I love to be unconventional. To go against the grain. To find another way to do a standard procedure. It gives me some kind of strange thrill. It’s the reason we have been without cable television since 2007. That’s 8 years without access to all the glory of HGTV: House Hunters, Property Brothers, or Love It or List It. It’s the reason we have gone without internet in our home for the same period of time. It’s the reason I refused to buy a commuter pass at Virginia Tech and opted to ride the bus from my apartment to classes each day. Going without sometimes inspires a creative resourcefulness that I enjoy. It suites me. Then again, maybe I’m just cheap. It’s also the reason I drink milk well past the expiration date as long as it passes the sniff test. I like to test the limits of the date that experts proclaim my milk will sour. Sadly, I’ve been missing out on this adventure as of late because with two young kids chugging a gallon every four days we don’t come close to approaching the expiration date anymore. Some call me crazy. I prefer unconventional.
So when we decided to go overseas to visit my cousin this past summer, I knew immediately this was a matter of heart, not a matter of convention. It made very little sense for us to go. We have young children, we have a limited income. But I also knew that there would never be a perfect time to take a few weeks to see another part of the world. And so we took a leap and we fell in love.
Back in college, I discovered the brand-new-to-me world of Target. As I ambled along pushing my red cart down aisles full of trendy home goods and stylish outfits at generally low prices, I knew that I would be back again and again. One day while roaming I stumbled upon this fine beauty:
That long ago day I fell in love with the idea of Venice. With seeing it with my own eyes. With wandering the narrow pedestrian streets and bridges. With watching gondolas glide down the canals. I couldn’t leave Venice on the shelf that fateful day, and so it came to live with me. I’ve looked at it nearly every day since I first drove it home in the back of my Civic. It hung on the dingy wall of my apartment while I finished up school. After graduating, I moved a few times and along came Venice. Jamie and I got married and bought our hilltop house and the picture hung there in my kitchen for seven years. Now in Salem, it hangs in the living room where I can admire it while drinking coffee or lounging on the sofa. I’ve been having a long time love affair with Venice.
So as we began to plan our trip to see my cousin in Germany, I started looking into the possibility of seeing part of Italy as a side trip. I looked at flights to Venice and discovered it was only a little more than an hour from Frankfurt! And super cheap! Win, win! How could I come so close and not go there? So with help from my amazing cousin, we settled on flying into Venice for a three night stay.
The morning we were to fly out, we woke up at 4:30 a.m. Our plan was to carry sleeping boys out to the car where they would continue sleeping for the hour car ride to the airport. This did not happen. Parker, still exhausted from the time change from a trans-Atlantic trip, was buckled into his car seat and screamed for exactly 54 minutes of the 60 minute drive. This may have been stressful. We realized we were running a little late as we got closer to the airport and began to panic. My cousin dropped us off and went to park the car. She raced inside the airport and we got started checking in for the flight and going through security. We hustled out onto the tarmac, climbed the stairs up onto the plane and the door closed right behind us. We were the very last passengers to board and had made it with only few seconds to spare.
Exhausted, we collapsed in our seats for the hour long flight. The flight attendants walked the aisles trying to sell us Lotto tickets and jewelry. I was amused, but declined. When the plane landed in Treviso (a town just outside of Venice) we bounced so fiercely that I thought for a second we might be crashing. As soon as we knew all was well, the passengers all began to clap and cheer in a passionate I’m-so-glad-I’m-alive kind of way. It was a celebration of life. Our lives to be exact. I wondered if this was the reason our tickets were so darn cheap.
Next up, came the bus ride. We bought tickets and climbed aboard a shuttle bus heading toward the 117 islands that make up Venice. By now I was realizing that my plan may have been a little teeny tiny bit overzealous. It seemed that maybe Venice was a bit more than an hour away. Math has never been a strength of mine. Back in the middle school years when I struggled with math homework, I had always gone to my Dad, the engineer, for help. Though I’m certain he explained things quite logically, with diagrams and arrows and examples, the session always ended in frustration by both of us. Clearly, my math skills haven’t progressed much since those early days. We had been traveling for almost 4 hours and there were still two more modes of transportation we’d have to take before we got to our final destination: a vaporetto (shuttle boat) and our feet. This was the longest hour long trip I had ever planned. In my mind, it had seemed much more reasonable than it was turning out to be.
