Ciao a tutti,
In the past few (somewhat) rainy days in Ragusa, I’ve found myself with more time on my hands. When it rains, I find myself thinking and reflecting more. I would bet that most people feel the same way because you spend more time inside, alone, and listening to the calming sounds of the rain. I’ve been thinking about my deep conversations that I’ve had with Elena in the past two years, and she has left me with words of wisdom that I want to pass along.
I have to pinch myself sometimes to remind myself that I am truly here, and lucky enough to live with such a wonderful family. Elena is truly my “spirit animal”, my best friend, mom, sister, greatest supporter, partner in crime, and so much more to me. She has such fun, fiery energy, and is truly an inspiration to me. She has been through so much in her life, but has such a positive attitude. She’s candid, honest, fun, and Sicilian crazy (just like me). When she began learning English a few years ago, even her English teacher thought that there was little hope for her to truly communicate. Today, we talk about every subject imaginable and we have great conversations. She never gives herself enough credit, but I’m amazed by her.
The best part of having a host family that you are close with is that they are neutral observers of you, and can read you better than your own family. Elena tells me things about myself that I don’t even realize, or forces me to recognize the parts of me that I don’t like to acknowledge. Francesco knows when I’m holding something in, as well. I unfortunately don’t spend as much time with him because of his work schedule, but this family just gets me. Elena knows, probably better than anyone on earth, that I bottle my thoughts and emotions in and never let them show, and that I’m dangerously good at hiding my feelings sometimes. She makes a point to remind me always (these are direct words from her), “You will feel better when you talk about what is on your mind. It’s OK! It’s a good thing and people want to help you. It’s OK to cry sometimes”. The Italian culture is far more open than American culture, so it is normal for people to talk about their daily challenges and ask for help, and I enjoy that it challenges me to try this more. Especially in the moment that the world, but especially America, finds itself in right now, please remember this. If nothing else, I will listen to you.
My favorite mantra that Elena has passed along to me is, “It’s OK… You’re only [insert age here]. You’re young, everything is OK”. Last year, the age was 21… now it’s 22. For Elena, this applies to anyone under 30. She was surprised at the amount pressure placed on young people in America, and more surprised at the pressure that I put on myself, while getting to know me last year. She shared stories of her childhood and college years, and explained the Italian view of this idea. In Italy / Sicily, young people are celebrated and have the best wished for them. They are encouraged to be free, and have FAR less pressure put on them to speed up adulthood. Although there are some negative consequences of this attitude, it’s refreshing to remind myself that yes, I am 22. I am young, and I don’t need to have all of the answers right now. I have so much life ahead of me, and anything that isn’t perfect now can be corrected. I remember sharing this advice during a conversation with my friend last year at a time when we were both losing our minds (lol Ansu, Orientation), and she told me that it made her feel a sense of calm. It’s a great reminder that I think all young people need.
The best advice that I’ve received from Elena, and often remind myself of, is, “You’re young! You have to try! It’s always better to try and be free!”. I love this attitude, and I think that it’s why I enjoy the young Sicilians so much. They aren’t afraid to put their hearts out for others, share with others, and live freely. I found that my friends in America (that I love dearly) are more reserved, and perhaps more pensive, of their decisions with meeting people and relationships. If you don’t try, the answer is always no. Elena encourages me to try everything, and it’s truly changed me.
Don’t know if you should take a chance on someone? Do it. Want to try a long distance relationship? Why not? You’re young. Want to do something that you normally wouldn’t? Do it. She has told me that some of her crazy experiences from college are her best memories, and that is has made her marriage better. She has tried many different things, dated many people, and used her youth while she’s young. I felt like such an old person last year, so careful and reserved. I realize now how much I restricted myself, and I feel that I have lived a much more happy and free life in this past year because of Elena.
In summarizing all of her wise words, she reminds me that above all, “Happiness is everything. You have to be happy”. She led me to my greatest realization during my first trip to Sicily, which was that I was not happy with some aspects of my life. She taught me that not being happy is a good enough reason to not stay in a relationship. She dated a person for 8 years, and valued her own happiness enough to leave it. What she means with this advice is that you have to protect your own happiness, because nobody else will do that for you. She taught me that some of the best moments of your life will come after facing the hard truth and difficult decisions. I thought about this so much while deciding my future in April and May. I made the decision to move to Phoenix with this advice, and that of being young and trying everything, in mind.
Outside of the deep, philosophical advice that I’ve received from Elena, here are some of the fun and helpful thoughts that she’s shared:
- While in Sicily, eat the gelato – always.
- If the food tastes light, it’s light regardless of the sugar, carbs, or calories.
- There is absolutely no such thing as too many pairs of shoes.
- Having perfectly ironed clothes can change your outfit.
- If you can, hang dry your clothes in the sun. It removes stains in clothing.
- Sicilian women are the most fun and crazy (it’s true and I love it).
- Do not ever take crap from anyone.
- Yes, you can drive down a street in reverse, and parallel park anywhere.
I’m absolutely sure that I’m forgetting some of her best fun quotes, but these are the reoccurring themes that I notice with her. If anything, I hope that this post reminds you to enjoy life, take chances, and to stop worrying so much. I’m guilty of not living up to these all the time, but Elena is absolutely right. Use your youth while you’re young, try everything at least once, and LIVE.