by Tina Tau, Guest Blogger
Kirsten has asked me to be a guest blogger at an interesting time. I’m in the midst of the sad and difficult waters of a breakup with my boyfriend of eight years. The work I’m doing around this breakup—and the energy of Kirsten’s pilgrimage on the Camino—bring to mind a deep adventure I had in Italy ten years ago, just before my marriage ended. This adventure was previewed by a big dream:
I’m in my dad’s book-lined study. One of the walls is waist high, with a river on the other side that is cresting into the room. I realize I’m going to have to swim, and meet up with my family later in New Orleans. I call my sister and tell her I have her kitten and doll, and she says, “Thanks, but if you’re swimming for your life, let them go.” Her voice grounds me into a new and more serious reality. In the river, I see I have to let them go, and I do. The river is very dark, very cold, scary and intense, sweeping me along.
The point of most intensity in the dream was the surging icy water up around my neck, and the blackness of the night and the water.
This was not just a vivid dream of coming change. It was also a heads-up about my attitude. My sister, a cancer survivor, was grounding me. She warned me, and it turned out to be so, that this swim was going to take everything I had—in two senses: It was going to take every ounce of my strength, and I was going to lose some precious stuff.
In October of 2006, about a year after the dream, I was lifted out of my life and given a chance to look at it from afar and above, much as Kirsten is doing on the Camino. My friend Rosie, a teacher in Hungary, wanted company on her visit to her boyfriend in Tuscany. She gave me the trip, air tickets and all, as a present.
This astonishing gift came at a moment when I was paralyzed with confusion, a sense of failure, and fear. My husband was angry and cold, our two adopted Chinese daughters only 9 and 11 years old. I had no money. The only thing I knew for sure was that it was time to get a job. I’d just started to look before I flew away from Oregon to Hungary to meet up with my friend.
We took a train across the Alps from Budapest to Florence, where her boyfriend Carlos met us and drove us (I had to keep my eyes closed!) to Pari, a beautiful old Tuscan hill-town south of Siena.
Rosie would stay at Carlos’ farm in the valley but I had rented a tiny apartment in the Italian sky. The bell of Pari’s church tower was on a level with my window, and miles of clouds and fields lay out in all directions.
That first evening, while I was still disoriented—was I really in Italy?—Carlos drove us to a hot springs a mile away: Bagni di Petriolo. The sulfur-smelling springs, known and used for centuries, flow down a steep hillside into the Farma river which runs under a Roman bridge.
It was night when we got there. We picked our way down past the stone pools and the naked people. Carlos and Rosie lay down in one of the pools and I kept on going until I got to the river. I was alone down there. Steam rose where the hot water hit the cold river.
I swam out and lay down like a crocodile so the icy water could pool up around my neck. The water was not deep, but it was just as cold as the water in my dream, and the night was just as dark. And it was more ancient and strange than I could have imagined. Here I was, so far from home, in pitch-black freezing water under a Roman bridge. I was right inside my dream, being swept out of my old life into one I couldn’t see.
that the rising water has broken
the ice, I see that what I thought
was the light is part of the dark.”
– Wendell Berry
My dream-fed adventure in Pari was underway.