What do I believe? I believe in the power of story. The following story is true and happened to me about ten years ago.
Lately I’ve been thinking about the small Italian village of Buzzo. It’s in the hills in the Emilia-Romagna region. The closest train station is in Borgo Val di Taro: the train station…such a long time ago, where my host had picked me up when I arrived to volunteer on her organic farm. She had a beautiful farm, with an old stone house, a bed and breakfast, chickens, sheep, cows, and a vegetable garden. My visit there was wonderful, in my memory almost magical. One day we saw a porcupine; another day, we picked cherries from big trees; another day, my host made homemade pizza in an outdoor wood-burning oven. And, one day, my host loaned me a bicycle – and on my return journey, near the village of Buzzo, my tire went flat.
I walked the bike along the empty road. Storm clouds gathered. As I approached the village, an old Italian man called out. He invited me to his home, offered to pump my tire. He offered me coffee and cookies. We sat at his kitchen table, talked about the broad contours of our lives. I asked him if that was his son in the photograph, and he said, “No,” and then I’ll never forget the moment he laughed and said, “Thirty years I lived in England and never did find a wife.” His house was made of stone, but, at that moment, my heart was something soft and mysterious. I wondered about going through life, never marrying. It made me sad to think about that. The old man went on. “Here in Buzzo, there are lots of us, lots of us who moved away to England or Ireland. But we come back. Most of us come back.” I nodded. “Say, we have a festival here at the beginning of August. Promise you’ll come back and visit us then. There are lots of people. It’s the first weekend in August.” I listened as the old man talked about his life, how he lived with his sister, showed me pictures of his nieces and nephews.
I’m glad I could be there to listen to the old man’s story. Everything that’s meaningful in this life is about connecting. Sometimes it’s connecting to a person or community of people. Sometimes it’s connecting to nature, like this heartbreakingly beautiful Montana sunset that I’m looking at now as I write this. And sometimes it’s connecting to the larger cosmos. When I find ways to connect, I re-discover that it makes things not so lonely. It makes the heart grow a little bigger. Like the old man, I’ve know sorrows, and surely I’ve know loneliness, but I maintain my belief in the power of stories to connect us, and sometimes even to save us.