fellow man


I moved from Italy to West Virginia in 2004.  Many, many people assumed that I would have a huge culture shock problem.  They didn’t realize that West Virginia was far more like Italy than most people think.  In fact, in every major way, Italy and West Virginia were similar.  They didn’t look alike, that was true.  West Virginia is range after range of low, rolling mountains.  Italy has a ridge of mountains down the center of the “boot,” volcanoes in southern Italy and Sicily, a forbidding range in Sardegna, and the striking, spiky Dolomites in the north.  They’re mountains, though, and they help define Italy’s amazing variations in cuisine, culture and tradition.

 Here’s the comparision I promised a few days ago.

West Virginia

Italy

Lots of small towns connected by winding roads

Lots of small towns connected by winding roads

Most residents of small towns are related, at least distantly

Many residents of small towns are related, at least distantly

Everyone knows what you’re up to

Duh

Everyone knows your plans, often before you do

See above

Gorgeous mountain scenery – plan a visit to Seneca Rocks and find out for yourself

Gorgeous mountain scenery – been to Trentino/Alto Adige lately?

Geocaching is a big deal

There is a geocache in the Pompeii excavations, and several other caches are stashed around the countryside

Mountains define the state

Italy is far more mountainous than you would expect; the entire center of the country is a mountain range, and then there’s Vesuvio and the Dolomites up north

 When I explained my Italian experiences to my new West Virginia neighbors, they understood.  Some of the things I truly loved about Italy – the close family ties, the small towns with their unique traditions, and their fierce pride in their heritage – really resonate with West Virginia’s mountaineers as well.  I learned as much from my two years in West Virginia as I learned the previous two years in southern Italy.  It’s all to the good.  I grew up near the mountains of southern California, and I gloried in every day near Il Redentore in Lazio and in every sunrise and echo of Evening Colors on our base in West Virginia.  Time in the mountains is always time well spent.

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Long ago, in southern Italy, my husband and I occasionally found ourselves with nothing to do on a Sunday.  It sounds silly, but we usually took the foot-ferry into Brindisi, walked up the (closed) main drag, and hung out at the stazione looking for lost tourists to assist.  We seldom had to wait long.  There they’d be, hesitantly glancing at the train schedules, trying to figure out how to read them.  We’d walk up and say, “Do you need some help?” and the inevitable response was, “Oh, thank goodness!” or something to that effect, in English.  We’d teach the travelers to use the schedules and then leave.

Almost two decades later, we were living in Italy again.  One of the first things I was asked to do was help an American priest get to his lodgings so he could say Mass at our little Navy base.  He missed his train from Rome.  Having been in country less than a week, he had no idea how to read the train schedule.  He telephoned, I talked him through it, then reviewed the lesson when I picked him up in Formia.  He became a family friend, which was wonderful, and he never missed a train again – at least when he visited us.

Today I was at the airport and ran into a church friend.  I had the opportunity to help her with her bags and with the self check-in process.  She was grateful, and so was I.  Once again, I felt as though I’d really helped a fellow traveler.

Life’s short.  Pay those favors forward.

 Heading to Indianapolis?  White River State Park is a great downtown destination.  Besides, a cute kitty lives in the Visitor Center.

We’ve all seen them.  The men and women holding up hand-lettered signs, saying, “Homeless – need help.”  We look away or hand them a dollar.  We wonder if they are really homeless or if they’re pulling a scam.

Yesterday, my son came home from attending Mass at a friend’s church with an aluminum pan and a recipe.  In our area, churches participate in several cooperative programs to help the homeless.  One is cooking for Our Daily Bread, a Catholic Charities outreach program in Baltimore.  Each church has several days during the month where church members cook and serve pre-made casseroles at ODB’s facility downtown.  Of course, someone has to make and freeze all that food, and that’s where the aluminum pan comes into the story.

My daughter helped me shop and cook for two pans’ worth of hot dog casserole.  It was easy for her to slice up the hot dogs, mix spices and beans and soup, and help with cleanup.  As we cooked, we talked about whether homeless people really like hot dog casserole or chicken and broccoli casserole (the dish we usually cook during our parish’s ODB weeks).  I’m guessing that they do.

We had the chance to see the ODB building last November when we went to Mass at the Baltimore Basilica.  ODB’s building is right next door.  Long before the doors were scheduled to open, homeless people were lining up for that hot meal.  It was a cold November day, and I’m sure it wasn’t a comfortable wait.  Suddenly, the chicken and broccoli casserole connected with faces, with people who were too cold to return my smile, with people just like me who somehow ended up on the streets.

So, next time you see one of those signs, you still might not want to pass money out your window.  Don’t worry – there is something else you can do.  Find out who’s feeding the homeless, and give them some help.