“When I stopped contending against the divinity in my life, I began to feel the slightest stir of wind upon my cheek and a bird’s simple tweet became a symphony in my heart. How could I not be thankful?”
~ Dave, Passenger 6C
I try to never pass up an opportunity to connect with others – it’s like plugging into humanity. I do it on purpose, especially when I travel. In my book, seat assignments on flights are never a coincidence. Dave’s decision to sleep-in and take a later flight assigned him the seat right next to me. It begins with a simple, ‘hello.’
My travel companions, the Blackberry, the iPad, the National Geographic, the Scientific American – none of these gadgets, devices or media will ever replace the full-filling art of conversation. I’m always on the lookout for pearls in oysters.
Enough is enough.
When I try to recall, Assisi wasn’t on a premeditated bucket list, but attending a writer’s workshop was. Compared to so many folks’ bucket lists, mine does not hold water – it’s half empty. I try to live without too many grandiose plans but on purpose enough to be flexible and pointed in a direction. I absolutely cannot remember what drove me to the Poets & Writers website, but something did. As I looked around for writing workshops, maybe someplace in the northeast U.S., like Vermont, a beautiful photograph of Assisi, Italy popped right out at me.
There! That’s where I’m going.
My discovery occurred sometime in the period between Thanksgiving and Christmas – by spring, the ink was dried on the deal. In August, I would be off to Assisi, Italy to take part in a 14-day writing workshop on personal essays and memoirs. The workshop would be set center stage with a backdrop in one of Europe’s most beautiful and culturally relevant sites. Assisi is the place where battle weary Giovanni Francesco di Bernardone was born, left for the world, returned and later became known as San Francesco or St. Francis of Assisi.
I could feel an adventure in my bones.
Traveling through my itinerary would be a piece of cake – from Fort Lauderdale to Atlanta from Atlanta to Rome, and a pickup at the airport by a driver who would shuttle me and a few other workshop participants arriving the same day directly to our hotel. Pampered. So, I decided to leave my pocket-size Lonely Planet Italian phrasebook on the shelf where it had collected dust for four years since my last trip to Milan, Italy and Catania, Sicily.
After it all sunk in, I would be writing personal essays – memoirs. For years and years, I had been keeping journals – some travel, all personal – some dicey, others spicy. Just before Assisi, I began the seemingly endless process of bringing those experiences from handmade eco-friendly paper to the hard, cold world of computing.
I didn’t have a body of work per se, but knew I could have my work critiqued several times during the 14-day period through daily writing exercises. As the date neared, I became more and more excited.
Enough is enough.
I arrived to the Fort Lauderdale airport early; there would be a close connection in Atlanta, but not too close to be overly concerned. Besides, it was August – no snow delays – no storms on the horizon. I was carrying one roller bag and my backpack and checked in one medium-sized bag. I did pack one medium-sized bag with the cumbersome, space-mongering, heavy items like shoes. Did I say shoes? And, maybe more shoes. Really, the contents were simply clothing and a steamer.
Once the gate agent nervously and ineptly boarded a rambunctious crowd of passengers hell-bent on not following her instructions, it was 20 minutes later than the scheduled departure. That’s when the tailspin began. The funny and ironic thing about time is it can both grow and contract at the same time. As the delay grew, the connection shrunk.
Once the plane was completely boarded, we sat for another 15 minutes before someone came on the public address system:
“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re so sorry for the delay, but we have a light on our board that there was a problem with the right engine. We’re not sure if we have the part – a tile – that needs replacing. Once we have it, we’ll glue it on with a super adhesive, let it dry and away we’ll go. Right now it looks like we’ll be delayed for 45 minutes.”
Superglue? Of course when someone says the engine is having mechanical issues, the first priority is to fix it or ditch it. Somehow the concern about making a connection lost its place on the priority list. Once we arrived in ATL, I tried to break a sprinting record (my own) but did not come close! I missed my connection.
The next flight from Atlanta to Rome would be 5 hours later with an extra connection: Paris. Now, with an extra flight, my concern shifted from the scrapped itinerary to whether or not the pimento-red medium-sized bag would be on the carousel at baggage claim once I arrived in Europe. In her best and authoritative voice, the gate agent assured me that when I arrived, my bag would be there waiting.
Enough is enough.
I sent messages ahead to the transportation contact and the workshop organizer that I missed my connection, would not make the ground transportation hook-up and would be ‘winging it’ once I arrived in Rome.
