Sleep has been hard to come by on this trip. I’m not sure if it’s the change in time zones, discomfort at being away from home, or the naps (probably the naps), but I’ve done an awful lot of staring up at the ceiling. A few nights ago, I watched ‘Up in the Air’ when I couldn’t fall asleep.
If you’ve not seen it, George Clooney is a perpetual loner who travels constantly for his job and gives motivational speeches on the side that encourage people to cut loose the excessive “baggage” that is human relationships. Throughout the movie, he mentions an arbitrary goal he has to fly 10 million miles.
He develops a relationship with a woman who has a similar lifestyle to his own – constantly traveling, seemingly unsettled. As the movie goes on, he realizes how much he enjoys her company and begins to consider the possibility of a more serious situation. Storyline develops, and he finds himself standing on her doorstep in Chicago. *Spoiler Alert* She opens the door to reveal a husband and children he did not know about, living in her house behind her.
On the flight home, he hits his goal of 10 million miles. And he hits those miles alone, at which point the pilot asks him, “where are you from?” He replies, “I’m from here. Up in the air.”
So I’ve been thinking about that this week. It’s been a life experience of sorts to be stuck with myself on this trip. When you have nowhere to be and wifi is scarce and you find yourself lost in some random Italian neighborhood, wandering around, looking for a landmark, you suddenly become very aware of your own thoughts (regarding the lack of wifi, though, carpal tunnel is feeling great). Having few distractions has opened up a lot of opportunity to think about stuff I wouldn’t normally have the luxury of thinking about, in addition to stuff I tend to avoid.
But as much as I’ve enjoyed time alone on this trip, it’s also given me a significant appreciation for the people in my life with whom I’ve shared moments like the ones I’m experiencing now. I think about my parents, who find so much joy in traveling together and traveling with my sisters and I, and I’m grateful to have these memories with them. Traveling, much like life, has the potential to be an incredible trip; but what is it, really, if you go at it alone?
I have loved going at my own pace. I’ve gotten up early on some days and stayed in bed late on others. I’ve visited the Coliseum, the Trevi Fountain, the Piazza Navona, the David, the Duomo, the Italian coast, and so many other notables – and I’ve taken my time, unconcerned with other people, throughout. I’ve wandered aimlessly on purpose, and I’ve been unintentionally lost. I’ve turned margarita pizza into a primary food group, and eaten it quietly while reading alone. I’ve had breakfast, gelato, wine – with strangers. And I’ve stared up at masterpieces, all by myself.
But there have been a handful of moments like one in particular, when I stepped off the train in Cinque Terre this weekend. I immediately walked out to the marina (luggage in tow), and found myself thinking, as I admired the view, “it would be cool to have someone to share this with.”
If I’ve spent a significant chunk of this trip trying unsuccessfully to fall asleep, I’ve also spent a significant chunk reading, ‘Amoris Laetitia’, Pope Francis’ encyclical on the family. Of course the subject is primarily marriage and family life, but it also offers a general commentary on human relationships at all stages. In it, Pope Francis quotes an earlier encyclical letter, ‘Redemptor Hominis’, when he says, “Man cannot live without love. He remains a being that is incomprehensible for himself, his life is senseless, if love is not revealed to him.”
And 1 Corinthians 13:2-3 reminds us, “even if I have faith so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.”
Human relationships are everything. The sole purpose of this life, aside from (or arguably, coinciding with) our call to holiness, is our call to perfect the way in which we love other people. This means to be compassionate, tender, and – most importantly – self-sacrificing, in everything that we do. Without relationship, our opportunities to give and receive love are nonexistent. And without love in our lives, our pursuit of holiness is literally and entirely in vain.
Thanksgiving is on Thursday. It’s worth noting it’s the first Thanksgiving I’ll spend away from home (and hopefully the only one I’ll ever spend by myself). At the risk of sounding like a Facebook status, I’m grateful this year for those whom I love, and those who love me when I’m at my most unloveable (least-loveable? You get it. Regardless, I’m no picnic).
Thomas Aquinas said, “Charity, by its very nature, has no limit to its increase, for it is a participation in that infinite charity which is the Holy Spirit… Nor on the part of the subject can its limit be fixed, because as charity grows, so too does its capacity for an even greater increase.”
So above all else, I’m grateful to be unbound by my past failures and unlimited by the love I’ve shown. Love is infinite, as is God; we’ve got limitless room, then, to always love more.