So how do I sum it all up? Well, here's my best attempt.
- I observed tourists all over Rome, snapping away on cameras, big and small, iPhones and iPads (embarrassingly) and not really stopping to enjoy their surroundings. I kept wanting to ask them if they were really looking at what they were taking pictures of, whether they were really experiencing what was happening around them, or whether they just wanted to look back on those pictures later knowing that once upon a time, they had been standing at that exact spot. I learned that being mindful doesn't come naturally to us humans. It definitely hasn't come naturally to me. It's an everyday practice that needs to be learned and consciously cultivated. Being here made me realize how important being mindful really is and that I'd like to put in that conscious effort to live in the moment every single day. It doesn't matter if I'm traveling to a new place, in the same car driving to the same grocery store, or walking my dog as the sun is setting. Every moment counts. Every moment is great, because you're alive and you've living it. You can't forget to enjoy it.
- A few weeks ago, when I was at the Modern Museum inside Villa Borghese, I noticed a couple going from painting to painting, sculpture to sculpture a few steps ahead of me. The man would stop and instead of taking pictures of the art, like everyone else, he was taking pictures of his wife. To him, she was the masterpiece. He was capturing her from every angle, her expressions as she took in the art around her. I was just watching them, admiring them. They were different from the other tourists I had encountered. It was like they were enjoying the experience of being in that museum and trying to capture it and those were the memories they wanted to take with them. I realized how much I look forward to the day when someone looks at me like I'm a real masterpiece. And just because it hasn't happened yet doesn't mean it won't. The best has yet to come.
- Love comes to us in all forms. If you're lucky like I am, you have people in your life, near and far, who want you to succeed, to find happiness and to be that better version of yourself you're trying to get in touch with, all while loving every single version of you you've ever been. I may have been alone in Rome, but I've never been alone in this journey. My family and friends are at the center of the many blessings I have in my life. They have taken the time to talk to me, email me, text me, and follow along by reading this blog and looking at pictures I post online. They give me so much to look forward to for when I'm home, for future trips I'm going to take and celebrations I'm going to attend. I want to make them feel as loved and cared for as they make me feel on a daily basis.
- Many times during this month I found myself at the metro station trying to get home or on my way somewhere during rush hour. Let me tell you, the people of Rome don't care who they have to shove just to get on a train. No one seems to understand or respect the concept of "personal space" and I witnessed a few arguments and minor fights as people struggled to get on and off the train. If you're claustrophobic, I suggest you stay away from the metro in Rome, especially during certain hours. Of course in my head I was comparing it to my experiences with the subway in New York or the L in Chicago. Yes, they too get busy and awkward, but never did I witness people pushing and shoving to this extent. Usually people only step inside the train if they see room or they roll their eyes and mumble a cuss word or two under their breath and wait for the next train. I definitely prefer it that way. But you learn to adapt. After experiencing the unpleasantries and minor anxiety of the metro, I adapted. I would try to go to the very first car, which is usually less crowded, wait for the next train or even walk all or part of the way home. Although the unpleasantries of life can't always be avoided, picking up on possible solutions or adapting to your environment is the key to making the experience a bit more painless. Accept what is and that it will eventually be over and behind you.
- When you're paying attention, it's usually the little things you remember. Like the fact that no one is Rome seems to have a clothes dryer in their home, just a washer. I think this might be the case for all of Europe because the apartment I rented in Paris last year had no dryer either. Everyone hangs their clothes outside to dry, like people did for generations. As I hung my laundry out every week, I was reminded of all the little luxuries we have that we take for granted. No one really needs a clothes dryer, but in the states most of us are lucky enough to have them. It's a convenience but not a necessity. I also noticed that although I packed lightly for this trip, I didn't really need about half the stuff I brought. Having a washer obviously helped, but I realized how little I actually needed on this trip and how easy it was to live with minimal material things. (Plus, when you're alone and can avoid judging yourself, it's ok to wear the same outfit twice in one week. Because, guess what? The universe will go on, even if you wore the same shirt on Tuesday and Friday.) Just be happy you have clean clothes on your back.
- I realized that at first I was reluctant to sit at a restaurant or cafe to eat alone. But as the days went by, it became easier and easier until it was basically second-nature. There's nothing wrong with being alone, eating alone, traveling alone. It may be challenging for some (more than others) but I promise you'll learn a lot about yourself. The experience is enlightening if you're willing to give it a try. As with most challenges in life, if you just give it a shot, you might be pleasantly surprised at the outcome. Or you might say to yourself, as I am now, I'm comfortable being alone. I often enjoy it. But I also enjoy being with the people I love and I enjoy meeting new people. It's balancing all that that makes life so magnificent.
- I already knew that Italy has amazing food, but I truly got to experience it. I want to start a petition that will declare gelato the fourth official meal of the day. I learned that eating an entire pizza by yourself is not only possible but completely acceptable. That no one needs a venti sized coffee, because a tiny, single shot of really good espresso gets the job done beautifully. That you don't have to deprive yourself of all the little indulgences that make your taste buds sing just because they might not be great for your waistline. Splurge once in a while. That little happy dance you do on the inside is absolutely worth it.
- I realized that all the major cities that I happen to love more than anything have a river running through them (NYC, Chicago, Paris, Rome, etc). I have been so lucky to have lived in New York and Chicago. I'm excited to add San Francisco to my list (even though there's no river) and maybe someday, I'll live in Paris too. The world is a beautiful place with endless possibilities, as long as you let yourself see it that way.
- And the greatest lesson of all? This is my life. Whether I'm being pushed around on a crowded subway, eating a giant pizza alone, crying while I watch a sad movie, reading an inspiring book, walking my dog, hugging my mom, or sitting alone, writing for myself, the people I love and strangers alike; these are the moments to be grateful for. And I promise myself, to never ever take any of it for granted.
It's clear to me that regardless of the lesson, it all comes back to showing gratitude. My main goal in life is to live. To embrace it and enjoy it, even when bad things happen. To set goals and challenge myself every day, even when I'd rather avoid it. To make the special people in my life aware of just how much they mean to me, even when they irritate or annoy me. But more than anything, to enjoy the process that makes up this beautifully chaotic thing we call life. BE GRATEFUL.