Wednesday, September 26, 2012

The anniversary we'll celebrate the most

A week from tomorrow will be 4 October, the day I arrived in Italy two years ago intending to stay forever. Well, maybe it's better to say that I was hoping that the experience would be everything I imagined and that I would find myself not wanting to leave.

I came with one giant checked bag, the largest carry-on I could find and a "personal bag" that weighed as much as the carry-on. I also carried more hope than common sense perhaps, although that really is a matter of opinion.

Maybe most importantly, I carried my heart and placed it into Leif's hands the moment I landed, knowing that even if I got hurt that this was a person I needed to know and already loved. It was a risk that I had to take, that I understood was a kind of turning point for my life. My life would change either way, but the where and the whom, and possibly the depth of the experience, would have been different in Minnesota.

I've begun life in Italy as an infant in many ways. I'm experiencing things here for the first time, even if they are things I've done my whole life. New language, new foods, new customs, new climate: each of these things I confront every day and slowly they are becoming a part of me, rather than something that happens outside of me. I'm learning to make risotto the way Minnesotans make TatorTot hotdish, without the directions and by feel rather than by measure. I'm learning to walk on cobblestones the way Minnesotans walk on ice and snow, without even thinking about the difficulty or danger. I drink wine with lunch, instead of milk like a good Minnesotan does. I've exchanged olive oil for butter.

I'm stronger. Certainly I'm physically stronger here because cycling is becoming a part of my every day life. I'm enjoying testing my body and seeing just what a person my age can accomplish. I'm also mentally and emotionally stronger than I've ever been and that's maybe more important than the physical strength because, to be honest, it would have been so much easier to "change my life" back in Minnesota where everything is familiar (or at least it was) and there would be fewer surprises, no cultural and language barriers and my family would be within shouting distance.

But for me real change could only come with real challenges and I haven't regretted this decision for a single moment. I know that people say that, and what they're really saying is that they didn't regret long enough to change their mind, but I do really mean it. Even if everything had blown up in my face....if Leif were really an ax murderer disguised as a nice guy....if I could find absolutely nothing about Italy to love.....if I didn't make a single friend on my own.....even on the days I cry, there aren't any regrets.

I'm becoming the person I was meant to be. Not all at once, because I always, always do things the hard way, but that strength of character that I was talking about earlier is there for me now. I'm not fearless, but my fears are the kind that keep me safe and help me make sound decisions. My mind spends more time in the present than worrying about the future. No "to do" lists, less planning ahead...and nothing terrible happens. The utter chaos I always assumed would occur mere moments after setting out somewhere without a solid plan, preferably in writing, just doesn't happen.

But make no mistake, I'm not turning my back on my past. I don't want to forget any part of who I am and where I've come from, because all of that, the good the bad and the ugly, are the very things that made this life I have now possible. I have no future without my past to guide me, and my past is filled to the brim with "learning" experiences. The friends and family who love and support me span the globe, something I never imagined would be possible. Friends from the cities, sure, but not much further away than that.

So, two years ago I was sitting in my parent's living room staring at my two suitcases, both excited and terrified about the future. Today I'm sitting in Florence, Italy wondering how those years could go by so quickly and ridiculously happy with life. I love it when a plan, that isn't really a plan, works out. In case you're wondering....this experience has been everything I imagined and more. I can't leave. This is where my heart and life are.

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