Clare and I were both blessed with the opportunity to study abroad in Rome the same semester of undergrad back in 2012. Now, this fall, we each have a sibling enjoying the same privilege-walking the same streets we did and traipsing across Europe under the guise of studying architecture and philosophy and western civilization. As I was prepping my brother with packing tips and gelato recommendations, I went through old photos and journal entries. I found a reflection I had written my second week in Italy about why this experience was so impacting. I pass along an excerpt to you:
To walk where others have before.
Why is it that we yearn to travel? What does it offer to us that we can’t get from a textbook, documentary, or second hand account from a friend? The information we seek is experiential, only to be acquired through our own physical presence. We visit monuments to witness the aesthetics ourselves and the visual reminders of civilizations passed, but also because we know that being present at the location itself holds inherent value. There’s something intimate and personal about participating through our physical presence, sharing the same space with others who have done great things. To literally stand, with our feet planted, in the same earth where so many other great people have once stood, captivates us. In that moment, we are connected to the past, in an incredibly real, very tangible way.
This weekend, while touring the Basilica of St. Francis in Assisi, one of my professors mentioned in passing the importance of walking where others have before us. From that point forward, I spent much of the weekend thinking about feet. It may have had something to do with how cold my feet were despite my three pairs of socks, or because we saw a monk walking barefoot in the snow late one night. But it mostly was the laborious trek to St. Francis’ hermitage, an hour walk to the top, through the snow, uphill, with the wind blowing at some points up to 50 mph. Knowing that St. Francis himself took this same path numerous times, in similar weather, with much less clothing, was somehow affirming of the pain of the journey. While seemingly obvious, the fact stands that it is through our feet that we are able to gain such a connection. All the typical clichés come to mind: Every journey begins with a single footstep, One small step for man, those are big shoes to fill, etc. All these overused phrases communicate the significance of how we use our feet. Indeed, even to respond to Christ’s call of “come and follow Me” required the disciples to make a deliberate decision manifested in footsteps.
Here’s to Christian and Annie’s semester in Europe! One of the most valuable gifts of this experience is that you are following, walking, and standing in the places where the world was fundamentally changed, either by individuals in an instant, or over centuries by the work of entire civilizations. May you both stand in incredible places!