Three weeks before my birthday, I decided to do something impulsive: celebrate it in Rome. I’ve always wanted to go overseas, and ever since I turned 30 I’ve been taking birthday trips as a chance to reflect on the year that has passed and create goals for the one ahead.
At first I planned to go alone, but my sister and a friend wanted to come as well. I envisioned the three of us spending our days and nights indulging in decadent dinners and wine. But just as the trip was unplanned, so was one of the most meaningful moments I’ve had in my life.
Our hotel was located at the top of the Spanish Steps. On Dec. 8, which happened to be the Feast of the Immaculate Conception, the concierge told us Pope Benedict XVI was scheduled to make an appearance at the bottom of the steps. At noon, we picked a good spot and took our place among the faithful. And then we waited. It was 38 degrees, and we were without gloves or hats (remember, this was spontaneous). As our toes, fingers and noses turned numb, we thought about leaving. But I said to myself, “Jesus died on the cross for us!” If God was testing me, I could handle a few hours of shivering.
“El Papa” arrived a little after 4 p.m. — and our wait had been worth it. As someone who was raised Catholic, seeing the pope standing just a few feet away was a life experience I never expected to have — and it cemented my belief that this trip had been intended to teach me a lesson. I don’t think things like this are simple coincidences. As a person of faith, I know that they are planned by a higher power.
While I considered all of these things, I had an “aha” moment: Things happen when they are right. The pope arrives when he’s ready. My family may hope that I get married on their timeline (which has long since passed), but age has no real correlation to life experiences. Love happens when it is meant to be.
In 2013, I choose not to let the bumps in the road impact my life negatively. Whenever I’m dealt an unpleasant blow, I will repeat my personal mantra: “It may hurt now, but it’s just a feeling and you will get over it.”
Right now I feel like I can face anything.
I felt similarly on the final day of my trip as I turned my back to Trevi Fountain and threw a penny in. Legend has it that whoever throws a penny into its pond will return to Rome. I hope the legend holds fast, but most importantly, I can’t wait to see the person I’ve become when it does.
Nina Chantele donated her fee for writing this column to the Israel Idonije Foundation.
Jan. 9, 2013 | Nina Chantele has an unexpected awakening in the eternal city | Chicago Sun-Times