Sitting in the waiting room of the Florence train station, I have all my layers on and a steady rain falls from patchy skies. My gloves on and furiously typing, I look up to notice that I have become the focal point of everyone’s attention. I smile. My audience smiles back expectantly, but I keep on typing all the while desperately wishing for some sort of reliable Internet connection. I am officially an addict.
I am sitting next to two old men passing a box of wine back and forth. They are clearly drunk, but as they aren’t bothering anyone, nobody seems to mind. Their attempts to burst out into drunken singing is constantly being upstaged by their tendency to erupt into laughter. The fact that I appear to be more of a spectacle indicates something, but I’m not quite sure what. I am still reflecting on my morning walk along the river and the church I stumbled across.
I generally bypass the busy churches full of whispering tour guides and flash photography. Churches for me are places of hushed and revered refuge. I love the feeling of slipping into a darkened church. The light slips in through stained glass windows, and the devout or the desperate bow their heads, their lips moving in pleading prayers for peace or grace or truth or love. It is quiet and safe and I generally retreat to the closest bench and succumb to an enveloping sense of relief.
In Florence a stained glass window caught my eye and I slipped unnoticed from a busy street into a simple church. Breathing deeply, I sank down onto the closest pew. The entire building is permeated with the sense of sacred that a thousand years of faith has imprinted upon it. After sitting for awhile, I make a donation and light a candle. I always do. I have nothing to wish for, but I place my candle next to one that is flickering. I turn to leave, but as I do the woman sitting at the small information desk approaches me. She has brightly colored squares of paper in her hand and after determining my origin and my language, she hands me one.
Rising very early before dawn, he left and went off to a deserted place, where he prayed. Mark 1, 35.
I do not fall under the category of the religious devout, but I am touched by her sincerity and by the poetry of the verse.
I grab her hand in mine. Grazie I say as gratefully as I can. I want her to know that her heart has reached mine. And though I am unlikely to join the church, I am sincerely thankful for the gentle grace it has given to an otherwise gloomy day.