Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Out of Focus

I like to take a photo when I get a new hair cut/color.  Call it vanity.  This one's a little out of focus.

Like our lives can become sometimes.

Here's a little tip:  if you ever notice more than the average amount of floating things on your eyeball, get help fast.  I owe the vision in my left eye to our longtime family eye doctor, William P. Lee of Millington, TN, for that little tidbit.  It happened to me about ten days ago.  It's a long story, filled with little tender mercies.  Not only did the eye doc here in Naples find a vitreous tear (repaired the next day with laser), but he also found, IN THE OTHER EYE, a far more serious problem that requires monitoring every three or four months.

Had I not had the vitreous tear, and known what to do about it, I might never have known that a greater danger lurked in the other eye until it was too late to do something about it.   I could in short order have lost the vision in one or both eyes.

You may have had such an experience, where suddenly you're looking at a major paradigm shift.  What would my life - this life, the one I'm accustomed to - be without vision?  I know, I know, blindness happens.  Of course.  But it doesn't happen to ME, not up til now, when I'm faced with that very real possibility.

All sorts of what ifs.  All sorts of conjectures about how I would be treated by others - how I have treated others?  Not maliciously of course - just dismissedly.  Now that could happen to me.

I'm going to break here to say I've been pondering a lot lately about how I would handle it if I were called upon to suffer.  As, in fact, we all are.  I've suffered before, haven't you?  I guess the big question is, will I be able to handle what I'm asked to do?  Or maybe I'm asking all the wrong questions.  Maybe it's not a matter of what ifs.

Maybe, as Billy Joel sings, it's a matter of trust.

I've been following President Russell M. Nelson's invitation to study everything that Jesus ever said or did, in all the scriptures (https://www.lds.org/general-conference/2017/04/drawing-the-power-of-jesus-christ-into-our-lives?lang=eng).  That's a subject for a great many blogposts, I suppose; I will just say that I am already plumbing new depths.  Luke's rendition of the Rich Young Man (Luke 18) really caught my attention.  This young Jewish leader is apparently a huge, over-the-top fan of Jesus as "the best Rabbi ever":

"Good Master," he begins.  Before Jesus responds to his question at all, he sets things straight.  He will not have any hero worship:  "Why callest thou me good?  none is good save one, that is God."

He repeats very often a phrase found in John 6:38, that He came into the world to do the will of Him (the Father) who sent Him.

So - application to the story at hand.  If I remember under every circumstance, that I, too, came into the world to do the will of Him that sent me ... then I'll be ok.  Under any circumstance.

Now I feel more focused.

On a lighter note:  lots of photos that I've taken in the considerable amount of time since last I wrote.   Sorry folks.  I won't claim busy-ness because we make time for what's important to us.  I will say I have a hard time with priorities.  Anyway:

When Tamra was here in May, we got tickets to four attractions in the Pozzuoli area, all of which have to do - of course - with Greek and Roman ruins.  These are taken in and around Bacoli, across the bay from where we live.

 That's Tamra in there, hangin out with the ghosts of the past.

We also visited the great National Archeological Museum in Naples.  It's fabulous and I took lots of photos that you can find on my Google + because it's easy to download from there to my laptop.  It's on Linda Hyde whatever - not sure how that works.   This particular piece of statuary tells the story of what happens when one woman offends another, more powerful one - the sons of the powerful one tie the offender to a wild bull...  the fact that the story is memorialized in this scene (and also in a painting from Pompeii) illustrates that a thirst to be entertained by violence is nothing new.

These are all artifacts from Pompeii.  Astounding.  We're talking 2000 years old.

There was also a contemporary exhibit all centered around the iconic Napoli figure Pulcinella.  I liked this one in particular.

Here are ruins of a Greek temple, less than 5 minutes from our house.  I took the pic as we were walking back from accompanying Tamra to the ferry, which she took to Ischia for three days and had a ball.

I enjoy driving down a street and seeing a big ol' church ahead.

After hiking to Vesuvius with Tamra one day. we stopped in for a gelato at Torre del Greco, a port community.  This is a humongous statue of Jesus right on the port; I couldn't step out for a better perspective because I'd have been in the water!

