the best day

On this day a year ago I was in Cinque Terre, Italia — ten days deep on my seventeen-day solo European adventure. I woke up that morning in Siena, in a room of my own in a hostel that was more like a poorly managed and sparsely populated boarding house. In other words, save the lack of toilet paper in any of the bathrooms on any of the floors at 2 am, it was absolutely delightful. I had been sick the couple of days before arriving in Siena and had struggled through the two previous nights in Florence, much to the dismay of my three German male roommates who listened to  my coughs and discussed in their native tongue (I’m certain) about how crazy I must be to come all the way to Florence and spend so much time sweating in a bunk bed (and how I should have gotten my own room since I was sick). Needless to say, arriving in Siena and remembering that I had reserved a single room made for an amazing and early night of coughing as loud as I wanted to in my own space.

When I awoke the next day, I hurried back through the city and down a very mysterious and, now, confusing series of roughly ten escalators to get back to the train station (which is, it seems at the other end of a very steep hill from the city center). I boarded a train that would take me from Siena to Empoli, and then to La Spezia (the main station for the Cinque Terre area). I don’t remember how long this trip was, but I spent the morning thinking and worrying and writing and chilling and listening to music that fed me the perfect balance of comfort and caffeine.

…I still don’t know what I really want to know because it’s not yet knowable. So, shit.

The same lesson is being taught to me when I don’t understand why my train isn’t listed as going where I’m going or when people won’t get out of my damn way when I’m in a hurry to leave the campo. It’s feeling so tired and being a little sad about feeling lonely. I’m in Europe, for God’s sake– this is what I wanted. To be here on my own and do what I want to do and have an adventure. To connect with myself. And all I can think about is how many nights I have until I can lay down in my own bed and see my friends who can mostly understand the things I say. And if I’m going to have a revelation, bring it on. Let’s do this. I’m tired and I want to feel full of life and energy– and I can’t help it. And I just have to rest and wait for some of that to come back.

I am, and always have been moving too fast, fearing and moving the loss of good times, feeling unsettled in the stillness, looking behind the curtain for affirmation beyond living and believing in the present moment. I have always found this to be a fairly admirable trait– to be moving and never bored or stagnant. To always be looking ahead to what will be next…

And maybe somewhere deep inside, I fear that if and when I slow down and live in one place for more than 1 1/2 years and do the same job and don’t spend all day, every day running around town between multiple jobs, I won’t be happy. I have no way of knowing what that would be like because I literally can’t think of a time when it was like that…. and if I am to slow down and start living my days differently, I will grieve the loss of that part of me. I think she is always going to be there though. A tendency to try and do it all will not likely disappear completely. Surely I can slow down a bit to enjoy my daily experience, not be so tired, spend very genuine good time with the people I love (even if amazing good times and ridiculous stories don’t result from those talks), sit with myself and pay attention to my heart and to what God tells me and shows me. And, in slowing down the daily rush to do more than is humanly possible (usually with success!) I can still say yes to the amazing adventures as I see fit and want to say yes to them. … I am tired of surviving in the chaos and, while I’m certain that the chaos as I have come to know it on a more expansive universal scale is never going to cease– I certainly have a beautiful sense of hope that I can thrive in it. It’s been a long time. Maybe that’s one of those subversive goals I had for myself in my twenties– to be a hot mess and just struggle my way to feeling fabulous — thirty and flirty and thriving. (All of this starts AFTER I just dropped my last Italian throat lozenge on the train seat divider and put it in my mouth anyway, btw.)

And I have to admit, for most of this time, probably since I moved back to Nashville in 2009, it has felt really good to survive. I’ve had a lot of fun, seen a LOT of things and places, done a lot of stupid things and laughed about most of them. I’ve loved deeply and I’ve grown out of the pain of loss. I’ve somehow made it work– all of it. And I’ve done it in a way that produces a hilarious series of stores — being a nomad all summer in 2013 to save rent money while housesitting — good God. And I loved it. And I got really weary of feeling unsettled and I cried a little bit and peered ahead and squinted to see light at the end of the tunnel. And I made it. I survived. And all of that has made a lot of who I am, so I suppose the thought of embracing a simpler, more stable lifestyle will feel like I’m losing a little bit of her. Maybe I will be. But maybe I’ll love the new parts that will grow in those places even more than I love the sweet, hilarious, yes-to-almost-everything (within reason; “no” always wins if I am ever tired or hangry and this is likely never to change), adventurous, efficiently creative and creatively efficient, teller of autobiography, outdoor urinator, frequent forgetter of deodorant, night owl with an early wakeup call, hoarder of leftovers, doer for the story (a lot of the time), cynic of the outwardly ebullient, lover of the long way home. I don’t know which of those things is going and which will stay– maybe I can move some of them with me to a thriving place. Actually, I don’t think I have to let go of any of the things that I love about myself–I can stop to savor those things and choose the sweeter, more hilarious, more peaceful moments and see what things I do and love about myself there. I have yet to disappoint.

