Through the narrow, winding passageways too small to be called roads that meander around the rice-fields of the Milanese periphery near Abbiategrasso proudly stands one of the most peaceful spots to wander and just ponder life. L’Abbazia di Chiaravalle or the Chiaravalle Abbey, founded in 1135, oversees the countryside of Lombardy with a particular grace of the Cistercian monks. Worn earth-brick walls surround the church, a little shop on the right as you enter the grounds offers pure honey, herbs, spices, teas, elixirs, chocolate and a variety of religious articles and souvenirs. Approved and guaranteed! Many a Sunday afternoon I spent in the heat of the Milanese sun and a trek to the Abbey seemed to be a relaxing end to the week and the offering of another set to begin within a few hours the next Monday. My husband, at the time, was and had always been quite a bit anti-hierarchy of the Church, for what many Italians believe is an almost untouchable corruption. This, in contrast to much of my family, who still today, maintains a due-diligence reverence for all-things-Church, vindicated in a way, with the miraculous appearance of Papa Francesco I, an Argentine Jesuit with origins from Piemonte.
Chiaravalle was not enough to keep a doomed marriage together, but the memories of the peace amid the strife, the differences and division allow me to let go of many memories, especially the more unpleasant ones.
We are, as the Sufis say, “On the Path” of life. Some of us meet others at whichever point that is and we must deal with that position on the timeline of eternity. We cannot nor should we look to change another. Wherever we are, we should be able to honestly evaluate our beliefs, our values and honestly evaluate if they align with that special someone. If good fortune awaits, people get together and grow together maintaining a certain connection defying the false popular notion of being “in love” and committing to the nebulous strength of an all-inclusive Love. More often than not, those lines “On the Path” of life never quite match up and after years, there is a divide. It could be as recognizable as an avid footballer on Sunday from morning through night incessantly tuned to watching one game after another in front of a television, or a workaholic who virtuously finds more to do at work than at home, or the bar-hopper who insatiably seeks desire, beauty and lust in anyone other than his wife. Betrayal comes in all forms when you are twenty or thirty or even forty.
Yet at some point, the monks’ chant of Chiaravalle calls softly in harmony and for me, releases all the pain, betrayal and abandonment, now as I age. Those melodious chants speak to my heart and reassure some part of my soul inside that these sufferings and betrayals were necessary for me to have become who I am today. And for this, I should hold no rancor towards anyone.
So now, whenever I return to Milan, I assure myself a stop, usually on a Sunday, to the Abbey of Chiaravalle with my ex-husband as we realize the Path we have traveled has brought us to who we are. And we are fine with that…close in acceptance, although kilometers apart in our daily lives.