When Mary graduated college, she joined the Peace Corps. After taking the required physical, the doctor said, “You have an inoperable brain tumor.”
When he told her she couldn’t expect to survive for a year, the unfairness upset her. She had spent her whole life educating herself to help others, and now the education was finished, and so was she.
Her family had all died two years ago when a gas leak caused a fire and explosion that destroyed their home. She had gotten several hundred thousand dollars in insurance money. Small comfort she thought. Now, knowing she had such a short time left; the money would enable her to at least to go where she wanted before the grim reaper arrived.
Ever since she saw a TV program about Venice, Italy with the canals, and gondolas she had always had a desire to see it “No time like the present.” she told herself, “If I don’t do it now, I’ll never do it.”
She arrived in Venice the next day and took a room at The American Dinesen Hotel on Via San Vito. The well situated hotel was close to many interesting places. The Academy of Fine Arts, the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the Rialto Bridge, Ca’ Rezzonico Museum, and the Santa Maria Della Salute Church.
The one thing she always desired as long as she could remember was to ride in a gondola through Venice’s canals. She reserved one for herself. There were no cars or motor vehicles in Venice. The entire chain of islands contains an elaborate set of waterways, both natural and manmade that allow for the residents to reach their destination by water. These tiny waterways even have traffic lights, traffic signs like you would expect in a normal town. But, in Venice the waterways are the street system.
This was pointed out when she found herself in a gondola traffic jam. Along the waterways the gondolas navigate waterways that are maybe three gondolas wide at the most and pass under footbridges. These footbridges, although they appear low, are safe as long as one remains seated keeping your arms and legs in the gondola. She noticed that the standing gondolier sometimes had to pass under some bridges. She thought it curious that a gondolier only uses one oar. And they row on one side of the gondola, yet are able to steer.
She stopped to use the facilities, and found she needed lire, because pay toilets are still standard in Italy.
She felt silly asking Rossario the Gondola if he would sing for her? The feeling vanished as he sang in a beautiful baritone voice. Mary closed her eyes, and just enjoyed the moment. This was like heaven to her, and the thought of heaven started her thinking. Do they have Gondolas in heaven?
The next day she visited the attractions close to her hotel. She was happy being here in the midst of this antiquity, and beauty. Whenever she became happy, the thought, “Enjoy it while you can.” Always snuck in, and ruined her happiness.
The Museum, and the Guggenheim collection were exquisite. Mary loved art, and she was jubilant to see these collections.
She saved her visit to the Santa Maria Della Salute Church for the next day, so she would have plenty of time to go through, and observe all the fine artwork associated with the church. She spent the entire day at the church,and was tired when she left as dusk was approaching. While walking back to the hotel she stopped at a piazza where there were benches to sit on. She had been on her feet all day and needed to sit for a while. In the corner of the piazza she noticed an old woman feeding the pigeons from a small paper bag she carried. There were hundreds of hungry pigeons, and as fast as she threw a handful of pigeon food it would disappear.
She watched for about half an hour, and the old woman was still feeding the birds from that small bag. Mary wondered how she could feed so many birds from such a small supply, then forgot that thought as the old woman’s sweater fell open, and Mary saw how skinny she was. She probably gives all her own food to the birds. She walked over to the old woman and in Italian told her hello. The woman ignored her. Mary told how nice she thought it was for the woman to be feeding the birds when it looked like she herself needed to be fed, the old woman still ignored her. Mary grabbed her by the hand and dragged her to the nearest restaurant. The old woman resisted until Mary told her she was lonely and wanted someone to eat with. The woman being compassionate as she understood loneliness, and she stopped resisting.
Mary ordered dinner for both of them, and a bottle of wine. She introduced herself, and the old woman said her name was Victoria de Buduo. Mary commented on how many birds she could feed from the small paper bag she carried. God keeps it filled answered Victoria. Mary thought Victoria slightly demented and paid no attention to this statement.
They were sitting outside on the patio while eating their dinner. A few birds arrived looking for food. Victoria pulled out her little bag and fed them again. After several hundred birds had eaten the bag was as full as ever. Mary asked if she could help, and threw handful after handful to the birds. The bag never emptied.
Victoria told how years before while praying in the church she had a vision of starving birds falling from their nest. The next day she spent her whole pension check on birdseed and fed the birds. She had been using the same bag for two years, and it never emptied. Mary saw this as miraculous and wanted to know if she could help feed the birds.
That night Mary moved into Victoria’s squalid home. She slept on the floor, but it didn’t bother her. She was thinking of all the hungry birds they would feed together. In the morning Victoria gave Mary an identical sack to the one she carried full of birdseed. They walked from piazza to piazza feeding the hungry birds all day, and neither sack ever became empty. Mary knew this was a miracle and wanted to tell someone about it. Victoria insisted that no one but they were to know about it. “If we tell,” she said. “The tourist will watch us all day, and the birds won’t get fed, because the tourist will scare them away.” So day after day they fed the birds, and Mary made sure they both ate an evening meal.
Victoria went to church every morning, and Mary went with her so they could start their feeding routine as soon as they left the church. Mary had never been religious, but now after seeing the bottomless sacks of birdseed she believed something was helping them. If it was God she thought; so much the better.
Time flew by swiftly as there were always hungry birds waiting for them. Victoria told Mary of the many miracles that had occurred at the church where she prayed. Mary said she didn’t believe in miracles. Victoria asked her, “How do you explain our never emptying sacks of birdseed?” Mary didn’t answer, she didn’t dare believe God cared about her. She knew this was a false hope, and she didn’t want to delude herself.
While they were in the church the next morning; Victoria praying, and Mary looking at the paintings, Mary glanced at Victoria, and saw that as she prayed she had risen several feet above the floor. Shocked, Mary didn’t know what to think. She wondered if Victoria was some kind of witch with magic powers.
After they left the church Mary asked her how she had performed the feat of rising in mid-air? Victoria told her God was calling her, but she resisted because there would be no one to feed the birds. Hearing how kind Victoria was she told her that if she wanted to go with her God then Mary would stay to feed the birds for her. Victoria didn’t know how to thank her. That night Mary saw Victoria rise into the sky and go to her God.
Mary went to a doctor the next daybecause she wanted to know how long she could keep her promise. The doctor ran numerous tests and after receiving the results he entered the room Mary waited in with a smile.
“I don’t know what those American doctors were thinking when they gave you that diagnosis. Our x-rays and lab tests show no signs of any tumors. Overall your health is excellent.”
Mary knew Victoria was responsible for this and vowed to feed the birds for the rest of her life. If you’re ever in Venice and see the old woman feeding the birds; that’s Mary who’s been feeding them for over fifty years now. (End)