I have chosen a new path these days, or perhaps the path has chosen me. The coastal breeze of the Pacific Ocean no longer cools me, Catalina and the pier no longer in my view, crashing waves and seagulls squawking cannot be heard from where I walk today. My sister’s voice in thoughtful conversation and laughter, the kind and familiar smiling faces that graced my path each day are all stored away in my memory for now. That well worn trail, its smells, sounds, and the comfort it gave me on my most difficult days are still so dear to me. I close my eyes and breathe deeply to find that place, my home, exactly as I left it, pure and beautiful.
Walking my recently discovered and unfamiliar trail, I am deliberate in my observation of all that is new. Rectangular dark slate stone of different sizes puzzled together, fill the path. Corners worn to rounded edges, uneven and cracked in many places, I am less surefooted here. The rush of speeding cars and motorbikes along the viale, the occasional cyclist, jogger or tourist, and the sweet smell of pine trees occupy my senses. At nearly any point along the way, I can glance over my right shoulder and see all of Florence, truly breathtaking. Occasionally I stop and look at my surroundings, making mental notes of points of interest, places I will visit later in the day, or in the week. I cross through the Piazzale Michelangelo and race up and down its many steps, only once, and then catch my breath and continue my pace along the viale.
With my sleep patterns still adjusting to the time change, I oversleep daily and find myself walking as temperature climb toward 100 degrees. Somehow I don’t mind. Maybe the surroundings are just too beautiful to care about the heat. Or perhaps my mind is full of countless swirling thoughts, the aftermath of the past few weeks, my dramatic life change.
I sweat profusely as my body temperature rises. Mother nature bestows relief, providing shade at precisely the moment a gentle breeze rushes through the pine branches. I inhale and hold the scent for a moment, and then release a long exhale. I continue my walk, meditate and pray along the way, just like home. And then, as I always do, I allow my mind to wander, to replay the thoughts, discussions and decisions that gave me courage and brought me here, to Italy.
Riddled with hard life lessons, the last few years were rough. My heart ached for so many reasons. Stuck feeling sorry for myself, and anchored to my lot in life, my mental health deteriorated. I sought the help of medical professionals and incorporated consistent and intentional spiritual work into my daily routine. With a focus on gratitude, grace, love, acceptance and forgiveness, I found purpose, and my way out of darkness. Walking along the path today, it’s hard to imagine my life any other way.
Still, the journey within kept me searching for something more. I wanted to grow in ways that seemed impossible if I continued the same life. My interest and love for written expression had grown, and my need for change intensified. Until one day my desire for self discovery and adventure, to live a life without regret, was greater than any fear I had ever harbored.
The idea began as a one year leave of absence from my principalship, leasing my home in Orange County, moving to LA and writing. That plan left me tethered to old ideas and didn’t provide the freedom I was seeking. So, I took the leave, sold my home of 23 years, applied for dual citizenship and moved to Italy to write. I’m a little scared every day, I do something brave every day, and I’m happy, really happy.
Pausing to take a long drink of water, I look down toward the Arno and all of Florence. My mind wanders to just a few days ago, our last morning together, down there, somewhere in a beautiful hotel. He is the one great love of my life, He taught me the simplicity of love a long, long time ago, and more recently showed me again because I had forgotten. If you met him he would tell you, and I would agree, that we have loved each other in some way for nearly 30 years. He doesn’t talk to me without telling me that he loves me and I do the same. He was here when I arrived over a week ago and provided a safe place for me to land.
Loving, laughing and experiencing life to the fullest is how we spent our time. He drove and I navigated. It was easy. We didn’t count our days together and did our best not to talk about the days ahead. We simply loved our adventure and each other. I could not have done this three years ago. My heart too broken, I wanted love to save me, a good rescue was all I needed. In the end I was saved by my own love, and the giving and receiving of unconditional love, a lesson that continues to challenge me . . . I continue to learn and grow.
Coincidentally, or maybe not, we have both embarked on significant life changes. I’ll be here in Italy and he will start a new venture, a career change in LA. Geographically we are farther apart than we have ever been, yet my heart has never felt closer to his. I tell him this without worry, regret or expectation because I believe in his love.
We hold each other a long, long time. He kisses me and says . . . to be continued. As he sits in the taxi he bends just his index finger in a tiny single fingered wave. I smile with my eyes and wave to him. The taxi loops the the drive and I can see him waving still. As the taxi exits toward the main road, his arm is out the window and his hand appears above the car for one last wave. I stand alone smiling and waving. As the taxi fades in the distance I turn to go back inside the hotel. The bellman is smiling too.
Sipping my water I sigh a long contented sigh, grateful to have shared the beauty of Italy, and proud of myself for breaking the rules and allowing love to be showered down on upon me, for no other reason than to be loved.
My path here in Florence is temporary. The same is true of every path I will discover this year in my travels through Italy, and in the years to come. Each path will have it’s own lessons and stories to tell.
My heart will always be faithful and true to my old beach trail at home. She was always there, always listened. I trusted her with my greatest secrets, the first to hear my stories before they were ever written . . . if she could see me now. . .