Micah and I caught the ferry from our hotel, across the Lake of Como, to Bellagio, Italy. There we sauntered down cobbled streets, past gorgeous boutiques and cafés, and up stone steps leading through narrow alleyways. Near the lakefront promenade, we walked into an antique shop, drawn in by the ethereal paintings in the window display. A petite woman, looking to be in her 70's, greeted us as we entered the shop. She was elegantly dressed. We lingered in front of a painting of a woman and a child on the shore of Lake Como. Their clothes were old-fashioned but the sun-dappled landscape looked exactly as it had an hour earlier when we stepped off the ferry. "My father painted that," said the woman. I watched Micah melt into a puddle at her feet, overcome by the charm and history of the place and her story.
"Your father painted this?" asked Micah.
"Si, this is a copy of his original work." I knew then we were leaving the shop with one of his prints.
We took our time looking at a half dozen or so, before finally settling on one that captured the lake, a glimpse of the village, and the Alps in the distance. After the woman had wrapped it she handed us what looked to be a brochure. "A gift for you," she said. Outside the shop I opened it up and discovered it was the story of how her father had come to Bellagio. I read it to Micah as we walked toward the lake.
Her father, an Italian, visited Bellagio in the 1930's. He was so taken by the beauty of the place he immediately declared, "I will own a shop here one day!" A year later he had already purchased a shop and begun painting the landscape. He would later marry a woman from another country (the brochure didn't say where she was from). The two had a daughter. Decades later she is still running her father's shop. As I write this, I recognize this is a simple story. A man falls in love with a place and then a woman. He spends the remainder of his days putting this love to paint. But there is also, for me, something incredibly moving about his declaration, a promise to himself. "I will own a shop here one day!"
This past weekend I fulfilled a twenty year old promise to myself. I finally read the first book in the Anne of Green Gables series by L.M. Montgomery. I fell in love with Anne of Green Gables in middle school. My grandpa Lausterer introduced me to the 1980's TV mini-series on PBS. I loved everything about Anne: her imagination, her temper, her abiding belief in kindred spirits, and her loathing turned love for Gilbert Blythe. But mostly what I loved about Anne was that she embodied something I believe we all have inside of us: a child-like spirit full of wonder and wishes. The English poet Robert Browning, quoted by Montgomery, puts it best: "The good stars met in your horoscope. Made you of spirit and fire and dew."
The good stars met in my horoscope when my best friend Beth gifted me the book set. "I will read at least the first two books," I declared to myself. The stars aligned again when Beth and I traveled to Prince Edward Island after our college graduation. We camped in the national park, on the Gulf of St. Lawrence. Actually, we froze to death. It was May, a rainy and frigid month, and there wasn't another tourist to be found on the island. We spent several hours in a laundry facility, absorbing the heat from the dryers, trying to stay warm. We also visited the home of L.M. Montgomery. I remember thinking how odd it was to have traveled all that way because of my love for a story I had never read.
Over the next twenty years I made a few failed attempts to read the books. But the strangest thing would happen. My love for Anne, and her story, would immediately grow cold. The reading of the book felt like a burden. This only made the next attempt all the more difficult. Eventually, just looking at the book, or watching the TV series, filled me with a feeling of disappointment. What was my deal? Was I afraid the book wouldn't live up to the TV series? Was it Montgomery's flowery, old-fashioned writing style? These explanations didn't add up. Why was this book such a source of grief?
It wasn't until I started writing, in the form of a spiritual memoir and this blog, that I found the answer. Anne of Green Gables becomes a writer. And that, unbeknownst to me, was the hidden reason for my deep love of Anne. Here was a story about a girl who grows up to write (written by a girl who grows up to write) and I couldn't bear reading it because I had failed to do the same. Somewhere along the way I abandoned my child-like spirit of wonder and wishes and became a responsible, practical adult. Responsible, practical adults, it seemed to me, do not abandon a good job and a sensible resume to become a writer, or a painter, to open a shop, or move to a different part of the country simply because it's beautiful. Thank goodness we're not made only of flesh and blood, of common sense and realism. It's the spirit and fire and dew inside you and me that beckons us to declare our love for the impractical and ethereal.
Twenty years is a long time to read a book. But I'm so glad I finally followed through on my declaration. When we honor a promise to ourselves the good stars align in our horoscopes and the result is nothing short of exquisite.*
*Exquisite: from late Middle English meaning "to seek out." Seek out a long lost promise to yourself and you will rediscover the spirit and fire and dew inside of you.