On our last day of travel in Italy, as we journeyed back to Rome where our adventure had begun, Fabi our tour director shared a story. She directed our attention out the bus windows to a bell tower in the distance.
Long ago, she said, pilgrims made their way each year to Rome. Most were on foot. As they traveled, they watched for the bell towers in each village or town to appear. Sighting a tower meant they were close to food and water and shelter. The bell towers became a way of tracking their journey. They knew how far they had come. And they knew how far they still had to go, as they noted the towers.
I was captivated by Fabi’s tale of pilgrims on a journey. We were traveling to Rome as well, by bus, thankfully, rather than on foot. However, I began to watch for the bell towers as we rolled along, tracking our pilgrimage.
I realized our Italian journey over the last 11 days could be marked by bell towers also. I had taken pictures of the towers in each city, town or tiny village, without understanding their significance at the time. Most of the towns had more than one bell tower. Previously associated with certain wealthy families in the region, the height of the tower indicated the importance of the family.
The villages’ towers were often near the center of the towns, in piazzas. Each one was uniquely different, ancient, and often still in use with working bells. Elissa and Dayan climbed a couple of them, trudging up hundreds of worn steps, rewarded with gorgeous panoramic views at the top.
I thought about how pertinent the pilgrimage story was to our Italian journey, but also how significant to my life journey as well.
The word pilgrimage means a pilgrim’s journey, usually toward a holy city, such as Rome. Pilgrim came from the Latin word peregrinus meaning foreign or foreigner. As I discovered during my Year of Journeys two years ago, journey literally means the distance one can travel in a day.
Pilgrimage then means the distance a foreigner can go in one day, day after day. Or from bell tower to bell tower. The deeper meaning became apparent to me. I am a pilgrim, a foreigner, on a daily trek. In Italy I was a foreigner. And here on the playground that is Earth, I am a foreigner too. My ultimate destination isn’t Rome, or Edinburgh, or any earthly city. It will be a return to the Divine, a return to pure Love.
For now though, I travel…to amazing places around the world, and through life. I mark my passage by the events that happen, times of growth or upheaval, the symbolic bell towers showing me how far I have come and how far I still have to go.
On my journey, I have amazing companions who are traveling alongside. Some have been with me throughout my lifetime, some walked with me for a short time only. All teach me something about who I am and the journey I am on.
During my time in Italy, I was surrounded by traveling companions. We started off as strangers, except for my daughter and grandson of course. By journey’s end we had become family, a family whose members came from across the globe. Our guides for this part of the journey were a quiet and exceedingly charming man called Luciano, whose driving skills enabled our pilgrimage, and a wise, joyful woman named Fabiola, who introduced us to Italy and deeper aspects of life.
Like the long ago pilgrims, moving from bell tower to bell tower, we arrived at last in Rome. But that bustling city was not our resting place. Rather it launched us all abroad to continue finding our way in the world. I am so grateful for my Italian travels and the impact it has had on my life and on my journey.
Onward I go, to the next bell tower.