Two days into my last Retreat, one of my students walked down to the marina and managed to learn (in Italian) that the boat which had been her home for nine months when she was a teenager was docked in the next little bay, a five-minute bus ride from our villa.
My ears perked.
She had lived on a boat for nine months? She had looked for the boat? The boat was really this close to us?
I could feel my nostalgia meter rising up a notch.
That's when she explained that yes, when she was 16 years old and living in Southern Minnesota, she had begged her parents to let her spend her 11th grade on board Te Vega, a 137-foot beauty of a schooner where school was going to be taught - in the Bahamas.
They refused. She thinks maybe the Bahamas had a whiff of too much partying.
When Keek asked again, the following year, they relented. Te Vega was now bound for Europe, and it sounded much more educational. Also, as she points out: "they did not know quite what to do with me."
Europe it was - and this 17-year old wide-eyed landlubber gasped when she first saw the two masts that were to be the landmarks of her home for a whole school year.
From what she tells me, these were nine huge months. From Italy to Greece (where her teacher pointed to a mountain on the horizon, most likely Mount Olympus, while reading classic texts), to Morocco and Gibraltar, it was an extraordinary, life-shaping experience. She learned much and got to meet her adventurous self. She said that when she came home, it took her several years to sort out the whole chapter, maybe even decades.
When she had walked away from Te Vega, a June day in Rotterdam, she never thought she would see her again.
But Life has plans, and Life loves to weave a perfect tapestry, a mandala so rich that our souls can't help but recognize it.
And this is how, on that second day in a Retreat in Italy, she learned that "her boat" was minutes away. Of all the places Te Vaga could be, all the ports, all the seas and all the boatyards, there she was, a short hike away from where my friend had chosen to travel.
To me, this was a bright, loud message. A big, beautiful rich orange flag with shimmery strings of purple tinsel that said: "Welcome and please step into this bit of magic. We have some really good stuff planned for you."
At first, Keek told me that she had heard the boat was in dry dock and had not seen water for five years. Then she mentioned something about "not wanting to see her in mothballs."
Me, I saw the shimmery strings — the Invitation.
The next morning, Keek, another friend and I hopped on a bus headed to the little bordering town, a piece of paper with the name of a boatyard tucked in my friend's pocket.
A few curvy twists overlooking the BLUE, BLUE Mediterannean, a crazy u-turn that would never do in the States, and there we were, deposited on the sidewalk, filled with a sense of Adventure and something else, too.
Always looking for the delight to practice my Italian, I asked a policewoman for directions. We walked a few meters until we were standing in front of tall, gray metal doors. Valdetarro Cantiere Navale. Whew. We were so close.
I turned to my friend to let her know that this was the place and that we were going to find our way in there, that Te Vega was most likely on the other side of these doors.
She was frozen, a hand over her mouth, tears in her eyes.
There she is - was all she could say - her gaze fixed on the two very, very tall masts ahead, right on the other side of the doors.
They had found each other.
Across the decades, across the miles and all the chapters they had both lived while apart (Keek's life since leaving the ship has included doing psychic communication with animals, leading people down the Grand Canyon and living in an RV - as a start. Born in 1929, Te Vega, now renamed Deva, has had many adventures, alternately been owned by tycoons, operated as an oceanographic research vessel, a patrol vessel in the Eastern Pacific, and of course a school) they had found each other. There was something that happened at that very moment, the moment when they were reunited, that my words might have a hard time depicting. The best I can use is: overflowing. My heart, as I watched my friend's insides get re-arranged, swelled almost painfully. Standing so close to her, I felt a mixture of my own grief as well as a deep sense of holiness. An absolute reminder of Life's intentions to show us the next lesson, the next Gift. Of our interwovenness, too.
We went inside the boatyard.
Rather than being in mothballs, Te Vega was glorious. In the beautiful water, looking well-loved and ready for many more adventures.
We stood by her. We sat. We talked. We were quiet. We took photos. Keek talked and talked. We saw her at 17. We saw her on the deck, we saw her by the top of the mast. We saw her taking French lessons, and we saw her classmates, too.
This was one of the sacred moments of my life and I will forever be grateful for having been allowed to be a part of it.
In the days following their reunion, we went back a few times. We never got on board, which was perfect. We had coffee and pastries across the harbor, and Keek shared with us how when she was a teenager, and they all jumped off the ship to explore a new town, seeing the double masts always meant Home - and Safety. There she was, half a century later, doing the same thing, with the same big heart, the same Essence.
She spoke of the Gratitude that was bubbling up in her, the Gratitude for the ways these nine months had shaped her, and for all the people that had made that possible.
She spoke of the Gratitude of having been reunited, not just with the ship, but with herself.
That's when it dawned on me that this little town, this little sea town on the other side of the world where Keek and Te Vega had made this divine appointment - possibly long ago - was called Le Grazie.
Le Grazie. The Thanks.
Today, I invite all of us to notice the little shimmery purple bits of tinsels that are shining through our tapestry. I invite us to say yes to having our hearts re-arranged, and I invite us to courageously show up for divine appointments.
PS: if you'd like to lead your own Joy-Based Retreats, I would love to teach you how.
Today is Monday September 2.
It is also… simply, today.
Today that starts for me the moment I woke up (a little roughly, this morning) and will end the moment I fall asleep tonight.
In between these two very specific instants, a Container. A Container with walls (the the moment I woke up and the moment I fall asleep) and a nice round space in the middle.
Chances are that within these walls, in that nice round space, there will be time spent in the bathroom, tending to my body; time spent eating, time spent talking, moving; time spent talking with people, and also quiet time. These things happen most days.
Because I have a tiny bit of familiarity with today already, I am guessing that there will be some pieces of traveling, too. On buses, trains and by foot. I know I will hear sounds I do not hear “back home,” words spoken in a language I do not understand as readily as I understand English or French.
Today has an Essence of Adventure built into it. A lovely Container.
And then, the unknown. Including not knowing - for certain - that today will end uneventfully in a bed. Not knowing for certain that today will not be the last day of my life. Do we ever know?
Do you ever know?
But we assume and in assuming we assume that as we go to sleep, on the outer edge of that Container, we will re-set the clock and that we will have many more Containers. In fact we won’t even have to do it, it will happen automatically.
Chances are that it will.
And yet. In the last weeks I have known on several Containers whose outer wall held huge surprises. Surprises no one could have guessed. Surprises that changed the courses of many, many lives - and ended some.
So today, as I watch the sun rise over the hills of Tuscany, as I try to let my brain catch up with the knowing that I spent most of yesterday sitting on various comfortable chairs flying across the planet, I feel awe, anticipation and respect for this new Container ahead of me. Ahead of us.
Today is Monday, September 2 and I look forward to getting to know it.
My new book