Tag Archives: understanding

Buongiorno Milano!

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Shopping Center

Milan’s cobblestone streets are flooded with Italian women wrapped tightly in fur coats and men in designer jeans and studded belts. Nodding heads on subway cars look more like Ralph Lauren billboards than tired passengers heading home from a day of work. This city has a pulse and it beats rapidly, deeply through the night and early into the morning. Where I can pass as a local in some places, Italy knows better. My pale skin, pale hair and blue eyes cause long stares and incoherent words under soft breath. Men whistle as they pass by, staring too long with eager lust in their eyes. But even the greatest offense sounds beautiful when it is muttered in Italian.

This language shakes and breathes and dives in and out and up and down. Every word sounds like a call to action, a battle cry, a plea to join a cause. And the people lift their arms high, and put their hands close to your face and speak with a passion I’ve not experienced in my most heated moments. Hymns sung to Beethoven’s Fifth in an intense and frightening way to an ear that knows no better. The metro hums with chatter and booming laughter and a sense of famiglia encapsulates the city and all of the people inside it.

Duomo di Milano

Duomo di Milano

We visit the Duomo, a beautiful, skyscraping cathedral, if there ever was such a thing. Never have I seen so much art in one place. Every inch is ornate and ironic in the most beautiful way: the walls, covered in sculptures up to the ceilings, which you can barely see with human eyes; stained glass windows stretch beyond my grip of sight; the floor, a maze of complicated patterns and colors; paintings hang, two-up all the way down the church on either side. We try to make sense of everything our body is trying to absorb, but we fail and become overwhelmed, groggy from the dim lights and evaporating holy water. We leave the church, letting ourselves get lost, wandering narrow streets; every turn a new discovery, a new way to get lost again and again. We are asked for change, harassed by people on the streets collecting money for ‘Africa’ or to feed their hungry babies. We push past, pretending not to understand, and stop at a tobacco shop to enjoy a freshly rolled cigarette on a cold patio, surrounded by like-minded  locals.

And on a Thursday night, we walk into a small bar, where we are greeted by a group of men, laughing and eating cichete and drinking the local birra. Ciao! Ciao! Ciao!! echoes around us in a room with walls covered in old newspapers, slot machines lining the back perimeter. We swiftly and quietly order “due birre” from the bar and take our place at a small table in the corner. We quickly learn that’s not how Italians make friends. We are stoned to death with questions, and brought endless plates of formaggio and freshly sliced prosciutto,  deviled eggs, cheeses, salami, bread and  chips and dips. Every time we finish one plate, another one comes to replace it. Arthur works on a computer in the corner, ridden with unnecessary programs and a long history of user error. He tries to navigate Windows in Italian, and the men joke, calling him Bill Gates, gesturing to his over-sized head. They string together sentences in Italian and broken English, furrowing their brows when we don’t understand, then burning paper and building charades with toothpicks to help us along. They laugh because we don’t understand much; Armando, who knows the most English translates what he cans, and makes inappropriate gestures to either party in between his translations. The men tease each other with gay jokes and pepper their sentences with ‘fuck’ as often as possible. They apologize because I’m a girl, and immediately joke that they will take me home with them; their wives will forgive them tomorrow, they say.

IMG_0786Then a free round of beers come before the bar closes, but we stay inside, laughing and eating, filling the room with the sweet, choking smell of competing tobaccos. The owner pulls out his camera, points to his wall of photos, and we spend the next 15 minutes posing for pictures we’ll never see. We part ways, but not before receiving an invitation for the next night, which we know we will accept. And we will come back the next night, but it won’t be quite the same. These fleeting moments are never able to be repeated, and so we cherish them even more.

Day 15: Dependence Day

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Today, I’m thankful  that I got to spend the day with my family, doing absolutely nothing.

