Eat, Pray, Love in Italy: Love

Eat, Pray, Love in Italy: Chapter Love.

Love actually is, all around.

Love is bittersweet.

There was a time, for a long time, that I was extremely bitter when it came to love. Anytime I would see a couple holding each other or kissing in public, I would jokingly say, “Get a room!” or would simply just silently “Booooo” at them. These were things that got a laugh, where I would engage my friends in participation. These were childish things. I found humor in making fun of the one thing I always wanted, but never got, a way for me to deal with that bitterness.

I hated seeing people happy like that. Selfishly, that wasn’t fair because I didn’t have it, when I wanted it. So, it was easier to simply “boo” at them and make it a joke. I know we’ve all been there. Watching people love on each other in extreme displays of PDA, or sometimes in a simple back rub at a concert. Something that probably feels totally normal to the other person, but to the outside looking in—a single display of affection at a time when you are bitter about love, can just be a reminder of the fact that you don’t have a public back rub masseur on call, to make that a normal thing. Which in turn, makes you even more bitter.

It’s a trigger, and bitterness feeds on it like it’s the only thing on the menu. Bitterness makes you focus on the things you don’t have in that moment. It makes you forget about all the other beautiful things in life that you do have in this moment. Bitterness takes the focus away from living in the present. It takes your moment and reminds you of your past, and it flash forwards you to the future. A future where you are still alone and how nothing in the past ever worked out, how the situation you are in right now is going to last forever. Bitterness does a lot of time traveling. Bitterness is dangerous, it’s unhealthy. It’s sometimes my best friend. It’s easy, familiar. It’s something that I try and reason with.

That’s amore.

When I went to Italy, I was in a bitter state of mind about a lot of things, one of them being love. But being bitter also causes blindness. Blindness where you are unable to see things that are constantly being shown to you as a form of beauty or reassurance. But I was bitter for a long time, therefore I was blind and could not see those beautiful reminders of the thing I loved most. Then, something happened in Italy. Something spectacular, something completely unexpected.

I was in Venice. Eating Gelato. Go figure. It was peaceful, I was happy. I was eating in Italy, so I wasn’t multi-tasking or worrying. And maybe it was the combination of eating and some of the long lost praying I had been doing while I was there. God are you there? It’s me Mon. But, mid-gelato, I witnessed something beautiful.

The photo you see above, I captured in a very delicate moment. From my perspective, an Italian girl had just had a long day, something had happened. She was distraught, she was crying. She was telling her boyfriend the story but couldn’t seem to get the words out through all the tears. Then, all of a sudden her boyfriend just held her as she continued to cry into his chest. He allowed her to feel, and he comforted her. Something so simple, something that we so often forget to do. Yet, it was so amazing to witness. I saw love. I witnessed it in it’s purest, most raw form. And I finally understood what I was allowing myself to be blinded from. I was reminded in that moment that love existed. That love was real.

Bitterness unveiled.

And in that moment, for the first time in a long time, bitterness stayed away because even it was floored. We came to a mutual understanding that this was a beautiful moment, it was real. Regardless of what had fed bitterness all those years, all the lies and the heartbreaks, the love we had erased and doubted, existed.

And after that moment, I noticed myself actively looking for love. I would capture love, instead of booing childishly at the couple in front of me. I wanted to see it again and again. I wanted to be reminded that it was real. Maybe the thought of it being something I could never attain or sustain, made viewing it out in the world a little bit more tangible. Because this time, bitterness couldn’t argue with it anymore. It started to believe in it again. So, I wanted to make sure I captured every moment I could, to remind bitterness to stay away. As she cried in his arms, I couldn’t help but capture the moment to remind myself of it. Because it unveiled my eyes so vividly.

Throughout my trip to Italy, I noticed a lot of wedding photo shoots, couples holding hands, couples randomly pausing in the middle of the street just to kiss each other in that moment. Bitterness would like to add here that it’s sure this was only because we were in Europe, but I refuse to give in to it’s side remarks anymore. Because every time I would notice a couple, I was reminded that love existed. This even happened when I returned home. So, suck it bitterness.

