There sat steak and custard alongside bottles of soda and cups of coffee. And, of course the customary dish of snails that looked like little hills all grouped together in a lake of garlic. The white linen was now stained with wine and butter. The din of conversation rose above the lowly lit, colorful chandeliers in the chic Parisian restaurant where I found myself in the spring of my freshman year of high school.
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It was part of a trip the school had planned where an assortment of teachers, parents and, of course, students would travel to three classic European cities in one week. In five days, I saw some of the greatest manmade feats in all of civilization. I saw our species’ history plastered on the wall of cathedrals and museums, and played out in the ruins of the Coliseum. I saw the history as well as the present which was alive and thriving in local marketplaces and walking the rainy streets of Paris. The architecture in the slums of Paris were enough to bring an American to tears, never mind the winding hills of Tuscany or the sweeping frescoes on the walls of the Sistine Chapel.
Don’t get me wrong, it wasn’t all crème puffs and tiramisu. We walked from sun up to sun down trying to absorb as much culture as possible; you could have rung the culture out of me at the end of the day. Along with the sweat and the blisters. Our cameras died, our hair appliances didn’t work and the list of tragedies went on and on. On the first night in Florence, after finally sitting down to a delicious meal after being hungry for hours, my plate of food fell on my lap before I even took the first bite. The hotel rooms were cramped and there was always something off about the showers. Still, it was hard to complain. Even when the shower was cold because you were the last one in, all you had to do was look outside your window at the beauty and adventure that lay there.
I shopped and I walked and I ate for five days straight, indulging myself in the European way of life. I had never been consumed by so much beauty, art and religion in my life. When we left one masterpiece that seemed like nothing else in this world, we simply moved on to another, even more spectacular, one. It wasn’t just in the museums and the churches. There was art in the streets of Europe, painted on the fronts of buildings.
Some people say that they can see God in the Grand Canyon or the ocean. Or, they can look at the complexity of our circulatory system and know without a doubt that a higher being exists. I agree that these are all valid observations. However, the first time that I knew, without a doubt, that there was a God was when I stood in the center of St. Peter’s Basilica. The beauty and the art on the walls and in the molding overcame me like a giant wave crashing down over my head on the shores of Hawaii. I could feel the souls of the architects and the artists coming through the walls. It’s an indescribable feeling—that feeling of standing in front of this greatness and feeling so small and yet so significant at the same time.
I don’t know how this led me to the realization of God, but it wasn’t really something I realized in my consciousness. Instead, it was something I felt at the core of my very being. My inside lit up with this fiery and very certain fact.
It’s like the Eiffel Tower when she glitters in the rain.
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