“Ruin is a gift. Ruin is the road to transformation” – Liz Gilbert from Eat, Pray, Love
There’s a time and place for everything. In any transformation, our journey may be long with winding roads and stops along the way. Each stop is a clue, yet sometimes we don’t allow ourselves to see that clue clearly until much later. Other times, we might save that clue for the future, holding it, nurturing it, until we are ready to fully accept, embrace and/or let it go.
Then, there are times when the clue hits us with such intensity that we have no option but to surrender to it immediately.
Sometimes, I like to call these clues “signs”, as they are a messenger that is delivering to us something very powerful. One such “sign” appeared to me on one of my many trips to my favorite place in the world, Italy. And, it happened in my favorite city nonetheless – I’ve spoken in the past about my love for tiny Vernazza, one of the five beautiful towns of The Cinque Terre on the western coast of Italy. It has always been my favorite place, and has a special place in my heart. Between my first trip there in 2007 and my fateful trip in 2013, there was a disastrous flood that affected this tiny village. My heart broke for the residents as their homes and belongings were washed away, and some were even killed in the rushing water. After the flood, stories of survival were shared and the town began a huge cleanup and rebuilding process. The town was so devastated, it took weeks to dig out from the mud and rubble which had built up to past the second level of the buildings.
I watched the progress from afar keeping up with it on the Save Vernazza page on Facebook. I donated money to fund the cleanup and restoration, as well as the rebuilding. I wondered if the town would ever be the same, and I hoped for the day it would be fully restored.
Then, in 2013 I traveled to Italy and knew that I must travel to Vernazza to see the progress. The majority of the town had been cleaned up and rebuilt, walls restructured, new paint, the harbor cleaned. There was still some construction going on, but the town was still filled with people, boats floated in the harbor again and the restaurants and gelaterias were dishing out their tasty treats. It was truly an amazing sight. So many years after first traveling here and falling in love with the town, not only was I back, but I was witnessing the rebirth of this little place. It was so fulfilling to see this.
I strolled along the main street Via Roma, marveled at all the shops that were open, stopped for a gelato and sat in the piazza and on the dock just taking in all the sights and sounds. Then, as with every city and town that I visit in Italy, I went to go visit the church. As I sat in a pew, I wondered what the church looked like when it had been buried in mud. How long did it take to remove all the mud and cleanup the old stone walls, columns and flooring? How high was the mud? It was hard to imagine the spot where I was sitting had once been buried. I then strolled around the church, looking at all of the relics and artwork along the perimeter.
-Inside of the church – Old stone walls with sunlight peeking in (Left) and the Interior of the church (Right)
And then, as I usually do in all Italian churches, I went to light a candle near the front altar. And as I’m approaching one of the side altars, I see a small, humble arrangement of flowers…sitting on the floor all alone. And it hit me…here, amongst this place that had been utterly devastated, sat the most amazing sign of signs – that LIFE had returned. It returned in the form of flowers. The thing about this that most runs chills down my spine is the fact that this arrangement was not only so small, it was also sitting on the floor all alone, and of all the types of flowers that could have been placed in this vase, they were carnations. Humble, little, white and pink carnations.
But this little vase of flowers was anything but “little”. It showed hope, faith, courage, resilience and strength. Because even through the devastation, this town was determined to survive. That vase will always be a blazing symbol to me. It will remind me that even after total devastation, ruin IS the road to transformation – and better days ahead. Ruin is the path to healing, strength and love.
The town of Vernazza has been restored and continues to be improved through the hands of Save Vernazza and the resilient residents of this beautiful town. If you feel so inclined, you can donate or volunteer through their website. I have been able to return to Vernazza several times after encountering that fateful vase of carnations on the floor. Unfortunately, I haven’t seen another vase of flowers placed there on my subsequent trips…but when I close my eyes, they are always there.