I’m sitting in a cafe outside on the side of Santa Maria Novella Church on my last day in Florence. A short, elderly woman just approached me with a plastic cup in her hand begging for money. One of the waiters shoo’ed her away because she was disturbing the customers, or maybe because people don’t want to be bothered with another’s unfortunate circumstances.
Reality is not easy. I escaped my own reality two months ago in New York. I had a job as a researcher in the city’s housing system that forced me to face harsh truths everyday and internalize other people’s stresses and problems. I lost my light, my enthusiasm for life, and my love for New York. I was in need of clarity and balance. After quitting my job, a long trip to Europe made the most intuitive sense.
A month into life in Florence, in my and life, I began to emerge from my feeling of stagnation. My job consisted of living with and sharing the duties of checking in travelers and maintaining the five-bedroom house with another Workaway volunteer.
My first roommate for the first two weeks was Julia, a 20-year-old Brazilian who was wise beyond her years. She taught me how to see life realistically, for what it really is instead of what I want it to be or what I think it should look like. She taught me how to speak loudly and confidently so you are heard when people don’t want to hear what you have to say. And in one of the most unexpected lessons, she taught me about how unnatural it is for humans to eat meat. Then she left to continue her journey.
Two days later, I met Raquel, a 39-year-old Spaniard with English and Argentinean descent who came to Florence to pursue her dream of becoming an accessories designer. Raquel came for the remaining two weeks of my one-month stay, and communicating with her was a challenge from the start.
She seemed to embody classic narcissism, and I didn’t know how to deal with it. Determined to understand her humanity instead of the surface, I continued to pursue her heart. One night over dinner she told me she had taken care of her sick mom for the last three years and consequently fell into a depression. She admitted her self-esteem was low.
In that moment, a great lesson was learned—to give people chances even if they don’t act or say what you would like them to. To be kind even when you are annoyed. To go past your own perceptions and experiences of life and see clearly the person standing in front of you. To stand consistently and continuously by someone’s side even if you don’t like who they are in a given moment.
She also talked about fasting and cleaning out the body of toxins mentally, physically and emotionally. And one of the best parts she told me all the things to do and see in Spain, the next stop on my spiritual exploration.
Today I am a flexitarian, learning more about my body and mind, trying every day to be with people instead of against them and viewing things for what they really are.
While one of my European friends and I joked that I was a New York refugee about to seek asylum from the hectic city, I have transformed and in turn have changed my perspective on the life I left. All the lessons I have learned from this life in Florence prepared me for life in New York, not the one I left behind, but the new one I will build when I get back home.