A couple of days ago, Madi relayed the story of something she learned. She had traveled to San Marino with an Italian friend, Nico; his parents own the hotel where she is staying for the weekend. She was told her room was on the first floor, and the elevators were around the corner.
Madi looked at them, confused. If she were on the first floor, why would she need an elevator? Nico looked at her and rolled his eyes, “Madi, you’re such an American.“ He went on to explain that they were on the ground floor, and it is called zero; the next floor up is one, and so on. It kind of makes more sense than the way we do it. But what I loved was her impression of his disdain as he explained the Italian way versus the American way.
At the end of her time in Italy the last time she was there, she called me a few days before she was scheduled to fly out, and everyone in her group was tired, and tensions were running high. Madi had been trying to book a taxi ahead of time, and it wasn’t working out to her satisfaction. I’ll never forget her words, “Per usual, the Italians are dragging their heels.“ It sounded like something a CEO might say about the accounting department.
She is struggling more this time to adapt to the relaxed attitude of the Italians. The shops don’t open till late by our standards, and they close in the afternoon for something that seems akin to the Mexican siesta. Before, Madi was living with other American kids that were there from her school and had the same mentality. Now she’s living and working with Italians, and I’m starting to see slight shifts in her attitudes. Now she will describe meals to me in a relaxed manner, and comment on the food and the scenery. Food used to be merely the fuel that got her to the next activity.
On Friday morning I picked up a wonderful book I had started, and I allowed myself a little longer reading when I realized I didn’t have anything on the calendar, and I didn’t have to work that day. I was completely absorbed in the book when Paul came downstairs. I started to close it and get to work. He asked why I would quit if I were enjoying myself and there was nothing pressing to be done. Kind of hit me that sometimes we actually need someone to give us permission to do a certain thing or not to do a thing. I had felt a sense of guilt for enjoying myself instead of getting something accomplished.
I was speaking with a man at church this morning about Madi‘s trip. He and his wife have a grandson who is traveling through Europe, and we compare notes each week.
Today he mentioned the velocity of American life, and the word itself drew a mental picture for me. Velocity is the right word; we are moving at great speed in a particular direction. Always forward. Sometimes we are in such a hurry to get “there” that we don’t even know where we are trying to go.
In one of the pictures Madi sent me, it showed a plate of risotto, and a glass of wine; the next photo showed the Italian countryside. Maybe slowing down is the first step to being present in the moment. Maybe one day someone will say, “Per usual the Americans are too busy enjoying life to get so much work done.“ Maybe one day we won’t have to give ourselves permission to enjoy life.