January 11th, 2014, we touched down in Rome.
The house was gone. The cars were sold. The furniture was donated. Memories (and way too much other junk) were stored away in my parents’ basement. Things we thought we needed (much of it we didn’t) were in the back of this black Mercedes van chaotically weaving in and out of the Roman traffic as we headed towards our new home.
That very first night, I went alone to Saint Peter’s Square. As I stood there, I prayed I’d never take for granted this opportunity, I prayed it was the right move for the family, and I prayed I’d be able to help others through my experience.
I arrived with hopes, dreams, and goals.
But Rome is not easy, it took nine months just to get wifi.
Still, some hopes were fulfilled, some dreams came true, and some goals were realized. Others evolved, a couple were crushed, a few are still in the works.
There are days where I had to pinch myself to be sure it wasn’t a dream, like today when I hopped off the metro and could see the umbrella pines lining Circus Maximus, the jagged edges of the Colosseum, the gold cross on top of St. Peter’s Basilica, and countless domes across the perfect Roman blue skyline. Then there are days where I pinch myself to wake up from what’s surely a nightmare… did I mention it took nine months to get wifi?
It’s certainly been a very unsettled three years.
We’ve lived in four apartments, three of which were on the same block. My business model has changed, sometimes for the better, sometimes not. The kids have gotten older, as kids often do. But raising kids in another country without the level of support we had in the States can be difficult at times.
In three years, I’ve gotten the flu once, broke one tooth, had one minor surgery, and have gone through five hair stylists. I’ve also given up hand sanitizer and lost nearly all my germ fears.
In three years, I’ve visited America ten times(!), Jordan and France three times, Israel twice, and Canada, Austria, Spain, Portugal, and London once each.
In three years, I’ve dreamt of Starbucks 832 times and Chipotle 947 times.
No surprise, but most of my highlights revolve around the Vatican. Going to every Papal event in 2014. Meeting Pope Francis twice – especially that one time. Seeing my girls meet Pope Francis a total of five times. Vespers in the Sistine Chapel – personally invited by the Pope’s Master of Ceremonies. Seeing Pope Benedict in his first public appearance since retiring, and five times since! My seats for the Easter Mass in 2014 and seats for the closing of the Holy Doors.
I’ve greatly enjoyed getting to know a different side of Rome. Vacation Rome is much different than real life Rome. It’s not better or worse, just different.
It’s been a joy seeing the girls grow in a different culture. It’s Italy, not Haiti, but it’s a lot different than America. They realized quite quickly how great we have it made in the USA. Of course now they’ve developed a taste for espresso and after dinner drinks, have favorite beaches on the Riviera, and can point out works by Michelangelo, Bernini, and Caravaggio as they stroll the cobblestone streets of Rome. Reverse culture shock when we move back should be fun.
Disappointments and failures
I’d hoped to improve my Italian, but never made it a priority. Although I have learned to pluralize cappuccinos to cappuccini – reverse culture shock will not be easy for me either.
I’d really hoped to have more visitors, but not everyone can travel to Italy, even with a free place to stay. There are many times I miss my friends and family.
I’d hoped to travel more around Europe, but I live and work in Rome, it’s not a holiday. I’ve only visited two new-to-me places in Europe in the last three years, and both are short train rides from Rome.
There are things I would do differently, had I the chance. But who’s to say we can’t start fresh each day?
Each person measures success differently. For me, the biggest success is chasing my dream. When I’m 80, or even 42, I’ll look back and have the memories of giving it a shot. It was scary to move. It was. Before the move to Rome, I’d never lived more than 20 minutes from the hospital where I was born. Before the move to Rome, I had a comfortable home. I had friends nearby. I had my parents down the street. Moving to Rome meant giving all that up and starting anew. There were some mistakes, but to follow your dream, well, that is the dream, right?
I’ll write more about this at another time, but something unexpected came with this move to Rome, the need to constantly share. My business was founded on helping people explore their faith through travel – with me, on their own, or virtually from home. It’s literally the first thing I wrote down when I started The Catholic Traveler nearly twelve years ago. Being here, I’ve shared a lot. Despite what some have said in the past, it’s not to brag or make people jealous. And while I often do share the best of the best, I try to keep it real and share the worst of the worst too, and even the mundane. I once live-tweeted a two hour wait in line – it was even more dull than it sounds. But given this amazing opportunity, I actually feel an obligation to share with those back home. It’s an honor to share my experiences too. It truly is.
Who can say what the future holds. We never thought we’d be here for three years. Somedays I never want to leave, somedays I’m one click away from booking a one way flight to Atlanta. For now, I’m working to get a few things in place that will last far longer than I will.
I’m thankful to God for hearing and answering my prayers on that first night in Rome and giving me this life. I’m thankful to Christina and the girls for allowing me to pursue my crazy ideas. I’m thankful to my family for the great support along the way. I’m thankful to the friends who keep in touch and keep me grounded. And I’m thankful to all of you who follow along, participate, and made it through this whole post.