From the very beginning, Jennifer (our hilarious and inspiring Scottish-born, Italian-raised academic director) has been reminding us that her goal for us this semester is to find and experience beauty all around us. The first time I heard this I took it as a nice thought, but it didn't sink in.
Last night Jennifer reminded us of this goal and of all the ways that we are able to experience beauty. She brought a young Italian woman who had lived in the U.S. to speak to us about her life abroad and her own life experiences. When she spoke of the U.S. and the people there she had such joy and love in her voice! I found myself wanting to appreciate Italian life and culture as much as she appreciated American life and culture! She experienced beauty in the U.S. and I wanted to experience beauty in Italy!
While I was on my way back to the villa today, coming back to the villa after a great afternoon with some family friends from home (Shout out to my mom who sent vitamins and my favorite sandals! Now I have happy feet and a healthy system. Thanks Mom!) I was able to witness this beauty in the people around me.
Before today I thought that Italians were cold and unfriendly. I hadn't had very many great experiences with the Italian people. I realize that in some respects that's still true, but in other ways they are more charitable than many Americans.Here are the events I witnessed that redeemed Italians and gave me a glimpse of God's love and beauty:
Mr. Umbrella Man: It started raining while I was waiting for the bus. Many people were prepared with umbrellas and others were making due with plastic bags, etc.. There were also a lot of street peddlers taking advantage of the poor weather to market their umbrellas. One man came running over to the street peddlers and bought an umbrella from him. As he was waiting for his bus there was an elderly woman who had a plastic bag covering her head. The man with the brand-new umbrella walked over to the woman and offered her protection from the rain with his umbrella. As they huddled under the one umbrella it was obvious that they didn't know each other before, but still, this man despite any discomfort and awkwardness offered this woman his umbrella. I was struck by this act of kindness. Never had I seen a stranger offer another stranger their umbrella. It really opened my eyes to the kindness that people are capable of. This was an experience of beauty to me.
Punk Rock Teen and Street Peddler: Shortly after Mr. Umbrella-Man, a punk rock teenager arrived at the bus stop, standing under his umbrella (it looked like he was borrowing his grandma's old one. It made me smile). He had piercings in his nose and one on his neck (I was trying to figure out how that worked) and couldn't have been more than 17. A street peddler near by was trying to adjust his poncho so that his backpack wouldn't get wet. With new umbrellas in his hands and one up trying to protect himself, he was struggling. The boy with the piercings saw the man struggling and offered him a hand, adjusting his poncho to fall over his backpack. I know this seems minuscule, but I was struck by the kindness towards this man that most people see as a nuisance.
Woman on the bus: Finally my bus arrived and I was so relieved to sit and get off my soggy feet. At one of the many stops through Florence we picked up a young woman and 3 children, it appeared that she was their nanny. All the seats were taken near them and she was supporting the little girl so that she wouldn't fall on the bumpy ride. A woman in her early 60s saw this young woman and the girl and motioned for the little girl to take her seat. She didn't seem inconvenienced or anything, but looked so happy to see this little girl more comfortable.
I have realized that Italians are kind, but in their own way. When I think "nice", I think warm, friendly, welcoming and inviting (a.k.a. Minnesota-nice). These things aren't terms I would use to describe the Italians I have met. But Italians are kind, charitable and have hearts that serve. I realize that being "nice" isn't everything. Being real and answering the call to serve when you see a need is what really matters.
Through the scenes of life that I experienced today I feel as though I have really experienced beauty and have come to a new appreciation of Italian charity and culture. For the rest of this week and the remaining semester I hope I can open my eyes to the people that show me beauty through their charity.