This story was written by Sharonda Hunter.
This summer I decided to run off to Italy. No real plans outside of catching my favorite diva on stage, no travel companion and nothing planned beyond the concert. Although my planning was non-existent my intentions were crystal clear when I bought that one way ticket to Milan; I was going to enjoy all that was beautiful during my time there because so often life isn't nearly as pretty as I am.
Don't get me wrong...I love my life. I have beautiful children, a supportive family, a good job and great friends! I have much to be grateful for. However, while I am surrounded by support I go through my journey often feeling as though I spend a lot of time and energy pouring into everyone and everything except myself. So, I made the decision that while I was a kid-less Mommy for 8 weeks, I would spend one of those weeks in Italy in communion with myself and God; the ultimate "Carrie Blackshaw: Eat, Pray, Love" experience.
Well, "Una Bella Vita" started off real shitty. I missed my flight. I.MISSED.MY.FLIGHT! WHO DOES THAT? I did. So I lost a day and had to spend the night sulking in Chicago after spending one kidney on a replacement ticket. I had come too far not to get to Italy. Yes...I was only 90 miles from my house, but going back there was not an option. So the very next day I boarded my flight and landed in Milan. Well, not really. Apparently, I am directionally challenged and ended up in Casarile, which is 15km and about a $99 USD cab ride from the airport. At any rate, I made it to my quaint hotel, which was one of my best experiences. It was dirt cheap and the staff treated me as if they weren't quite sure whether I was Beyonce' or not. They were so warm, hospitable and eager to feed the short, mystical American. For 2 days I did nothing but lie around this hotel, sleep, sunbathe, go to the spa and drink all of the minis that were in my fridge for $2 a pop. It was truly beautiful. During this time of deep reflection I came to "Lezione #1: You don't have to be busy to be entertained and God has some great stories to tell you if you sit quietly and shut up!"
The next big event was the concert. It was time to get in "Formazione" with my BFF who was meeting me from Spain. Even though this was the event that sparked my desire to come to Milan...it is the least memorable moment for me. In fact, all I remember is "Beyonce' was flyy as usual, but MIO DIO I have to find Candi because I can't call Jay and her parents and tell them that I lost her in Italy. We'll never get to go out and play again!" (Her flight was late and the camel she took to the arena stalled. 'Nother story for another day) Anyhow, the concert was fabulous, but what was more awesome was that I got to do it with my Bestie who of course laughed at me for, once again, not dressing comfortably and being willing to shake dance for a cab before trying to figure out the subway. There lies "Lezione #2: Real friends will go through and endure stupid shit together...and it is WORTH IT EVERY TIME!"
The next day my BFF went back home and I was "Da solo" again. I finally decided to go into Milan and visit Duomo Milano. This beautiful cathedral was absolutely captivating. I have never been Catholic a day in my life, but I felt so at peace in the sanctuary and took the liberty to pray at the altars, light candles to the Saints and put some of that good blessed water they keep at the door on my forehead. I stayed in the sanctuary for what felt like an eternity and I laid all of the burdens and concerns of my heart on those altars. When I left I felt like a weight had been lifted and prayers had already been answered. That's when I received "Lezione #3: God dwells everywhere, knows no language barriers and has no borders."
After my day in Milan of praying and shopping, I finally decided to head out to my next place...VERONA! I chose Verona for no other reason than it was an hour train ride away and it is where "Romeo and Juliet" took place. I didn't have great expectations for the little town and expected it to only be a day trip. In fact...I didn't even have a place to stay until I arrived. I was SO wrong about this little town. From the time I set foot there, I knew I was "home" for the rest of my stay. Forget Rome, forget coliseums, forget air conditioning! I had cobble stoned streets, swanky shops, operas and plays, and osterias on every corner that reminded you of "Cheers". There was no need to "Rome", I had found my utopia! After much self-inflicted confusion due to my losing track of space and time...I missed the opera I had longed to see, BUT I was able to catch "Romeo & Juliet" on stage...in Verona...in Italian! HOW SWAY!? It was an experience I will never forget because as I sat there with my self-taught, broken Italian I was able to follow the story and share laughs with my adopted "Nonna" who was there with her whole family. I sat under the moonlight and enjoyed a classic love story about undying devotion...while being served light snacks. Vita couldn't be anymore Bella! "Lezione #4: Things don't always happen as planned, but they always happen as they should!"
I spent the next 2 days meandering around the tiny town of Verona, eating everything that wasn't nailed down and sitting on Ponte Pietra over the Adige River just thinking about all that I have to be grateful for instead of all that I have to worry about. My worries, headaches, fears and heartaches were waiting for me back in the grand old US of A, but for the time being I was going to enjoy being in a foreign land where no one knew who I was or what I did for a living and all that mattered was that I was open to experience what I'd never known before. I ate, prayed, and thought hard about love and that's when I got "Lezione #5: If what you are doing brings you more turmoil than peace, doesn't allow you to enjoy what God has placed around you and doesn't give you an opportunity to create beautiful moments STOP DOING IT! Sit down on the Ponte Pietra of your mind and tackle what awaits you with a different strategy!"
Deciding to take this solo trip to Italy was one of the best decisions of my life. I will make solo travel a habit at least bi-annually. I encourage everyone...whether you are young, old, blind, crippled or crazy...to go out and experience what you haven't before. There is so much clarity to gain when you remove yourself from your familiar. We only get one life and we need to be intentional in ensuring that it is as beautiful as possible!
Sharonda is a mother, a daughter, a sister, an auntie, a professional, a student, a best friend and a phenomenon! I am that down to earth, familiar girl next door and that surreal girl on t.v. all wrapped up in one tiny package. I am who I am, and it suits me fine!