And maybe I’ll find that a little settledness doesn’t feel so bad after all. And maybe I’ll find that I have absolutely no choice but to keep growing and changing and that “settled” is actually a myth. Whatever the case may turn out to be, I can find ways to move from trudging to dancing through it all. It has seemed so insane and stressful and survivalist for so long and the little steps I’ve made to help clear things out haven’t had a chance to come alive yet, but God, I pray that this direction will take me dancing. And maybe it takes a very tough and distant and lonely and tired place of running out of steam before we can begin again and move toward the fullness of life.

This is a really beautiful leg of the trip, in more ways than one. Despite the fact that something near my seat smells like someone peed on an old smelly sock that had been wiped on an armpit (I’m not being hyperbolic– I thought about that description for quite a while), it may be my favorite ride so far. Outside the window, I can see Italy morphing into a totally new place. She is littered with more houses on hillsides, more palm trees, more color, more clotheslines. All signs point us to the coast, where we can all wash ourselves clean..

I arrived in La Spezia and waited on the platform for the local train to take me to Riomaggiore, the closest of the five “terre”s. My earbuds were overstaying their welcome, but I had already been so stirred by the music and lyrics that continue to speak to me time and again–it was absolutely worth the soreness to listen to Abbey Road for the rest of the morning’s travels. I danced on the platform at La Spezia Centrale to the strange songs of side 1 — I swayed around to “Something” and mimed lots of “bang bangs” for Maxwell and his Silver Hammer. I snagged a window seat on the train and others crammed on as the doors closed. The oppressive weight of the endless guitar riff in “I Want You” accompanied a few long moments of darkness as our train moved through a natural tunnel. The silence of the song gap struck me as it ended, startling me back into awareness, when the tunnel opened and all my fellow passengers joined me in audibly gasping at the striking sight of the most beautiful blue water I have ever seen.

Here comes the sun.

My eyes filled with the sweetest tears I’ve ever wept. And my face has never made a smile so true and so beautifully joyful in my entire life as it did in that moment.

little darlin’, the smile’s returning to their faces
little darlin’, it seems like years since it’s been here.
here comes the sun.
here comes the sun,
and i say,
it’s alright.

When I hopped off the train in Corniglia, it was 1:38 pm. The rest of my day consisted of climbing 385 of the steepest zig-zag steps in Europe (with all my belongings on my back), chugging two large beers at the top (cheaper than water), eating the better part of a cheese pizza (just for me! felt like Kevin McAllister) and checking into my hostel. I went for a hike that Rick Steves called “moderate” which kicked my ass but balanced out my lunch. I fell down (like, all the way down. my face was on the Italian dirt.) on my hike and broke open a scab on my knee from a previous far-less-interesting, far-more-embarassing fall in the lobby of my hostel in Salzburg when I literally tripped over myself. I hiked on, blood running down my leg, until I stopped to take a photo and realized that my camera (which was actually Claire’s camera) had fallen out when I fell. I hustled back for about ten minutes, miming a point-and-click situation to every person I met, until I found a family who had picked it up. I jumped up and down and made tiny claps with my hands to express gratitude (that seems universal), and continued ahead to Vernazza. I accepted a BandAid from a woman who is from Australia, put my feet in the water, ate some gelato, took some photos, and boarded a short train back to Corniglia, for which I never paid. I showered and walked down the street to eat (ahem, drink) dinner. I met a lovely young American named Dusty from Arizona who was traveling on his own as well. We shared stories from neighboring tables, wandered around, ate more gelato (basil with local olive oil drizzled on top), and sat on the cathedral steps while we listened to an outdoor jazz concert. I went back to the hostel, climbed into my twin bed, and knew that the next day wouldn’t be quite like this one. I’m still not sure any ever will be.IMG_4075