I admit, in the midst of any journey that turned into a ‘trip’ there has always been some consolation. The biggest upside of sitting in the Atlanta airport for an extra 5 hours was the extreme honor to meet a man who has inspired so many: Mr. Tony Dungy, former National Football League athlete and head coach of the Tampa Bay Buccaneers. What an amazingly still and peaceful spirit! He is not at all shiny and lacquered like so many over-celebrated celebs.
The flight from Atlanta to Paris was uneventful and the connection to Rome from Paris was comfortable enough to have a bite in the restaurant for dinner. When I arrived at Rome at 5:00 p.m. instead of the 11:30 a.m. I was counting on, I went to claim my luggage. Before I realized, I was the last person standing at the carousel – alone. It felt like walking along a desert road after your car runs out of gas, hoping against all hope, that the Last Chance Texaco is just over the heat-buckled asphalt road. There was no Texaco. There was no man with a star. And, most of all, no bag.
It was official, my checked luggage did not arrive.
I filed a claim, claimed my complimentary consolation prize, a complimentary blue shaving bag with a complimentary shaver, a complimentary bar of soap, a complimentary toothbrush, and a complimentary men’s white t-shirt. I wondered whether those in charge of the consolation prizes thought women do not lose their bags and maybe a nice brush and comb and deodorant would be included in the complimentary goody bag.
Enough is enough.
So, from Rome’s Fuimicino airport, I took a train to Stazione Termini – or Rome’s central station. A grand city in itself, all abuzz with conversation, and people, and construction and changed shedules. The train to Assisi scheduled for two-and-a-half hours later would go directly from Rome to Assisi. No stops.
After having a nice dinner in one of the restaurants, I made my way back to the area with the big board bearing the bad news: “Assisi” had gone poof. It had disappeared from the board. In my patchwork Italian, I asked an information agent what in the world happened to my Assisi train. It was canceled, and I would have to take a train to Foligno, transfer to a motor coach that would drive me to the Assisi train station, and there I could get a car.
So, it was critical decision time. I had traveled since around 1:00 p.m. the day before and by the time I was somewhere between Rome and Foligno, nighttime would descend. By the time I would make it to Assisi, it would be around midnight (that sounds like a movie title). Would I be able to navigate the transfer? Should I scrap the mission and just get a room in Rome for the evening and start fresh in the morning?
“Adventures don’t begin until you get into the forest. That first step is an act of faith.”
Mickey Hart, Grateful Dead Drummer
Once in the forest, it takes seeing clearly and believing strongly to lessen the chances of being swiped by the thorny, low-hanging tree branches of exhaustion, of discouragement, and tripping over exposed roots of frustration. So, at the designated time I stepped up to the train platform.
Enough is enough.
Taking the step onto the train was no easy feat – nor are the steps at all apologetic for not being barrier-free. Hoisting the bag, strapped with a backpack was more than enough. I cannot imagine how I would have been able to muscle a medium-size bag, a roller bag, a backpack, and of course, myself on that train.
Then a coach.
Then a taxi.
Planes. Trains. Buses. And Automobiles. That sounds like a movie title too!
Enough is enough.
Well enough is enough when you recharge your phone along the way, but when airport and train station outlets are not electrified, a battery has to do what a battery has to do: drain.
Left standing at the closed, deserted Assisi train station didn’t feel at all like Mickey Hart’s encouragement to step into the forest. It felt more like a first step onto the set of one of Rod Serling’s Twilight Zone episodes. It was later than twilight – nearly midnight. Thankfully, two young campers from the Netherlands were there with me; they had a cellphone and needed a ride to their campground located outside Assisi. When I called my hotel to ask them to send a taxi to the station, they also sent another for the campers. There’s something common to humanity that surmounts most barriers – and that is helping one another.
Two minutes and two hugs later, I was on my way to my hotel and they were on their way to their tent. It was half past midnight when I arrived at Hotel Giotto. The lights were left on for me.
The next day, after warm greetings from an eclectic group of artists – writers, poets, photographers, playwrights, professors, and a chef – I earned the infamy of the writer whose bag was lost, but seemed to have an endless choice of daily ensembles to wear.
“Did your bag get here yet?”
“No it did not”
“Did you buy what you’re wearing here?”
“No I did not”
“The bag I carried on is full of magic – like Mary Poppins’ Magic Satchel.”
When the pimento red, medium-sized bag that had never left Atlanta arrived 5 days later, I was tempted to not open it at all. Surely, I would have made-do without it.
There’s something profound about enough. Where there’s life, there’s hope. That’s enough.
Enough is enough.
The workshop was life-changing. I officially became a writer.
Ain’t That A Trip? …when enough is enough