As the calendar turned to 2014, I gave thought to the months ahead as I reflected on the last days of 2013. I’m not one to make New Year’s resolutions. I tried it for a few years, but I didn’t fare well or meet my goals. I’m sure I followed the typical process of giving it my all for the first few weeks before fading off and forgetting about whatever I was supposed to do until the end of the year rolled around.
Through the years, instead of annual resolutions I learned to succeed by documenting goals. I’m a big fan of to-do lists – daily, weekly or monthly. I like to be busy and fill my days. I have a long list of projects and sometimes the thought of it gives me a slight headache. The lists are never-ending because I keep adding to them: new projects to begin; new items I am interested to seek out; and new deadlines I need to meet.
As I welcomed this new year, I thought, perhaps just for old time’s sake, I could make a resolution. One that doesn’t require a gym membership or a late night purchase off a home shopping channel. I gave it some thought, and decided there was really only one resolution I wanted to pursue: to live life in the moment and enjoy the unexpected as much as I can. Because sometimes, the best days come when unplanned.
It was a few months before the turn of the twentieth century and I was on the latter half of a 16-day vacation in central and northern Italy. I was with my parents and aunt as part of a tour group. We were required to be on time for activities and departures, which was sometimes challenging for a few of the eclectic members in our ensemble of 36.
In Venice, we glided on gondolas through the canals on a brilliant fall afternoon while an accordionist accompanied us and we gaily sang Happy Birthday, That’s Amore, Volare and every other ‘Italian’ song we knew, our voices bouncing off the ancient brick buildings lining the waterways.
There was always free time for individual exploration. As only one of only two persons under the age of 30, the older participants found delight in a potential pairing of the girl from Wisconsin and the boy from Boston. On our second day in Venice, the two of use broke off from the group and explored the city on our own. Philip, who was travelling with his grandmother, was never in any hurry and habitually last minute. I shouldn’t have been surprised when we arrived ten minutes after our group’s scheduled departure to dinner. There was another tour group heading to the same area but that tour director would not accommodate us. Our options were to walk through the winding streets or take to the water, so we boarded a vaporetto—the Venetian water transportation—and sailed toward the restaurant.
On the ride, I seethed in anxiety. Meanwhile, Philip struck up a conversation with a young Italian mother. Unable to speak Italian, I sat silently next to them, watching her two young daughters. The vaporetto seemed to glide so slowly through the open water. We were going to be at least an hour late. My parents were sure to be fraught with worry because their daughter was lost in a foreign country. Was I going to miss the best dinner of the trip?
The infant in the stroller sucked on a chocolate-covered graham cracker and smiled sweetly before shyly offering it to me. I took the cracker, pretended to take a bite and then gave it back, my fingers speckled with chocolate. I smiled and said, “mmmmm-mmmmm.” The girl giggled wildly, the sweet chocolate outlining her mouth and coating her fingers as she gobbled the rest of the cracker. I relaxed for just a moment.
The older daughter skipped past me to the back of the boat. I turned to watch her as she sang and climbed onto a wooden seat. It was there, over the back of the vaporetto, that I saw the most spectacular sunset. Settling over Venice for the night, the sun illuminated the upcoming nightfall with startling rosés, indigos, violets and oranges. I sighed, letting my anxiety completely slip away.
Had we been on time, I would never have experienced the delight or wonder of that boat ride. The sweet little girls. The brilliant sunset. The sensation of letting go and enjoying the moment. We reconnected with the tour group as they finished their third course. The group was relieved we were safe, blamed the tardiness on Philip and was enchanted with the story of the little girls.