This particular summer is hot, in Texas at least. In Pisa, a cool breeze gets sucked into this little place of miracles and ripples throughout like water. After riding gondolas in Venice and posing with David in Florence, the rest of my tour group stands eagerly in front of the Leaning Tower, pretending to prop up the drifting structure. The sky is so clear, a blue you see back home breaking the horizon as you travel west on 183. Around us children play on the grass, a vendor shouts about fresh coconut as a rill of cool water spills over slivers of shell, people haggle with merchants and buy hot dogs, and I stand idly by waiting to move.
After visiting the bapistry, we pour into the sunlight once again. The heat restored to our bodies after the chill of the dome once used for blessings. The new direction is clear as our tour guide steers us towards the cathedral, where girls are given shrouds to cover their bare shoulders and knees. I find myself wheeling mechanically towards the back of the cathedral, towards a sight familiar after the two or three churches we’d been in since our arrival to Europe.
A little platform is raised before religious icons and large electric candles are sold for donations. I discard another euro into the donation box and take a candle into my hand. Like every visit before this one, I clutch the little offering in my fist and shut my eyes, not to pray or ask God for anything, but simply to remember.
Michael, at that point, would have been fluttering against the underside of my ribcage, barely noticeable to me, but still pushing the boundaries and confines of my skin and – annoyingly – my pant size. Instead, the barren feeling had crept over my skin, the last feelings of him lost into the bathroom of Motel 6 where I delivered my son, prematurely, into my hands. That day, marked like a black smudge on the calendar, amidst so many more and previous perfect days. The longest road, an unexpected fork taken back to the start.
While I dare to mourn, all these dark memories threaten to creep into that candle of hope. But instead I think on him, on how he would have been, on the what-if’s of that maybe-little-being. And, wondering on first words and favorite foods, on hair color and “would he be like me?” I find a little hope inside me to light that candle.
When all is said and done, my candle adding to the warm glow of 25 watts, I make my way around the interior of the cathedral and outside again. Stumbling into the enveloping blue of the piazza, the raucous joy of life shakes me out of that melancholy daze. In rejoining life, I play around in the warm grass with an excited Italian puppy and buy souvenirs for my family, a slice of coconut for myself.
I return home, not changed, not altered in any momentous way, but it is a slow start towards healing. Here I am almost a full year later, and instead of falling upon the crutches of old, stale wounds, I try to continue that warm bath of healing. We are just trying to heal. In that motion of life, the rocking of our boat on the currents of fate, we find it in us to start on that journey again. The longest road, yet untraveled, and out feet just barely at the start.