While I was in Italy in June, I spent some time in Assisi. So one day, I went to the post office to mail a bunch of postcards. When I got there, my heart sank. The line was almost to the front door. At the first window a woman was impatiently waiting, and the person behind the glass was busy doing something.
A few minutes went by and nothing. Everyone in the place knows each other, everyone’s chatting. Post office in Italy. It’s gonna be a looong wait.
So, I started praying.
Well anyways, a woman came to stand behind me in line, and the man in front of me apparently knew her. So, he leans over my shoulder, with no regard for the concept of personal space, and begins having a friendly chat with the woman behind me. I continued praying. “Italy,” I’m thinking. “So be it.”
So after a nice 5 minute chat over my right shoulder that I wasn’t included in and couldn’t understand at all, he turns back and sees my miraculous medal around my neck. Suddenly, without saying anything, he reaches out and picks it up into his hand. Then he says something in Italian that I don’t understand. He reaches into his wallet fishing around, and now the woman behind me is into it too – she pulls out her wallet. The man couldn’t find what he was looking for, but the woman took out a handful of miraculous medals and said some things I couldn’t understand.
We all admired.
“Italy,” I’m thinking again. “So be it.”
Meanwhile, the line hasn’t moved. The same woman is standing by the window at the front, and the postal worker is still doing something. I thought, maybe I can get stamps somewhere else. Maybe someone can help me find another place.
Out came … the phrasebook.
I thumbed through quickly, looking for “stamp”. There it was:
I pointed to where the stamp goes on a postcard and asked the woman behind me in my broken Italian where I could get stamps. “Scuzi, dov e francobollo?” She indicated a place up the street. I asked how much they cost. She didn’t know. It looked like I was stuck waiting in the line. So much for francobollo.
Well, just then, the strangest thing happened.
Suddenly, I heard the man in front of me say, “Francobollo.” Next thing, he’s talking to the people in the line, and the whole place. He turns back to me, and motions me to go ahead of him. I start hearing “francobollo” from everywhere. I didn’t understand what was going on. Are they going to have some fun with the American?
Well, this is what happened: the whole line parted in front of me, and everyone motioned me to the very front of the line.
I was thinking, “This is Italy – somebody is not gonna be happy about this.”
But everyone was. And they were smiling!
I couldn’t believe it. Even the woman, the one who had been standing at the window all this time, she stepped aside too.
Now I was all alone at the very front of the line, standing at the window.
I leaned forward and said in my best Italian, “Francobollo?” How many? Six.
I got the six stamps and walked out in complete amazement. The whole way I thanked everyone. Gratzie, gratzie, gratzie. They thought nothing of it. Amazing!
Well, francobollo in Italian doesn’t just mean “stamp”.
It also means “miniature”.
What if I wasn’t praying, and what if I got impatient and got a little offended by the man leaning into my space and over my own shoulder. What if I responded with a little reprimand, or moved away. What if, when he took the very medal around my neck into his own hand without asking, what if I got angry with him, pulled back and tried to mutter something in broken Italian? What if I thought myself above that Italian culture?
What if I didn’t have the spirit of “So be it”? What if I wasn’t francobollo?
Do you think he would have gotten the whole line to part for me? Do you think I would have gotten the francobollo treatment? No, I think I might still be waiting in that line.
When the angel Gabriel came to Mary, he was bringing her news that she was going to go from last to first. She was going to go from the very lowest slave of God to Mother of God. There is no lowest place and no highest place in all creation.
Because she was francobollo. “Let it be done to me according to your word.” (Lk 1:38) So be it.
If you have a difficult situation in your life, if you feel as if you’re last in line with other places to be and it seems like other people are not quite helping the matter, be francobollo with Mary. And God will raise you up with her. “Whoever humbles himself like this child, he is the greatest in the kingdom of heaven.” (Mt 18:4)
In Italy, it’s the francobollo treatment.
So be it!