Lessons from my Travels: Italy

The David in Galleria Accademia, Florence I love to travel, mostly because it opens up whole new worlds for me. One of my guiding principles in life is learning. It’s why I read, why I go to museums and plays, why I travel. In his book Roughing It, Mark Twain notes, “Travel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one’s lifetime.”

So I regularly take a break from "vegetating" in my own little corner of the world to travel. I've been to five continents, almost two dozen countries and 43 states. It's one way I try to keep learning new things and to feel fully alive.

A few years ago I traveled to Italy with my friend Polly. We stopped in Florence at the Galleria Accademia which houses Michelangelo’s original David. I had first seen the David on a trip to Europe in college, and I remember being awed at the work of Michelangelo. It was fascinating to be able to see something that I had only seen pictures of and read about. It was not just the David that held me captive; it was what it represented. Here was Michelangelo’s view of the human form as God intended it to be—that was his intent in creating this work of art. I remember getting chills when I saw his thoughts and ideas expressed in marble.

Looking forward to seeing it again on this trip, I wondered if my first impressions of it were accurate. I knew that my feelings this time would be different from that first time as you only get one chance to experience that first impression of anything. It’s like the feeling of falling in love for the first time! However, Polly had never seen the David. So I planned to vicariously experience the David and fall in love with it again for the first time through her eyes.

Upon arrival at the Galleria Accademia in Florence, we each went our separate ways to view all the artwork there.

I still loved the David. I spent most of my allotted time renewing my acquaintance with it; it was like visiting an old friend. It’s the friend that you haven’t seen in ten years, but you pick up the conversation right where you left it—in mid-sentence.

But I also couldn’t wait to hear what Polly thought about it. I noticed that Polly spent some time with the David and then moved on to see other artwork in the galleria. When it came time for us to leave, we met at the exit and walked outside to a park bench. We sat down, and with confident anticipation, I asked her what her impressions of the David were. She paused as if looking for the right words, screwed up her face, and said, “Well, I’m glad I saw it for its historical significance.”

I was stunned. I was crushed! How could she not love this work of art the same way I did?!? It was as if it was on her life’s to-do list and she could now check it off and move on. How could she not be moved?

My journal from this trip is filled with pages of wondering how such a close friend of mine could be unmoved by the David—she must be the most heartless, dispassionate person I’ve ever known. But then we went to see the work of Bernini, and I saw Polly fall in love with Apollo and Daphne. Her response was what I had been waiting for—albeit in difference circumstances.

Hmph. Perhaps all my journals entries were somewhat less than right—or to use another word, wrong. Polly is not passionless. She was just waiting for something that moved her.

So my lesson from Italy is multi-faceted. Life is simply so much more enjoyable when you connect to things that stir your passion, your emotion. Your everyday life can be full of amazing things that can wake you up and give you energy, that really make you feel alive. Such experiences help you connect who you are with the world around you, with your work, your family, your friends, experiences like travel.

The final lesson I learned is that what moves me doesn’t necessarily move someone else. Everyone needs to find her or his own passion, and that, too, is a wonderful gift. You learn from other’s connections to their passions and that opens your own world a bit more.

And while I had to travel all the way to Italy to learn that, you don't have to look further than your home, your community, your work. Life is waiting for you to discover what makes you feel fully alive!