Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing. I Thessalonians 5:11
I had noticed the Arkansas sweatshirt earlier when we were exploring Pompeii and made the obvious comment, “So, you’re a Razorback?” I asked the young woman. “Yes, she is,” her mom replied, “and we’re from Arkansas.” Diane then proceeded to expound on the athletic prowess of her two daughters, as would any proud mother. And then they blended into the crowd.
Pompeii continues to impress, particularly after the recent eruptions of Kilauea in Hawaii and Volcán De Fuego in Guatemala. I’d studied vulcanology in university and so was interested in the archeological site, but the opportunity to hike to the top of Vesuvius was especially interesting. I didn’t realize how challenging the incline would be.
We’d been warned that the first part of the climb would be hard. And I’d forgotten that my respiratory system hadn’t completely recovered from my last illness. My two grandchildren and I started the hike together, but the farther we climbed, the harder it was for me to keep up—and breathing became even more difficult.
That’s where Diane, my new friend from Arkansas, came in. Coming up from behind, Diane called out to the grands, “You go on up. I’ll climb with your grandmother.” I knew the two youngsters were like racehorses, ready to bolt, but they were hesitant to leave my side. “Go,” Diane urged, “I’ll stay with her.”
And so we climbed, Diane and I. We hiked a few yards, and when she’d see me struggling, she’d suggest we stop and rest. Then we gained a few more yards and stopped. She never suggested that I give up and go back down. Instead, we inched our way up—almost to the top—when we saw those two Razorbacks come running down. They saw me and said, “You’re almost there. You can do it.” And with their mom, those girls who had run up the mountain encouraged me to keep going.
We made it, the four of us. And at the top, I joined my grandchildren. And I saw the caldera and the steam making its way through the cracks in Vesuvius’ massive crater. I had made it to the top of Vesuvius.
Could I have done it alone? Probably, but not likely. It was hard. My breathing was labored; my heart was pounding . But Diane climbed with me; she stopped and waited with me; she encouraged me. She didn’t demean me. She made the journey interesting and carried on a vibrant conversation as we ascended. She acted as if climbing steep mountains with struggling people was something she did every day.
And that’s what I think we’re all called to do. People struggle all around us. Almost everyone is involved in some sort of conflict. We’re all in a battle that we can’t win alone. As the Church, it should be our normal, everyday activity to look around and cheerfully say, “I’ll walk with you. I’ll encourage you in this challenge. I’ll rest with you. I’ll stay with you.” And then we just do it…until we’re no longer needed. And if we’re the ones needing help, we need to humbly acknowledge the fact and reach out.
As we were loading up the bus for our return to Rome, I made a point of seeking out Diane. “I couldn’t have made it without you,” I said…and meant it.
Father, thank you for bringing into our lives those saints with hearts of love and compassion. Make me to be one of them. In Jesus’ name. AMEN.