I am writing this blog post by the windowsill of my bedroom, facing the full moon, here in La Preghiera – my current Help Exchange residence in the heart of Umbria, Italy. I have no sense of time, whatsoever… I don’t know what date it is, unsure about the day of the week, and I couldn’t care less.
I know some of you might think I’m just trying to be poetic --- because, I mean – WTF, right? The setting is *too* idyllic! The full moon, a window, Italy… sounds too good to be true… BUT IT IS!
I may start to sound like a broken record, having said this over a few weeks now… but I fucking LOVE Italy. I do. And it’s not in the way I thought I would.
HELP EXCHANGEHelp Exchange (work volunteering) is an experience that I would recommend to anyone. I’ve only had two so far (one at The Shanti House and one here at La Preghiera), and both have been so rewarding and life changing in very different ways.
The Shanti House helped show me the beauty of Italy… The food, the music, the culture and the people. La Preghiera validated (even more) the reasons why my decision to leave everything that I thought was important behind, and made me sincerely and genuinely understand that EVERYTHING that happens to us in life is based on the CHOICES that we make, and at any given moment – we can CHANGE our circumstances if we decide to DO SOMETHING about it… That no one is truly “STUCK”.
UNEXPECTED NEW FRIENDS
Here at the B&B, my tasks are varied. I iron sheets, help set up rooms, do the dishes, cook lunch sometimes… and last weekend when they had a wedding here, I basically just helped out with a little bit of everything, to make sure the wedding ran smoothly. I work with 3 other volunteers – Richard, the 23 year old Englishman from Birmingham, Eduardo, the 27 year old Brazilian-Italian from Sao Paolo, and Gracie, the 30 year old Taiwanese.
All of us come from VERY different backgrounds, but for some serendipitous reason, all of us have found a kindred spirit in each other.
We have different stories, but the recurring theme in our group is that all of us defied society, and broke free from the machine we call a 9-5 job, to travel in pursuit of a life that was better than what we had. We refused to settle… believing with all our hearts that the world has something bigger and better to offer.
During the times that the four of us would take a day or night off, we would talk about what we would be doing at that exact hour if we were still in our respective homes… and how incredibly grateful we are that we were where we were instead.
“I’d be in my car, cursing my tie, driving to work”, Richard said. “I’ll be on my computer in my square cage”, Eduardo said. “I’d be on my desk, looking behind me to make sure no one was around, and I’d be recording an a capella song on my Ipad”, I contributed.
The point is, we weren’t happy… and we did something about it… Took a risk, and here we are, right smack in the middle of Italy, enjoying food, the sun, the scenery, and great new friendships.
Most of the things we did were very simple. After dinner, we’d skip out to the nearest local bar, drink cheap beer and talk about our day. On one afternoon, we took the car out, drove to a nearby church on top of a hill, had a picnic with beer and cigarettes, and sang some songs with my ukulele.
|Yes, that is a picnic!|
|Our view from the top of the hill|
Another time, we drove to Gubbio, a small town about an hour away. We walked, had some pizza and gelato. Walked some more, found a wall with a stunning view and just sat there for about an hour or so…basking in the sunlight and taking life in. We talked, had some laughs, played some mood music… but mostly we just sat in silence. I always thought that one of the true tests of friendships is being able to enjoy each other’s company without saying a word… I know it doesn’t sound as wild or exciting as most of the traveler’s tales out there… but that day on that wall with Richard and Eduardo was probably the most content I’ve ever felt.
|My favorite wall in the world|
One of the special perks of traveling so much is the opportunity to meet people who are just like you. Kindred spirits who ignite your soul and remind you of who really are by seeing bits and pieces of yourself in the other. One of the downsides of traveling so much is that most of the time, your encounters with these kindred spirits are very short… because just like you, they too have to keep moving forward.
|Richard, Eduardo, Myself, our den mother, Giulia, and Gracie|
I am SO grateful for that wall… for my new friends… for Help Exchange… and for Italy. I never thought I’d ever say this… but I think I may have found myself in Italia… and for the first time in my life I think I can say with a little more pride that I am comfortable and satisfied with who I am.
None of this would have been possible, had I not have taken a leap of faith. If I hadn’t taken the risk of leaving everything behind... I’d still be on my desk back in LA, staring at a world map on my computer, feeling absolutely miserable.
And as for you, dear reader… if you are as happy with your life as I am with mine… may we both be blessed with many more happy suns. Salute’!
If you’re not… If you feel like you’re “stuck” in a cage like we once were… then my dear, dear friend… What on Earth are you waiting for?