Ever come across one of those days when there seems to be absolutely nothing to do? A day when all you really want is for the clock to click off another twenty-four so you can get on with your life? I did, one day in a small town in Northern Italy, a place called Aviano.
I was there to teach some classes, but it was a cold, miserable, leaden-skied Saturday in February and I was trapped up on the third floor of a tiny hotel without even a book to read. There was, of course, no television and if Aviano boasted a movie theater, or even a museum, they were well hidden.
I looked outside, saw a light snow falling to add to three inches or so already on the ground and thought I was in for one of the dullest days of my life. I could have just given up, but I didn't. I decided that I was going to do something, anything.
"Something" meant going outdoors unless I wanted to play solitaire tic-tac-toe on the hotel walls, so I put on a warm overcoat and sallied forth into the light snowfall. Aviano is at the foot of the Julian Alps, and I could see nothing of the mountains with the snow falling, but I remembered seeing the golden dome of a church up on the side of the mountain above the town when the weather was clear, and so, for reasons unknown, I headed in that direction.
"That direction" turned out to be several miles up the side of the mountain on a narrow switchback road. It was, believe me, a COLD walk, and it grew colder the higher I ascended. But I refused to give up, finally made it up there and wandered around to the front of the church. The snow thankfully had stopped.
Then came one of the most wonderful experiences of my life. Hidden away up on that slope above a small Italian town was an absolute jewel. The "church" had a name, the Monastery of the Madonna.
There was absolutely no one I could find to ask permission, so I just went in.
I was greeted by the sight of immense 15th century paintings hanging on the walls -- beautiful things, things such as I had never seen before, many depicting Biblical scenes.
I was totally enthralled. I spent nearly three hours just wandering from one to another, just sitting and staring, all that time totally alone in the silent, darkened church.
Then, suddenly aware that I hadn't eaten anything for the past six or seven hours, and being very thirsty from the long climb up, I began to search around for someplace to get a drink of water. I still couldn't find anyone, and my thirst was becoming so great that the holy water in the font was beginning to look downright attractive.
I went outside and discovered a beautiful clear day, with the sun streaming down on a magical scene -- mountains, valleys, the town below cloaked in white. I stood there, awestruck at the beauty of it all until my thirst became a raging thing that would brook no more delay.
Then -- wonder of wonders -- I walked around to the side of that magnificent stone structure with its golden dome and there, nestled under its wing, was a long low structure with a sign over its door, "Ristorante." I went in and dined as well as I have ever dined in my life. Hot, fresh, crisp Italian bread. Parmesan cheese that was as flaky as piecrust, and ten times tastier. And -- well not everything has to be wondrous -- two large bottles of Italian beer to quench my thirst.
Outside again an hour later, I took the direct route down the mountain, "skiing" down the slopes on a pair of English shoes whose leather soles were thin and slick.
I spent, probably, more than half that descent flat on my back in my overcoat, but I spent all of it laughing and thanking a merciful God for having shown me that the most valuable thing He ever gave me might just be the short time I will be here on His earth.