We finally took the occasion to eat pizza at the most famous pizzeria in the world, Sorbillo.  We had the classic margarita.  It was definitely good, even after a bit of a wait.  And inexpensive.

Another time we took a hike to the old paper mills of Amalfi.  Beautiful drive, perfect weather, fascinating story, lovely path.  Afterward we went to the paper museum in Amalfi and saw the process.

These shots are more on the mundane side.  Often when we come home - and we usually come home somewhere around 9:00 or 10:00, the parking lot in our little piazza is beyond full - evidently folks come here to park, then head downtown.  People are very creative about their parking.  This is not officially a parking space, and if we did not have a permit for this area we could get a fine parking here.  As it is, it works.

The view from one of our bathroom windows.  Hmm, I just realized, that was probably the last time I saw rain clouds, and it was taken probably mid May.  Yeah.  I think we're in a drought.

This is not our cat, though this is our kitchen.  Blaine and the cat have become fast friends, so it feels perfectly at home in our apartment, even though we never feed it.  It must be lonely; in fact, now that the kids are out of school, we don't see it as often!

Mothers Day rose.  It bloomed so beautifully.

The local sister missionaries and I took a Pday excursion (preparation day - once a week, till 6 p.m., young missionaries clean, write to their families, shop, and go sightseeing, play soccer, etc.)  to a church in the historic center of Napoli called Pio Monte della Misericordia.  There we saw an amazing painting called The Seven Works of Mercy by Caravaggio - you can google it and see a better photo than I took!  But I did take some others that I thought were fetching.  Here are four of the sisters doing a major Pday activity, reading emails from home.

Most of the paintings were dark and unenlightening, I'm sorry to say, but I really liked these:  The first is Mary with the Baby Jesus, and little John the Baptist.

This one is of Hagar and Ishmael with the angel

Re:  my last post.  Even in the 1700s when these paintings were done, there were ruins!  This is hard to fathom for us Americans.

This was my very favorite:  the Holy Family on a picnic, with Joseph handing cherries to the Child Jesus, and Mary with bare feet.  Absolutely endearing.

Okay, so I don't feel 100% right about posting these, because I took advantage of someone else's mourning.  This is a very traditional funeral procession.  All the mourners were walking behind.  I took the photos quickly then stood solemnly.  

Again at Sorbillo.  The sorelle (sisters) weren't willing to stand in line so they ordered carry out and sat on the window ledge outside the restaurant!

A sweet couple in the Naples Branch, the Tucci, gave us a very elegant 42nd anniversary dinner on June 12.  They really went beyond the necessary to make it special.  We felt loved!

And the members here are so kind, we are invited to dinner often (my burgeoning paunch attests to it).  Here's the Ariante family (plus kittie and Anziano/Elder Perfili)

Here's Blaine on Fathers Day, when thanks to American friends who can shop the post exchange, I made chicken enchiladas and he also got to eat pork and beans.  We had the rest of our anniversary cake for dessert!

Saturday evening we had an event that Blaine said is what he's been anticipating for the last almost ten months:  a resounding success.  The "Serata Napoletana" held at the Napoli Branch was filled with great neapolitan music, dancing, poetry, crafts, food and wonderful, wonderful people.  Here at least half the attendees are singing "U surdato nnammorato" - hope I spelled that right.  It means the Lovelorn Soldier.

The Young Women did a dance called the Tammurriata; I wanted to share a video but it isn't working.

Blaine and I have been working for months on a presentation that would bring the story of the Great Apostasy and the Restoration of the gospel of Jesus Christ home for the people of Napoli in particular.  It was presented beautifully with the help of these missionaries and especially Brother Granata, the actual Neapolitan in the skit.  Wish he were in the photo.

And here's a fun last pic.  Most every Sunday, the Relief Society president Sorella Camassa brings loaves of fabulous artisanal bread for us missionaries.  Here's Anziano Pesci, the district leader, showing how he feels about that (that's Sorella Tucci in the background):

Every day we put our heart and soul into helping others and ourselves grow nearer to Jesus Christ.  It is an unqualified privilege to be here.  I'm sorry I don't think to take more photos during our many visits and classes.  We love these people, we love each other, and we love you!  