I’m not exactly a patriotic person, and I’m a pacifist at heart. Since it is the Fourth of July, I was feeling obligated to be thankful for something American-like, even though I have honestly grown tired of so much about this country. It’s hard to feel proud to be an American when I look at what that means in context. Greed, glutton, ignorance, deception…  how could I when that’s how I see things? This tweet gave me the perspective I needed, though:

I don’t have to be hokey to be thankful that I am able to spend a holiday with the people I love. To sleep in a comfortable bed, and to not worry about much of anything. I don’t like war – I think it’s rotten, and I don’t necessarily think it has much to do with our freedom anymore. But I get that someone has to do it for us to make it in this difficult world. I’m thankful that they are doing it. That people are putting their lives on the line so that people like me don’t have to. I would be terrible at war. I would die. I mean literally, I would be killed. No time flat.

So, with all genuineness, I’m thankful that I get to enjoy being home, doing nothing today. I’m thankful for the people whom I don’t even know, yet depend so much upon, to make that my reality.

Day 14: Little Niceties

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Today, I’m thankful for the little nice things that people do.

I walked into my office this morning to an Applebee’s gift card from someone who submitted a classified ad to my newsletter. Well, didn’t just submit it – he emailed and called quite a few times over the course of the last month, making sure it was published, making sure I got his voicemails, making sure I got his emails. I’ll admit I got annoyed with him a few times and wasn’t as completely nice as I could have been.

So the gift card was a good reminder that you should always take the extra second or 10 seconds, or minute, or 5 minutes to be kind. I was never rude; I simply could have taken a little breath, gained a little perspective, and been a little better than I was. I’m not saying money buys me love – the note he wrote without the gift card would have had the same effect on my heart.

I encountered someone yesterday who had the same effect on me. I was getting my car assessed from a recent rear-end accident. My bumper was barely scuffed. The agent said he would work in extra time to have my entire bumper sanded and painted, to repair another, much more noticeable scratch I got in a Kroger parking lot a few weeks after getting my car. And he was just so nice. An insurance agent, of all people.

So two little acts of kindness have restored a lot of faith in me today. Little reminders that it takes no more time to be kind than it does to be obnoxious – and it’s better for your blood pressure too, I think.

Day 12: Like Riding a Bike

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Day 12: Today, I’m thankful I got on the bike.

That overused cliché about never forgetting how to ride a bike turns out to be true. I haven’t had a bike since… well, I honestly don’t even remember. Sometime around second grade, I think.

We got my dad a bicycle for Father’s Day a few weeks ago, and since the temperature dropped from 93 to 75 degrees over the course of an hour today, I finally decided to give it a whirl around the block. I’ve been debating for weeks, but I’ve psyched myself out every time, imagining violently sliding across the pavement sideways and meeting my untimely and embarrassing end. Today, I said screw it, put on some soffe shorts and a tank top, and went for it.

I went around the block twice and came back in, sweating, and feeling good that I conquered my fear – even if that makes me as accomplished as a 6 years old. After a little bit of lightning and some spitting rain passed, I decided to go back out again.

I’m so glad I did – the air had a yellow hue, the clouds were dark purple against an auburn sky, and the air was cool. I kept the gear higher than I should trudging up the massive hills in my neighborhood and didn’t succumb to squeezing the breaks as I came soaring down the other side. It felt incredible to go that fast, cool air beating around my ears and tangling my hair. And one time around the block turned into three or four or five, as I lost track of time.

I’m sure I my butt cheeks will be hurting tomorrow, the unfortunate way they do when a bicycle seat bruises them, but for now, I’m glad that I got on and started peddling. Once I did, I realized how silly it was to not ride simply for the fear of falling down.

Day 9: Clean Teeth

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Day 9: Today, I’m thankful that I can pay people to clean my teeth.

I know a lot of people have irrational fears about the dentist, but I’m not one of them. I never had many problems with my teeth growing up, so it was always a pleasant enough experience for me.

Today, I went for my annual cleaning. The thought of someone else scraping the plaque off your teeth is pretty disgusting, but it just feel so good. They use that little round super toothbrush that buffs your teeth, and the toothpaste with the sand in it – then rinse, vacuum out your mouth, give you a free toothbrush, and send you on your way.