We wandered in search of the right vaporetto line. After finding it, we climbed on board the boat and glided around the outside of Venice. We made friends with two old Italian women sitting in front of us. One of them dug through her purse and pulled out a piece of gum. Without thinking twice I let Jackson take and chew gum from strangers. He gnawed on it for a few minutes and the two women doted on him in Italian, smiling the whole time. Then one of them noticed that Jackson had swallowed the gum and became alarmed. She pointed to her stomach, gesturing that the gum had gone into forbidden territory. I turned to Jackson and asked him if he had swallowed it and he nodded proudly. Both women buckled over laughing, “EYEYEYE!”
Finally we arrived at our stop. We climbed off the boat to meet the host of our apartment and followed him through the streets trying to commit each turn to memory so that we could remember exactly where we were staying in Castello. It was useless. I’d read before we arrived that Venice is meant to be wandered mostly while feeling a little bit lost. This is very true. Eventually we arrived at a lovely courtyard in front of the apartment we would be renting. By now, we’d taken a car, a plane, a bus, a boat, and walked to arrive in Venice. The hour long trip in my mind had taken about 6 hours. But we had made it!
Had I known exactly how tedious the journey was going to be, I’m not sure I would have had the guts to do it. Fear and anxiety would have probably stopped me in my tracks. That’s the beauty of a little bit of ignorance combined with optimism. You just keep going. Putting one foot in front of the other, ever hopeful that the good stuff is out there waiting for you.
Because, here’s the thing. I’m learning that sometimes we don’t give ourselves enough credit. Our dreams seem so BIG and daunting. Sometimes we put them on hold because we are waiting for all the forces of the earth to converge in a rainbow of fireworks above our house that declares in the smoky aftermath, “Go now and do that BIG thing you’ve been dreaming about!” Lacking this sign from above, we wait and wait and wait for the right time. The right time to travel. The right time to settle down. The right time to live creatively. The right time to switch careers. The right time to commit to family or friendship or adventure. The right time to live a healthier lifestyle. The right time to love. The right time to forgive. I’m learning that the right time is now. It’s today. Sometimes, all that’s holding us back is ourselves. We worry that if our pursuits aren’t just right, perfect, or Facebook pretty, then they aren’t worth it. But nothing is farther than the truth. There is beauty in the flaws and in the struggle of our journeys. It’s how we learn just what we are made of. After surviving this monumental transportation marathon, I felt like I should run out to the store and buy a real super hero cape and mask to wear for the rest of the trip. I realized that I can do hard things. I found a new confidence in my ability. And it all started from the seam of one little unconventional idea.
Was our trip to Venice perfect? Absolutely not. It was better and worse than I ever expected, all at once. Just like life. Would I do it all again? Absolutely yes. Because at any single moment in my day, I can pause and see the arched windows stacked high on palace walls that line the water’s edge as I cruise along the Grand Canal. I see my boys grinning at the waiter who teases them while we dine al fresco. I see the ornate golden mosaics that decorate the ceiling of St. Mark’s Basilica. I see the grand scale of St. Mark’s square. The way an endless parade of columns stretch along the crowded piazza. I hear the laughter of people from every corner of the world coming together to see and feel an ancient city built on water. I remember walking just around the corner each morning to the bakery for pastries and doughnuts. I see petite cups of espresso emptied in one swig by aging Venetian hands just before their owner heads off to work. I see Parker running after pigeons and Jackson’s excitement at having finally been fast enough to touch the feather of one before it flew up and away. I would do it all again in a heart beat. Everything doesn’t have to make sense, to go smoothly, to end perfectly, in order for it to be well with your soul. Matters of the heart are so much more complex.
As I walk through the rooms of our house these days, there is more artwork on the walls of more beautiful places from around the world that I have never seen. I look at the pictures and dream. I feel my heart calling. And I wonder how hard can it possibly be to get to Coppenhagen? Cinque Terre? I promise you this: I’ll be sure to let you know just as soon as I find out.