How I Learned to Wander

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Our first morning in Rome dawned to a massive transit strike.  Apparently these are quite common in the Eternal City.  Routine, even.  Turns out, here’s even a website to keep track of them all.

We knew none of this that first morning.  

Our only point of reference was the taxi line that snaked around the paralyzed metro station.  We joined the crowd bulging from the bus stalls, in hopes that they would prove more helpful than the metro had.  It quickly became apparent, though, that our numbers were burgeoning, with no buses in sight.

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After an hour of starts and stops, trying this transportation route, then that, we found ourselves still miles from the Vatican.  Our reservation time had long since expired.  It was one of those moments when I wonder why on Earth I’m dragging my family all over the globe, anyway.  It turns out, those moments come, no matter how inspiring the view.

We managed to find on open taxi and tucked Steve and the youngest three into it.  The older three and I set out on foot, navigating our way through alleys and beside ruins.  We arrived with only a reasonable number of navigational errors, and found that they were still willing to honor our tickets that were intended to be used hours earlier.

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Inside, the museums were breathtaking.  The art, the history, the sheer magnitude of it all engulfed me.  I watched my children engage with these priceless relics.  One reported every fact he heard on his audio tour.  Another explained the significance of various murals in the Rafael rooms, thanks to his History courses.  Hours of art consumption culminated as we stood beneath the Sistine chapel, eyes upraised in awe.

It was, to be exact, magical.

And, then, suddenly, it was not magical at all.  Following our beatific experience beneath Michelangelo’s masterwork, we missed a small hallway which should have led us onward to St. Peter’s Basilica.  We didn’t realize our mistake until we were back in the Vatican garden.  Correcting it would require passing back through centuries of art and miles of museum, a trek we didn’t have time to repeat.

So, we assuaged our frustrations with gelato, and went in search of the public entrance to St. Peter’s.  Arriving on the front side of the Bascilica, in St. Peter’s square, one look at the security line told us we were not making it inside before it closed.
Frustration and disappointment reigned down on us.  One doorway different, and we would have popped right inside, with no problems.  That was the plan.  That was what we intended.  Instead, we were stuck out here, with no hope of getting inside.  Steve and I conferred, feeling robbed and unsatisfied.  

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And then, I turned around.  I shifted my focus from the line of people standing in the way of where I wanted to be.  Suddenly, the picture before me looked entirely different.  I saw my children, twirling in circles and sitting on the ground with a casual nonchalance of someone who belongs in a place.  I saw the sky, bathed in evening light.  I watched as it was painted by the hand of a master who could answer even Michalangelo and Rafael in one singular motion.

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My heart melted with those hues and the story changed for me in an instant.  We had spent a day among inestimable treasures of art.  Our children had interacted with it.  It now belonged to them, in a way it didn’t before today.  We were here, in this magnificent square, quickly turning cotton candy and gold.  This belonged to them as well, in a simple and uncomplicated way.

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I learned something in that spot that felt as significant as a Papal epiphany.  Traveling isn’t about perfect itineraries and checking off sites.  It isn’t about covering the most ground, or creating an ideal experience.  It is for these moments.  For the unplanned, the unchartered.  It is for showing up without expectations, and not demanding anything in particular.

Maybe what I’m trying to do isn’t best described as traveling at all.  It’s lighter and gentler than that.  It is a willingness to follow curiosity, wherever it leads.  It is palms and hearts open to accept what we discover.  It is, in short, the act of Wandering.
There is freedom and there is power in Wandering.  It is liberating.  And it is thrilling.  It allows for happy accidents and unexpected treasures.  It has changed everything for me in terms of where I go, how often, and why.

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Fueled by this new insight,  Steve and I realized that we could get up before sunrise the next morning and still see the Basilica.  It ended up being an unparalleled success.  I’m grateful for the experience inside that beautiful building.  But, none of it can compare with what happened for me outside, in the open air of the square.

Rome will always be pink and purple and blue to me.  It will be a city filled with an unexpected sunset and an invaluable insight.  It will be the place where I learned to wander.