I can ear a little bell chime whenever I smile today.

Thanks, clean teeth, for being shiny.

Ding!

140 Days to Prague

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Somewhere between our situation and our outlook resides our character.

I get that life is complicated. I get that things won’t always go your way. But, sometimes I feel like the universe has a pillow over my face.

This year has been wild. I’ve had a surgery, two car accidents, bought a one-way ticket to Europe and have had more friends get married than I can count. Those are just the big things. In between, I’m dodging calls from boys I want to forget, listening to my mother warn me about “ending up alone”  – including a recent article about how people who live alone die younger – and working behind a desk at a job that I’ve mentally checked out of. And then a million more things like it.

All the stress has been making me a little nuts. Has me seeing a glass half-empty, brown grass sort of world. But yesterday, I was going to get ice-cream with a friend and I put on a pair of jeans that have until recently, been too tight to wear. And I took a good look at my butt and all the rest melted away. I know we are a “big picture” world, but that doesn’t mean we can’t enjoy these little moments of bliss.

Thus, 140 days to Prague is born. A countdown until I leave and start my new life. 140 things in the interim that I find to be thankful for. Just one good thing a day. Suffocated or not, I can find one magical moment every day to be thankful for.

Day 1: The way your bum looks in the perfect-fitting pair of jeans. Hug my legs and cup my cheeks, wash is dark, pockets deep. Thanks, good-ass-jeans.

Broken Heart. The same as a broken anything else.

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The incident.

The initial SNAP.

There’s the slow break. It may happen without you even knowing, causing a dull pain that you deal with, until you finally admit something isn’t right. Wonder how much damage was done by not addressing the dull pain when you first noticed it. Think about what you would have done differently if you would have only been more mindful.

There’s the hard break. Running at dusk, enjoying the fresh cut grass smell of spring, and your leg buckles. Lying on the cement. No warning. Can’t feel the evening sun, the buzzing lawnmowers lose focus, ringing ears. You feel everything and nothing at once.

Symptoms.

Guilt. Remorse. Pain.

The challenging part – admitting that you have a deficiency. You may be the guilty one. Maybe this happened because of your neglect, maybe you could have done something to prevent it.

Wish you could rewind. Go back, stretch, tie your shoes tighter.

Confusion. Betrayal. Hurt.

You did everything you could but the thing you love ruined you. Nothing more to do. Sometimes you can do everything right, yet it still manages to go wrong. You keep telling yourself that. You hope to believe it one day.

The diagnosis.

You see an expert. Obviously broken. You aren’t yourself, you hurt everywhere. You cry and think discouraging things. Every time you move, you are reminded of the pain. You set up a plan for recovery, but you are filled with guilt for now.

Friends tell you not to worry. That this will be a memory soon enough. That you will run again. But you can’t imagine it. The thought of it makes you sick.

The recovery.

Start out slow. Going out, support from friends. Before you’re ready, but you fear you never will be. Wanting to break out in a full run, wanting the instant satisfaction you used to have, missing the momentum, the possibilities. Having to start over from the beginning. Nothing is the same.

Side effects.

Pushing to do more, move forward. But every step reminds you of what you used to be, the gift you used to have. The gift that’s gone. You relapse. You numb yourself however you can. You close your eyes to pretend you aren’t where you are. Wonder if it will ever feel good again.

The prognosis.

You keep stepping, you keep pushing.

Because you have to.

Because you want to believe that everyone else is right and this will all go away.

There will be good days and bad. An entire day will eventually pass where there is no pain. And then a week. Then you will forget that you were ever broken. Eventually, you will be healed. Some evening with overcast clouds and cold rain in the future, you will feel a twinge of pain and be flooded with the old feelings. But you’ll remember getting through it. Remember that you conquered it. And it will be okay.

You will run again. You will be able to see the sunset and smell the spring grass with nothing but feelings of happiness.

You will grow stronger through your healing.