I’ve been thinking a lot, as I make the adjustment to my new home, about what it means to have freedom. Especially on this day of remembrance and prayer for the United States. When traveling, you are reduced to just the critical things about yourself and your immediate environment. When the clutter of others speaking in a language you understand is gone, you have only the voices in your head and your heart. One of my voices tells me that I don’t like to be alone. I like alone time, to unwind, process, read, and write, but after that I like to return to my loved ones’ company. It’s very good for me to be here on my own, to have to read my own map and design my own days, but in the future, I want to travel with friends, family, or spouse. This draws into question a few ideas I had about the future, but I’ll dig more deeply into that after the first week of classes here.
Part of the reason I’m here in Italy, running a marathon, is that I wanted to find that strong place inside that would assure me that I’m fine and would remain confident no matter where I am, mentally or physically. I already got a taste of that on my 18-mile run back in Omaha. It was my last afternoon at home when I wanted to be with my family, it was the loveliest afternoon with the first bite in the air of fall, and the distance was long and boring. Somehow, though, I found the strength to finish it. I found the strength to stay functional the next day through 30 hours of travel, no sleep, and not much food. I found the strength to move into a new home, make new friends, and boldly begin learning a new language.
I came here, I am doing this, to build that inner strength just like I build my muscular and cardiovascular strength through running. Every day is going to be a challenge, with the added challenge of getting out the door to run, but I welcome it. My education wouldn’t be complete without it. And I’m going to visit other towns in Italy: Naples, Fiesole, Cinque Terre, Ravenna, Assisi, Venice, Sicily, and more, because I still feel a fear of traveling on my own.
But Italy is teaching me more than I came here to learn. Here, taking care of each other by doing favors, making dinner, or even pouring a glass of water is the greatest gift you can give someone. The mother, the head of the household, dotes on her family to make sure they have everything they need. Italians really care about each other. They argue passionately because they care about each other. They enjoy huge meals for hours because companionship is far more valuable to them than working overtime. Which brings me back to freedom, and the David Foster Wallace quotation (below) that incidentally I placed on the first page of this entry early this summer. Real freedom is being able to love and sacrifice. Jesus would have fit right into this country. It’s no wonder they love him so much.
“The really important kind of freedom involves attention, and awareness, and discipline, and effort, and being able truly to care about other people and to sacrifice for them, over and over, in myriad petty little unsexy ways, every day. That is real freedom. The alternative is unconsciousness, the default-setting, the “rat race”—the constant gnawing sense of having had and lost some infinite thing.”
-David Foster Wallace