One of my favorite things to do is follow my daughter Rachel around as she makes her way in the world.
Rachel has always been adventurous. She first moved to Lansing, Michigan to attend Michigan State University, then trekked to Lafayette, Indiana for an extended stay while she got her master’s and doctoral degrees. After that she relocated to Lincoln, Nebraska to join the Communication Department at Nebraska Wesleyan University. It wasn’t very long after her move to Lincoln that Rachel bought a home there and became very busy in her off-teaching hours painting and refurbishing the place. After a couple of years Rachel was ready to enjoy another new extended travel experience and so, when an opportunity came up for her to experience a sabbatical year, she opted for Florence, Italy.
As her mother, I was excited and intrigued for her but also concerned. The girl did not speak Italian. Not at all. She aspired to learn some Italian before her move but only had the time to pick up a little of the language so I was very concerned that she would find herself in a country where she had no idea what was going on. I tried persistently to interest her in the idea of living somewhere where there was a housemother who spoke both English and Italian but Rachel was having none of it. She wanted a true Italian experience. She wanted to live in an authentic Italian apartment and encounter Italy on her own. Our gently spirited discussions ended in a compromise when she informed me she would be taking out special insurance so that she could be helicoptered to the states should there be a need for emergency help.
And so Rachel’s Italian sabbatical began. She moved to Florence in August and August in Florence is so hot that MOST of the residents leave the city for cooler places. In addition to the heat, there was an infestation at that time of some unique mosquitoes…..a species which apparently found Rachel especially delicious. And, by the way, there was no air conditioning in Rachel’s Italian apartment. She had to sleep (and did so with good humor) under a special netting and, if her toes stuck out by accident, you can bet the mosquitoes would find them.
At this point Rachel decided it was time to really work at learning the language. She enrolled in an intensive course to take on this challenge …however, it turned out the course was taught in Italian. Nearly all of the students in the class were from Europe and already spoke a couple of languages and had decided to take the beginning course for fun. Rachel reported that she felt like a bottom feeder. Good for her soul, she said. By the time the four weeks were up Rachel was able to speak enough Italian to make her way through Italy and she also had made some new acquaintances.
And so there Rachel was…in a foreign country…speaking passable Italian, not really knowing for sure what was always being reported on the news, walking everywhere (Italian style)…on her own, bringing home her food each day from the market.. And she loved it. She loved the solitude and breathing space.
After a while, Rachel felt the need for more human interaction and began to investigate opportunities to make connections. Interestingly enough, she found her best connection to be an Anglican Church where new visitors received the royal treatment. She met wonderful people (from England!) and also some Italians there and became fast friends with the minister and his wife and their children (eventually, becoming a trusted babysitter for the little one). Through these connections, she met even more people, had more conversations, more lunches and coffees, more Italian dinners with engaging discussions that lasted for hours. Her social calendar was very full and with these personal contacts and her forays into the culture and landscape of the city and country and her attendance at cultural events... and the book she was writing, Rachel had a full and rich Italian life.
I was so pleased to learn of her adventures.
One of the things I have always told Rachel is that I do not worry about her because wherever she goes, she makes a beautiful life for herself.
And that very point, I believe, is one of Rachel’s gifts to the world. Her openness to new experiences, her thirst for new knowledge, her appreciation of diversity, her wonderful communication skills, her confidence in herself and her ability to deal with life and appreciate all that it has to offer, her compassion for others and her joy in experiencing their company.
And when I ask myself, what is the MESSAGE of Rachel’s experience for all of us, I think it is this:
the opportunity to make a beautiful life for ourselves wherever we choose to go, wherever we are planted...for we are the gardeners who determine whether the flower of our lives smiles into the sun, gently accepts the soft breezes and gusty winds alike, sends out vibrations of love to those who encounter us and rests when the metaphorical sun goes down.
Perhaps one of life’s greatest challenges is to recognize the glorious opportunities surrounding us, to see the potential we have to bring into our consciousness all that we want to experience and MAKE THIS BEAUTIFUL LIFE FOR OURSELVES WHEREVER WE ARE!