My wife sank deep into her seat as the train rocked her to sleep. I flipped through a few pages of a book I just couldn't get into and glanced out the window, watching the Tuscan countryside roll by. This was it, the trip we had been waiting for.
I had waited 10 years to share this experience with Ashley, and over the past year we had budgeted and saved and planned just to make it happen. Now, it was here.
Opening my laptop, I pecked away at the keyboard, then glanced again out the window, hoping to spot a vineyard or something. As I took in the view, in between mountain passes that blacked out the cabin, I felt a sense of rightness in my soul.
The trip was full of moments like that, moments of surrender and revelation.
In Rome, we walked the same streets St. Paul strolled, taking pictures at sunset of the Colosseum and imagining what life must have been like for those living there two thousand years ago. We ate margherita pizza by the Pantheon, and I consumed more cappuccino than is probably safe for a human being to do in a single day. Oh well, I thought. You only get to Italy but once in a decade. Or at least, that was how long it had been for me.
In Florence, we ate chocolate and hazelnut gelato on the historic Ponte Vecchio and haggled with merchants at the San Lorenzo market, buying souvenirs and Christmas gifts for family. At the historic Nerbone sandwich shop, I ate cow stomach and Ashley settled for porchetta and pasta. I showed her everything I could remember from visiting these places in college.
Every day, we exhausted ourselves with hours of walking and shopping and eating, enjoying eight days of travel and togetherness while the in-laws watched our son three thousand miles away. We held hands and laughed and talked about how much we missed our boy. It was an important respite after such a hectic season.
But it wasn't until Venice when it all clicked for me. We bought a 48-hour water bus ticket to navigate the city on the sea, and at some point while crossing a cobblestone bridge over one of the innumerable canals, my wife said something to me that changed everything.
It was a simple word, one that made me realize why I wanted this trip in the first place. In fact, it made me realize why I do what I do at all, what keeps me going in my career as a writer.
One simple word. Six unextroardinary letters. That was all it took to make the whole trip worth the time and money spent to get there. Just a simple word of appreciation.
It's not that my wife doesn't show her appreciation. She does. In fact, she probably tells me she's grateful for the life we get to live every day. But I needed to hear that one word as a reminder to me of what this, all this blogging and book writing and online teaching, is for. It's not for me.
It's easy for me to get stuck in a rut and let my priorities fall out of order, to believe I live to work instead of the other way around. It's tempting to get caught up in endless pursuits of celebrity and fame and trying to impress people. But none of those things satisfy. Because even when you do what you love, when you're living your calling, you can't forget that there's always a greater why behind what you do.
There has to be a life behind the work, something that's bigger than you, a cause to guide you. And as we strolled the dimly-lit sidewalks of Italy, hand in hand with our hearts and stomachs full, I remembered mine.
Without that purpose, the words we write and work we do doesn't much matter. If it's time to rediscover your purpose, I want to encourage you to to step out of your normal routine. It doesn't have to be a trip to Italy, either. You could start by joining me for a free class I'm teaching next week.
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What's the why behind what you do? Share in the comments.