It is moments like this; sitting in a 300-year-old Baroque cathedral on a pleasantly-uncomfortable wooden bench in the center of old-town Vienna as a group of Slovak men sing the Credo of an Ordinary accompanied by the pipe organ, when this city sweeps me off my feet. I am writing in my notebook and will later transfer it over to my computer so as not to disturb the domed-hall with my typing. It is magical and glorious. I am here on a Sunday night, in the heart of Vienna, in church filled with gold-plated cherubim.
What a whirlwind of a week. Walking on average 12 miles a day in sun, rain, and wind whilst learning and trying to catch every train you have to take can knock you OUT. Today, getting home from church I passed out for 4 hours and I still feel like my body is having sleep withdrawals. However, though my body is tired, this week has been one of awesome firsts and I have learned more than I thought possible in one week. This city and I have begun to entwine ourselves together as I get to know the transportation system, no longer needing a map; learn the best gelato places; and get purposefully lost in cobblestone alleys, and as she ungracefully blasts her way into my heart with magnificent Gothic cathedrals; opera halls; delicious, purple twilight skies; and forests that make one jealous of the trees. I am loving Vienna, and man, it’s been barely two weeks and I can already tell it will be hard to leave.
This week was the official start of my internship. I am working at an elementary school helping with English and the refugee children who are a part of the integration program there. However, though the internship is great, it isn’t exactly what I had in mind. You see, I wanted to work more with refugees/victims of crime for this internship and I was put in more of an English teacher position because of the new laws in Austria. So, I talked to my teacher and decided to take the bull by the horn and takes matters into my own hands. I contacted about twenty different NGOs and Volunteer centers to see what kind of work they had that I could volunteer for. To my happy surprise, many people wrote back and called to set up times for me to meet and start working with them! The Austria Red Cross and Amnesty International have both invited me to be a part of their work and on Wednesday I will get to go start helping at a Refugee Home. I am super excited and so very blessed!
Until I get a regular schedule going though, I am making my project at this new internship, a couple of kids who are struggling academically in my class. One, a refugee from Ukraine, is little Christina. On Wednesday, as the kids worked on their crafts, I looked over to see this sweet girl with her hands in her lap, staring at the desk in front of her. Her black hair was tied up in a high pony-tail and she had thick glasses. Only a pencil pouch was on the desk in front of her, and though the class was bustling with kids trying to braid string or paint their version of Starry Night, she was the eye of the storm. You could see the silence, the fear, and helplessness of that little girl literally floating in the air around her. I went over and started talking to her in very simple German. She looked confused and stared past my head in concentration as she thought out a reply in her head and spoke back in broken German. I told her I was learning German, too and I got a slight smile from her. I am going to be her friend, whether have a common language or not. I feel like it is important and I am going to make it happen.
In other news, our teacher had us all go to a traditional Viennese café to enjoy the most traditional Viennese pastime that exists: spending several hours over a book, card game, or newspaper whilst mulling over a single mug of hot chocolate and a slice of sachertorte. Café Sperl is a woodsy place that reminds me of the library one might find if one was ever admitted to Hogwarts. There are velvet seats and the tables are made from thick, deeply stained wood which is worn and covered in scars. The air was 85 degrees and stale, and as one man drank his espresso whilst reading a newspaper, a woman stared out the window whilst nibbling on her streudel. I sat at a table with my Noorda twin buddies and my friend Jacob. We played Memory which had pictures of Vienna and all things related to it on the backs. We talked feminism, books, movies, politics, Lord of the Rings, and I ended up reading them an excerpt of The Great Divorce by my boy, C. S. Lewis. I felt sophisticated, intellectual, European, and it was a beautiful immersion experience.
A couple of us from our group starting a café writing group where we will convene weekly to sip on $.50 bubbly, raspberry water and read/discuss our humble little creations. I am really looking forward to this. I love to write and getting feedback and getting a discussion going on it WHILST IN VIENNA will be super rad.
In more important news, I have been offered THREE positions to help with refugees since starting this post and I have accepted all three! So…this trip is going to be three time busier than I ever thought possible, however, also three times as awesome and educational and I am SO STOKED. AHHHH!! Just a quick thank you to all the people who made it possible, you are all so incredible.
Amongst other things, this week we saw Fidelio at the Vienna Operahouse, went to Slovakia, climbed cool churches, looked at cool buildings, and tripped on a lot of cobblestone.
But, back to my sitting in a domed Baroque chapel with Slovak men serenading us from the Organ shelf. This place is not of this world, and I love its separatism from the hustle and bustle of tourism-central outside. I think I will close this post with some of the weird wanderings my mind took which I scribbled down while I sat in a little piece of heaven.
I sit where they prayed. I think I am sitting where he sat. A strong man, a quiet man, and another who had just lost a child. I think they knelt, knees buckled in humility. Their trousers worn from their trades and the frequency of this humble act, or maybe still new as it was the first time they had knelt in their life. I assume she sat here, too. A tired woman, a lonely woman, one who had lost her mother. This bench, the one that now relieves my tired feet, probably creaked and moaned a little less when those women sat where I now sit. Their skirts frayed from their work or perhaps spattered with mud from the storm outside. Maybe they sat here for hours, or just the ten, small minutes their lives could spare them, but I can feel the skeletons of their prayers. They linger here with longing, wondering, searching whether for truth, solace, energy, or rest. I sit where they sobbed. I sit where they mulled over life’s mundane and life’s extraordinary. I sit where the men, women, and children took their souls into their human hands and offered it, head bowed, to a God.
I think I also sit where He sat. Next to the lonely, sad, lost, strong or weak, rich or poor, humble or prideful, grateful or selfish, ragged, and tired He sat. They built this place for Him so He came and He filled it. I sit where they were comforted. I sit where they might have met Him the first time, or felt His arms around them. I sit where they whispered sacred cries; I can feel that their tears stain this floor as much as does the lacquer it was painted with. For I sit where they prayed and He listened.
Over and out.