When I left my life behind, I knew that some part of me was doing it in the hopes of finding something. I wasn’t just running away, I was running towards something— though at the time I couldn’t have told you what it was. I just knew that it was “out there”.
For most of my life, I felt that I did not belong, a feeling accompanied by a hollowness and a sense of longing that I could never quite understand. There was some connection I longed to make with the world around me, some search for meaning that had to be undertaken, and I became convinced that I had to leave my life behind to find it.
When I began my travels alone, I felt outside of things, completely separate from the world around me. I doubted myself, and reasoned that maybe I was searching for something that did not exist— that place where I belonged and happiness didn’t feel like such a struggle.
Then my search took me to a place called Bella Vita, a Bed and Breakfast near the Italian seaside. Through Work Away, I worked there as a volunteer, and in return I was given food, a place to sleep, and the opportunity to meet dozens of new people, while sharing the beautiful sunshine and sights with those passing through. I planned to stay for two weeks and then make my way into the unknown to continue my search.
It is difficult to put into words how the next five weeks at Bella Vita changed me. I unpacked my bags and my expectations and just began living a new life. I worked in the mornings, lounged in the afternoons, and enjoyed home cooked meals and the company of pleasant strangers in the evenings.
I learned how quickly strangers can become friends, and how easily my heart can break when they go away.
I learned that honest work, friends, sunshine, delicious food, and the sea really can bring the greatest happiness.
I learned not to hold too tightly to any schedule because life has a plan and 9/10 times it’s going to overrule yours.
I learned that there will always be moments when I feel the emptiness.
Most importantly, I learned that what I had been looking for was “home”, and it could never be found just in a place or a person.
I felt it a dozen times while I was at Bella Vita—
At dinner while watching the sunset with a new but dear friend.
Looking out over the sea and enjoying the silence with a companion.
Walking alone and encountering flowers and trees I had never seen before.
Driving on the crazy Italian mountain roads with the sunshine and wind in my hair while listening to music on the radio.
Eating gelato so good I was surprised every time I reached the bottom of the cone.
Laughing with a friend over my poor knife cutting skills while trying to prepare a meal together.
Using homemade Italian language flash cards at a public dinner with my coworkers and listening in to the many conversations around us with smiles on our faces and food in our bellies.
Drinking cups of Earl Grey tea in the late afternoons with a friend and enjoying the dying light outside the window.
Taking a nap with the neighborhood canine companion in the middle of a warm, sunny afternoon.
It was moments like these when I felt like I had found what I’d been searching for, and I had to accept that they were only moments. Moments with amazing people, in breath-taking places, and moments that I had to let go to truly enjoy. If I tried to hold too tightly to them, they began to only make me sad because they were over. So in this way I learned that it really is living life in the moment and accepting the end of things that allowed me to find what I had been looking for.
After many conversations, sunsets, shell hunting expeditions, delicious dinners, laughs, goodbyes, and minor heartbreaks, it was time for me to leave Italy. Getting on the train and saying farewell to two people so close to my heart felt like a betrayal to myself and my happiness. But I got on the train and waved so long, and allowed it all to become a beautiful memory.
No matter what other adventures I may have, I will never forget my time at Bella Vita— so aptly named “Beautiful Life”— because it was here that I came to accept how beautiful life really can be.
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