It was a dry, dusty afternoon. Spring was turning to summer in Italy, and the smell of the sea drifted up from the port and wound through the narrow streets. I was weaving through them on my way home, talking with a friend as I walked. A series of difficult circumstances in my life had finally reached critical mass. My year as an exchange student was nearly over, but my troubles were not. That day, after months of hanging in there, I fell apart. My eyes were so full of tears I could barely see where I was going, so we sat down on a stoop along the street. Many Italians go home to rest during the hottest part of the afternoon, so the streets were quiet, most windows and doors were shut. I’m not sure how long we sat there before I heard her voice.
“Scusi, signorina. Ne voui un tè?” I looked up, startled, and saw an old woman peering out her window across the street, several stories up. She was indeed talking to me. And she asked me again, in Italian, “Excuse me, miss. Would you like some tea? A cup of tea will do you good”. Una tazza di tè ti fa bene. I didn’t know what to say, but I couldn’t argue with her logic. I said, “Si, grazie”, and wiped my nose as she disappeared. A few moments later she reappeared with a cup, saucer, teabag, spoon, and kettle. She poured for me, offered me milk and sugar, and was gone, saying only that I could leave the cup there when I finished.
She didn’t solve my problems. She didn’t lecture me about how I really didn’t have any thing to cry about. But years after I’ve forgotten advice or lectures, I still remember her kindness. I don’t remember specifically what I was crying about that afternoon. But I remember holding that cup in both hands, drinking as if I was dying and that tea was the only cure. You may think hot tea on a hot day isn’t very comforting. In this case you couldn’t be more wrong.
I’m humbled by that little Italian lady. I want my life to matter. But how often do I take time to extend kindness to a stranger? What do I have to do that is really more important?