I like to believe that God took a moment to unveil my eyes in Italy. To remind me that the form of love that I crave so deeply is alive and well. And although it might not be my time for that, it still exists. And I can continue to fuel my belief in it as long as I want to. Because for a time, I used to say I believed in three different kinds of love. And after constantly feeding that belief, I grew tired of breaking my own heart by cheating myself from what I really wanted—unconditional comfort and confidence in myself, supported by someone else who I unconditionally comforted and encouraged as well.

And after all those years with bitterness, I now understood love when I witnessed it in the streets of Venice. That couple may have been young, but their love was so strong. And if there’s anything that I strongly believe in, it’s love. Love exists in many forms, but this is the one I resonate with the most. Sorry bitterness.

A time for love.

Italy may have awakened my belief in love and unveiled my bitterness towards it, but it also started a journey of self-love. I may have left my heart in Venice, but it was ready for the greatest love story of all time—my own. And in my story, I have dreams other than love. There are things I wanted to do with my life that bitterness wouldn’t let me do, that I am now embarking on before chapter love really does come to pass. Finally. But in the meantime, I can admire it from afar and know that it’s something that is real. And if the form of love I want isn’t written for me in this life, at least I know that it exists and that I am on an adventure to find things I love too.

Lovelee Lesson:

Love taught me that it actually does exist. Bitterness can cloud the existence of the thing you want most. It can create a fog around what is alive and well in the world around you. But letting God unveil your eyes, surrendering to peace and just opening your heart, is something that I hope everyone experiences in their lifetime. However they need to experience it. Your unveiling might not be in love, but maybe something else.

But I learned that the thing I believe in most, that I want the most, still exists. And although I might not get it when I want it or in the way that I want it, others are getting to experience it in their own way every day. It is something that should be admired and pursued as a reminder that you’re alive in a beautiful world. And that you are on the right path to discovering where you’re meant to be. You might just have to do a few things for yourself first, before you get the thing you want most. Have faith that unveiling things is one step closer to the greatest gift of all.

Eat, Pray, Love in Italy: Pray

Eat, Pray, Love in Italy…Chapter Pray.

Take me to church.

They’re not kidding when they say there is basically a church around every corner in Italy. My brother and I jokingly would sing our own version of Rihanna’s Work everywhere we turned:

Ever’ where you go there’s a chur-chur-chur-chur-church, church….

You see me in tha chur-chur-chur-chur-church, church. 

In all seriousness, there are churches everywhere. One of the maps we got had a ton of buildings colored in purple, when I looked at the key, I found out they were all churches. I think there was more purple on that map than there was blue water in Venice.

Architecture expert at hand.

The churches in Italy tell a story.

“It’s called iconography,” says Daniel.

I called my brother from the living room and asked, “I need help talking about the church architecture in Italy for my next post.”

I don’t think I have ever seen my brother jump out of his bed so quickly. During our trip, as light reading in between cities, my brother brought a book about church architecture. Nevertheless, he is always pretty excited to talk about columns. No joke. My brother the history major loves architectural history. Go figure.

So along with my personal translator, I also had a pocket reference everywhere we went. Adding to our tour guide’s spiel with things like “She’s right, I learned about this in class.” And my personal favorite, “Can you take a picture of me hugging this column? I love columns.” Weirdo.

Anyways, back to iconography.

Churches use music, art and ritual to tell a story. In all the churches we visited, iconography or the visual illustrations used to tell that story, were incredibly detailed and sometimes sublime. In Italy, where the dominant religion is Catholicism, which still is a form of Christianity by the way. I say this here because sometimes people tend to forget that.

Anyways, the music, art and ritual in the churches in Italy told the story of Christ. Now, I’ll talk about how I personally feel about this in a bit, wait for it. But, going into these massive churches I thought about the historical context behind them instead of the overbearing weight religion sometimes has on our everyday lives. I’m not saying religion is a bad thing here, I’m just saying that it can be a bit much at times for some people. We’ve all been there, I’ve been there.

