“Not Your Own”

I just found this journal / blog entry that I meant to post six months ago when I was in the middle of my semester abroad, and I am so glad that I did. In reading it, I am reminded of the simplicity in my life amidst the chaos, and the quiet beauty in that; I have allowed myself to temporarily forget that my time is not my own, and when I give it to others, I am so much more fulfilled.

Here’s my reflection on studying abroad, being in a highly chaotic position within a highly chaotic life, and finding internal peace amidst it all.

”  So to catch up, I am in bellissima Roma, and it is wonderful, and not at all what I expected.

Isn’t it funny how things work out like that?

Classes are pretty good, though we’re coming up on midterms and I am slammed. Our campus is beautiful, my residents are now my friends and they’re making my job as RA a dream, e la vita è bella. But I’m learning far more outside the classroom than I am inside it.

Yes, my class on Roman antiquity is actually fascinating, especially when we get to go see all of the things we’re studying in class, because it’s casually strewn about the city in many a forgotten church or wall or piazza. And yes my philosophy of art class is pushing me to understand art in a different way and to push my current understanding of beauty to go deeper. And yes, my italian course is helping me to be able to speak this beautiful language and build a relationship with the culture and all of her wonderful children here. And yes, my theology class is filling that need of mine to be slightly competitive in the classroom as we debate what it actually means to be Catholic in every sense and why.

But as I look on these classes, I realize that the actual lessons of value this semester come from practical things, yes, but also from being able to find a balance within myself and truly just allow myself to experience what (and who) is around me and immediately in front of me.

I’ve struggled with anxiety for a long time now. In fact, the more I struggle with it, the more I realize just how long it’s been that I’ve struggled with it, and didn’t even realize it. One of the ways that it manifests itself in me the most is my need to know what’s going on and what’s going to happen at all times. This need for control, for information, and for over-preparedness in my life is crippling at times, which ironically enough, can often lead me to just let go of everything and not prepare for anything, as if it doesn’t actually matter.

Studying here in Rome, so far away from everything and everyone that I’ve known, where I’m not fluent in the language, where I didn’t know the customs, where I couldn’t use my cell phone to keep in contact with my friends and family as often as I was used to, where I had to meet all new people and learn a whole new city and see Europe and learn all of these things on top of raising my GPA–you can see it was a bit of a trigger for me. But it was one that I was going to deal with and overcome, because there was no way that I was going to let this pass me by. But the first several weeks I did really struggle with my anxiety for all of these reasons and then some, and on top of it all, I am the RA for our campus so my job requires me to overcome these things and be able to work through them.

After a few weeks here, I realized that I needed to find a balance that worked for me, and not just one that has worked for other people. Because I am not other people. So I took about a week to myself where I went to class, I did my work, and I found a daily routine (that I’m admittedly still working on). I found out just how much time to myself that I need, how much time I need to play music and indulge my hobbies and passions, how much time I need talking to my family and friends, how much time I need in prayer or meditation (though this is something that can always be more), all so that I can be truly refreshed and present for everything when it’s time to be.

I’m using a flip phone from the early 2000’s as my cell phone here, so whenever I’m off campus I have no access to anyone who does not have an Italian cell phone number. No internet, no data, no social media, no iMessage or Facetime, nothing like that. And at first I had no idea what to do with myself. But now I am perfectly happy to go out, be disconnected, actually see what’s around me and delight in it, and then come back and give those things my attention where it’s needed.

There was one moment when I was on call for the night, begrudgingly doing my walks around the building because I was tired and stressed, when I came across some of my residents on the terrace hanging out and talking. And it turned into such a fruitful conversation, where they showed me little glimpses of themselves, that wouldn’t have happened if I didn’t have the job that I have. And it was a beautiful thing.

A few days ago, I was missing my big brother, so I decided to call him on a whim (we never talk on the phone or Facetime or anything like that.. I’m not really sure why) and I caught him at the perfect time so I got to talk to him for almost an hour before he started his day. And it was so great.

I’ve become more expressive and open with my siblings and my parents, because I can’t be there to show them that I love them. I’ve become more appreciative of what I have in the states, even though it’s wonderful here. There are little things that you miss, without even really being able to pinpoint them sometimes.

I’ve been able to recognize this opportunity to hone my ability to be more receptive to what God is trying to tell me and show me through my every day — through the people around me, through the little beauties and moments of joy, the moments of sadness and homesickness, the moments of stress, the moments of frustration, the moments of contentment, the moments of anxiety, the moments of gratitude, and the moments of stillness. It’s a great blessing to be able to recognize that these moments are mine to appreciate and learn from, but ultimately they are not my own.

When I build my new found friendships with the people here, or help someone when they ask, that time is not my own. When I swallow my pride and take the punch, take the time to make sure everything is alright, take the time to do my work well, that time is not my own. When I make the effort to be fully present to who I’m talking to when I’m feeling too lazy, or unwilling, or stressed, that ultimately is not my own.

When I climbed a mountain on a Saturday afternoon with a great group of girls who I hoped would become my friends; when I then laid out on a rocky beach on the Italian coast with the sparkling blue ocean and the multicolored town ascending the mountainside; when I sat on the top of our terrace overlooking Rome on a perfect fall evening; when I sat and read my C.S. Lewis book on a bench overlooking the Tuscan countryside and watched the people walking by; when I stood in front of a 900 year old active castle-vineyard, overlooking the vines and the mountains as they turned silhouette; when I stood beneath more bright stars than I’ve ever seen in the middle of hundreds of acres of Italian farm land; when I navigated the streets of Rome by myself for the first time — it’s in all of these moments when I learned how to be open to the simple beauties that one finds all around, even in the stillness.

I believe that my job is a blessing. Italy is a blessing, and continues to be. This semester and my time away from my school, from my friends, from my family, from my home is a blessing. Even my anxiety, in a way, is a blessing. Because without these things I wouldn’t have learned the seemingly simple lessons, from seemingly small moments, in seemingly small ways.  “

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