There were more than a few moments this summer when I wondered, what is it I’m supposed to be doing here in Italy? That sounds like a douchey question, I know. “You’re supposed to be enjoying the journey of a lifetime, idiot,” you say from your desk at work. Obvious answer! Still, there were times when I felt immense guilt for a variety of reasons: not participating in my husband’s archaeology project, not exercising enough, not being at home to spend time with my family before moving again, and overall, not being “productive” enough with my free time. While the archaeologists slaved their mornings away, I’d sleep in, do some shopping, maybe a half-assed workout, and spend time in the cafe catching up with people or writing in this blog. And for that routine, I felt guilty.
I realized right away how silly this was, and wanted to examine why. Why feel bad about relaxing? Why feel bad about actually getting more than a few hours of sleep at night? What I found is, we (most Americans,) are built for guilt, and trained for multi-tasking. Even for me, a person not necessarily known for exuding immense energy and positivity, I still feel really crappy if I don’t accomplish something worthwhile every day. It’s the American way: get up early, work out ASAP (or feel guilty if you don’t,) eat a healthy breakfast, lunch, and dinner, spend too many hours at work, try (sometimes in vain,) to spend time with family and friends, clean your home, run errands, then hope to get 5-7 hours of sleep in before doing it all again. In Italy, it’s just not that way. Now, life in Rome is a tad different than life atop a hill in a small countryside village, but one thing they have in common is that people are actually living, and living in the moment. Life here revolves around the family, meals together, having conversations together, face-to-face. Sure, maybe the 5 hour siesta feels unnecessary to the non-retired, but the idea of having a midday refresher has been proven to help people be more productive, less burnt out. I have a feeling most Italians don’t feel like they’re wasting their lives away in a cubicle, waiting to be healthy, or planning to see their family and friends later- when they have time. The time in Italy is now, (which is kind of hilarious, because no one here seems to care for clocks or time.)
What I discovered after 8 weeks away from my beloved home in the United States is that my purpose this summer was to learn how to just be. Live. Breathe. Accept non-productivity not as failure, but as a needed retreat. I read books, plural! I learned enough Italian where my mom would be really proud of me if she were watching me order meat at the deli. I found a way to become sick of carbs. I appreciated things. Maybe best of all, I spent many pure, unburdened, delightful hours with my husband just talking. Laughing. Snuggling. Traveling. Okay, some hours were spent watching Game of Thrones, but that was our only distraction treat.
These are the things that I can only hope to carry home to the crazed, overworked North American way of life we’ve become so accustomed to. Your smartphone should not be your best friend. You should meet with your friends and family for a meal at least once a week, if you live in the same city. Turn off the TV and leave your house. Do something that scares you. Don’t count calories everyday. Look at the world- really look. Do nothing. Breathe, breathe, breathe.
That’s what I learned this summer.