So, going into these churches with the idea that this was a piece of history, (Thanks Daniel, I don’t even know who I am anymore.) helped me appreciate everything I was looking at, a lot more. I trained myself going in to whatever church or basilica we were touring, that this was a learning experience. And that I needed to leave my personal view on things on the bus. This mindset made me appreciate things a bit more, and I slowly started letting religion in more and more, once we had been in the 300th church. The cradle-Catholic in me always grabbed some Holy Water and kneeled. Those behaviors are instilled in me for life I think.

But, going in to learn and admire, I noticed a lot. I saw how beautiful and detailed everything was, how thousands of years later, these stories were still being told. I think that’s what stuck with me the most. How this was a place of worship still. That was important too. Thinking about how many people came here to worship for years, that was mind boggling.

Historical venues.

Another thing I loved about the churches in Italy was that not all of them were used for worship. There was a church that turned into a Music museum. It was honestly one of the coolest things we found in Venice. At this museum, there was a poster advertising a Vivaldi concert in another church. That was one of the things my brother and I regret not doing on our trip. We will go back one day, and go to that Vivaldi concert. For sure.

Another thing churches can help you with while traveling is giving you a place to take a break. Anytime you feel overwhelmed, travel stressed, tired…go inside a church and just be in the present. You’ll feel a wave of peace hit you. Don’t worry, no one is preaching. It’s just you and the moment. The moment is yours, no one else’s.

It doesn’t need to be plated with gold.

I’ve always had struggles with large Catholic churches. I always thought it was a bit much in my opinion. Where places of worship used capital campaigns to raise money to make the outside look better, the inside look grander…always defeated the purpose for me. I always felt like that money could be used for people who needed help, not another beautiful mosaic. But I get it, if I learned anything from the iconography in the churches in Italy, it was that they used the beautiful detail inside to tell a story.

Personally, and this is just my own opinion here, but I never needed flashy things to ground me or better my relationship with God. And I understand that everyone is different and everyone’s path of faith is also different in how they are moved by song or homily or word, or even a beautiful dome. I get it. But I personally, don’t need it. I personally have never been one to need something extravagant to make me feel God. Ironically, I tend to always find God in the little things in life, but we all feel God in different ways.

So, it was always hard for me to grasp back home, and going into this trip to Italy I was afraid that I would run into some disgruntledness regarding some of the churches that I encountered. But when you’re there, you have to remind yourself that these churches were built in a time where they needed to be big and extremely detailed, to draw people in. Where they used  art to tell the story of Christ. It’s historically iconic, I get it. 

Clearly, I don’t always agree.

I have had a couple of moments in my walk of faith where I didn’t always agree with the doctrine of the religion I was raised in, there were moments of doubt and uncertainty. I am human. But, when I went to Italy, I was at a time in my life where I was trying to find God in the world around me and not inside a church this time around—I was trying to understand the bigger picture.

So, I’m not going to lie, I was really nervous to step inside a church in Italy. Along with some of my personal views, I was overcoming some of the things that had happened to me regarding my religious experiences. I was nervous. I wasn’t quite ready to feel the growth and heal the pain of that part of my life, and I tried to push anything that resembled resolution away.

In light of that goal to find God in the world around me, on my trip outside St. Paul’s Basilica, one of the most peaceful places in Rome, I saw this vine growing out of the church with a flower at the end. I chuckled to myself and thought, “Well that’s funny. Life literally does grow outside a church.”

I think the balance between being guided through these churches and learning historical context rather than religious doctrine made them easier to relate to. And I didn’t have a panic attack going inside either, on the contrary, I felt peace.

Story time.

When in Rome.