Friday, April 28, 2017

The Take-away from Ruins

Wow.  This mission has great benefits!  Along with the joyfully fulfilling work in which we are engaged, the endlessly fascinating place in which we live, the intricately complex culture in which we walk, and the continually admirable personalities with which and for which we labor, we occasionally get to share it all with family!!!

It's fabulous.  In the past few weeks, we've enjoyed the company of four children, their spouses, and four of our grandchildren.  It has truly enhanced, in very meaningful ways, what we're doing here.

We had the rare opportunity to leave our mission boundaries with a trip to Barcelona last week, for Ian's baptism.  Tamra was already there with Amy, Lawton and the family; and Jesse and Rachel were with us, following on the heels of a sweet visit from Ben and Bonnie.

For Ian, this is a new beginning, a gateway covenant with the Lord that will form a firm foundation for his life.  All of this one week after Easter.

On one occasion as Ian, Aidan and I were "hanging out" up in their room, Ian asked me, "What was Mom [Amy] like as a kid?"  I rattled off a couple of things - bright, happy, loved to take care of others - and he interrupted with, "Did she like ruins?"

Best ever question from a kid living in Europe!   It really is a unique experience to wander through ruins; you feel as if they enclose, in some way, the spirits of those who inhabited them; your spiritual self keeps looking for a real being of a bygone era to walk around the next corner or emerge from behind the next crumbled pillar.

In case you don't know - and I think pretty much everyone does - The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints is ALL ABOUT families.  Our family is a miracle; but it is still very much a work in progress (in the thick of it, it's hard to think that this is probably true for every family).  We've been preaching so much about family, and about what keeping our covenants with God, and His grace through the Atonement of Jesus Christ, has done for us, that you'd think we must somehow have arrived at some kind of familial nirvana by now.

This is not so.  We.are.still.so.distressingly.dysfunctional.  There are ruins populating our psyches, parts of each of us around some corner or behind some pillar, attracting our notice and calling for resolution; for deeper, probably more painful, consideration.  However -- just as the excavators of Herculaneum or the astonished discoverers of the Greek theater in Naples' historic center must have felt upon first recognition, a coming-to-the-light of an old hidden ruin is a marvelous thing.  After the pain.  After dragging it out and putting it into words.  After the gut-wrenching sobs -- suddenly you see the beauty, the pattern, the colors; the puzzle pieces come together.  The "ruins" are still there, but they speak in ways that heal.

I love this crazy family.

I do not use the word "crazy" lightly, by the way.  I have discovered by experience that to the degree in which dysfunction exists, so does crazy.  To the degree that we can feel, talk and cry in meaningful ways, we are functional and sane.  Happily, I believe we keep getting functional-er and saner.  We are still in dire need of the blessings of the Atonement.  On our part, we cannot afford to slack off honoring our covenants, doing our little mortal best.  Repenting.  Forgiving.  

But "the glory that was Rome", and the ruins in our individual lives, have a gift for us.   We like ruins.  And we love new beginnings.   In the end, it's all about Easter.


# Prince of Peace

Bonnie and Ben, in front of my favorite Roman edifice, the Pantheon.

I liked this statue, one of innumerable in the Vatican Museums, for the marbled pattern in the armor.  Lots and lots of these pieces are "pieced together" from more than one old "piece" of statuary.

Talk about conquering your demons...

My family will no doubt recognize this movie quote:  "I have always preferred wildflowers."  I exclaim endlessly over the beauty of the poppies along the wayside; one day Blaine stopped and we picked all of these "from an obliging field".  It was a delight every day to my eyes and my heart.

A very common "ruin" in our house these days:  the remains of artichokes and lemons.

Glories to behold wherever one looks

We work in missionary apartments on a regular basis, fixing things, inspecting for cleanliness.  I got a kick out of this arrangement.  One more missionary tool:  the tablet.

There is a tiny canary in this nest.  What a wonder!