The longest journey starts with the first step

May 4 has arrived, Phase 2 has begun and we are finally allowed to walk in the park for exercise. We still cannot see our friends and it is not clear whether we can go down town for a stroll but after more than 50 days alone at home I will take what I can get. I went to the Parco della Caffarella, over 300 acres of public green area, part of the Regional Park of the Appia Antica (www.caffarella.it)

I leave the concrete and the asphalt, the straight lines and right angles of the city that have been my fixed view for the last 50 days, and I walk into the park. It’s in a valley and it feels like plunging into the sea to swim. At every step knots unravel, the oppressiveness that has been lodged in my chest, gray and thick like fog, dissolves. My senses take over and they feel newly minted, sharp, polished, and eager. I am alive, I am here, and what I am feeling is unmistakably joy. Everything calls to me: the tender green of Spring, the enamel quality of Rome’s cloudless blue sky, the bright red of the poppies, the oily sleekness of a starling’s feathers. I walk in the tall grass and marvel at how it whips at my ankles (why had I never noticed that?). And the sounds: the melodious warbling of a blackbird, the buzzing of the bees, the “singing” of a rooster from the nearby farm, (that’s what they do in Italian, they sing), a flock of sheep crossing a little bridge over a brook, their hooves against the loose wooden planks, snippets of conversation, a child passing on a bike, “Ciao pecora come stai oggi? Hello sheep, how are you doing today?  – Mamma! Mi ha risposto, hai sentito? Mom! she answered me, did you hear that?”.  A couple walks by, wearing masks but holding hands, my mind races to my loved ones, so far away right now, to my partner on the other side of the world: when will I hold his hand again? But then my mind comes back and settles into the moment. I need to be here, now. What does this first walk really feel like? It feels like cold spring water when one is parched. What is it though? Is it Nature, the scale of its beauty and power that don’t even acknowledge what has turned our lives upside down?  Yes, but what it is really about today, for me, is moving in a shared space, a space made up and lived in by others: trees, birds and people. Not the space of my apartment that speaks just about me and my solitude, that looks like the inside of my mind and nothing else. I recovered a sense of community, of belonging to something more vast not just than me, but vaster and more powerful than the hardship of this moment.  And as I walk in the park, I realize too that that is exactly what I miss about guiding: offering Rome, its complex beauty and resilience as a place we can all share in and connect with. And Rome is there, always there, like the trees and the sky, and one of these days we will be able to feel her embrace again.

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