It was our first day in Rome and we were overwhelmed to say the least. There was just so much to see and do, and let’s be honest, we underestimated the walking. I was tired and hot. I told my brother, “let’s go in there for a second and take a break.” Remember the tip I shared about taking a break in a church? See I did it here. Well, I don’t even remember the name of the church we walked inside, but it was in the middle of Rome and it was beautiful. Like I said, I was never one for big extravagant churches, but for some reason this one made me feel at peace. My brother would like to add here that the architecture was very Baroque, if that helps paint a picture. (Beats me, Google it.)

I sat down and listened to the soft sound of Gregorian chant being played in the background. It was so soothing. After coming out of the peaceful trance, I got up to walk around. Although it was a bit crowded inside, I felt as if I was the only one there. I could hear myself breathing. And even though I was tired, my curiosity gave me the strength I needed to explore the beautiful space of worship that I found myself in.

I want to add here, that to a non-history major (my brother is going to kill me for saying this) the churches usually look the same for the most part. No that’s not true, they’re all very different. But, it was a church and it was super flashy (Baroque remember, still Google it.) But I didn’t let my disgruntledness come out. I didn’t make any comments under my breath. This time it felt different.

I kept walking and had slowly started moving toward the back of the church, where I stumbled upon this beautiful image of Jesus, there are a lot of those in Italy. And, maybe it was the Gregorian chant, or the fact that I was tired and just taking it all in, or that there was no preaching being done, no doctrine being argued, just art and music—the two things that always speak to me and awaken my soul. But for the first time in years, I felt God in my heart again. Not religion, not doctrine, but God. I felt God. I felt love.

And the warm tears of all the pain I’d been holding back all those years, since my faith in religion had crumbled and let me down so long ago, just started rolling down my cheeks. But it was so graceful. It was the kind of cry where your chest hurts and you can’t speak. But it wasn’t my chest that was hurting, it was my heart finally feeling love again after all these years. And it was beautiful.

The start of some spiritual healing.

After this happened in Italy, I started digging deeper into my relationship with God and what that meant to me outside of what I was taught through religion. I started trying to use some of the things I learned and apply it to spiritual healing in my own way. And in that time, I felt like I grew closer to God, because I started listening.

Spiritually speaking, I find faith more rewarding when you stumble upon it unexpectedly. As ironically huge and spectacularly detailed that church was, tucked away in a side street in Rome, I am so grateful for it. Tired and oblivious, it called me in. And through art and music, it opened my heart again to faith, hope and most importantly, love.

The love they teach you about, the love you thought existed, but somewhere along the way, something or someone took that away from you. I discovered it again and found that it still exists. The unconditional love and graceful peace that you once felt all those years ago, before people started outing you or telling you what you did or who you are is wrong, it still exists.

Yeah, I’m talking about those people. The ones who took that chance of love away from you and left you in shock. Confused and hurt because they were the ones leading you and guiding you through your spiritual process. And they hurt you, they betrayed you. And you’re probably still hurt, I know I am. But, I’m working through that. We can work through it together.

And, let me be the first to hug you super tight and say, it’s okay. I love you and you are a beautiful human being. Because what happened to you, that wasn’t love. You are. And you will find that form of love again that you crave. It lives inside you and it will continue to guide you, and maybe even lead you inside a church in the middle of Rome. Just to tap you on the shoulder, look you in the eyes and say, “I’m still here, I still love you.”

Lovelee Lesson:

What Pray taught me…You don’t have to have it all figured out. If you leave your broken windows open, the light will just stream right in. You can be open minded and learn from other religions and theologies to find what fits best with you. You can tap into your cradle-Catholic roots to awaken you again or you can find another practice that speaks to you better than the first one did. It’s your journey of love, no one else’s.

Religion has torn people and countries apart for centuries. It’s something that I’m trying to understand and learn from to better my faith and relationship with God. But if you give faith a chance, and you try to separate that from all the negative memories that found you lost and full of doubt, you can and will feel pure, unconditional love again.

Maybe that chance of love is being protected by you, and that’s okay. When you feel ready, know that it won’t hurt you back. It will guide you back to love. Unconditional. No exceptions. You’re not crazy for hearing God. All are welcome. Love.