having adventures!

  6. Donald Ryder says:

    wonderful post – you seem to have gotten your dads knack for blogging – it is truly great to be a part of God’s beautiful creation – continue to enjoy where you are each and every day of your life

  7. Juli says:

    love your writing Kristi! I agree with you and have also experienced meeting new friends all over the world through my travels. I was also single at the time and love the way you describe it. Keep on writing – you have a gift! Blessings to you!

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