Christmas Epiphany – Commentary by Frank Gillispie 12/22/09
I knew when I left camp that I would experience a memorable Christmas. But it turned out to be much more than I had imagined.
The year was 1962. I was serving in the U.S. Army stationed near the tiny town of Dahn, in the Westphalia area of Germany. I had learned of a tour bus
coming out of Frankfurt going to Italy with a vacant seat. I asked for leave, booked the seat and prepared see the sights in Italy.
Now you have to picture an inexperienced 21 year old Georgia redneck riding across Southern Europe with a bus load of total strangers, (they were
Canadians.) The rest of the people on the bus knew each other. I knew none of them.
We passed through Austria, toured Venice, saw the leaning tower at night and made our way to Rome in time for Christmas. We toured the catacombs and
the Vatican on Christmas Eve. I was with the group, but not part of the group during this part of the trip.
We returned to the square in front of St. Peter's to hear the Pope's midnight blessing. And that is where I had my epiphany. I stood there, all alone,
in the center of a tightly packed crowd of several hundred thousand people, watching a dying pope give his final Christmas blessing. Pope John XXIII
died a few months later.
This sharp awareness of being alone in a crowd in the center of a major Christian site immediately changed the tour from a site-seeing trip to a
pilgrimage of self discovery. A pilgrimage that continues today.
I became acutely aware of my surroundings and the way I reacted to them. Christmas Day we were left to explore Rome on our own. I spent the day
walking alone around the strange, enchanting city. I found the coliseum, the forum, the Spanish Steps and the famous fountains. On a small street,
I found an American style hamburger joint were I ate lunch. I found the Olympic stadium were the Rome games were held, and many other well known locations.
During this fateful day, I never lost my direction. In my wandering, I crossed many busy streets, mostly filled with people I couldn't understand.
When I became tired in the afternoon, I simply turned and walked back to the hotel.
This intense awareness of myself continued as we completed the tour, seeing Pompeii, the Isle of Capri and parts of the Italian Rivera on the trip
back north. When the bus dropped me off in Heidelberg to catch a local train back to camp, I knew I had changed. I didn't know the extent or nature
of the changes for some time to come.
The adventure was not over. Later that year, the Berlin Wall was built. We were on a war footing for over a month, with all the physical and mental
pressures that brought along. But I never had a sense of fear or uncertainty.
When I returned to the U.S., I had developed a love of philosophy, and a deep interest in the world's religions. A survey of my private library will
show just how much time, energy and money I have devoted to my studies.
And it all started on that dramatic Christmas Eve in Rome.
"I cannot live without books." --Thomas Jefferson
"A person who won't read has no advantage over one who can't read." --Mark Twain
"A people who mean to be their own governors must arm themselves with the power that knowledge gives. A popular government
without popular knowledge or the means of acquiring it, is but a prelude to a farce or a tragedy or perhaps both."
Copyright © 2009 by Frank Gillispie
email@example.com, Hull, GA
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