Thursday, July 28, 2016

And We'll All Float On Okay

Our beautiful entry into Germany
To write in detail about my Europe trip this summer would not only be an insufficient description of a tremendously valuable life experience, through the play-by-play the essence of my journey would be muddled. Although it is impossible to truly capture my experience in words, I will make an attempt through this blog post, which will serve as a reflection of my experiences, consisting of a brief summary, some of the life lessons I learned, and the ways by which my life journey has managed to come full circle.

As described in my last blog post, this trip was not built from a grand plan, but rather from a spontaneous gut feeling, a leap of faith, if you will. I had no expectations, as I knew very little about the tour company I was travelling with, had no idea who my travel companions were going to be, and recognized  there was a great deal of risk that this entire trip could be a flop. Despite the risks involved, something about this trip felt right to me, and I was confident that no matter what it, it was going to be a great experience. So with my crazy, bright, floral suitcase packed tightly on my side and my carry-on, purple backpack slung on both shoulders, I made my way to London, England where I met my Contiki tour group, which consisted of fifty 18-35 year olds from various English speaking countries, including England, South Africa, Canada, Australia, New Zealand, and the U.S. We had an awesome group dynamic, as everyone was there with the same purpose: to see the world and have a trip of a lifetime. This purpose was fulfilled thanks to our tour manager, an Australian, curly-haired, good-hearted, adventurous defense attorney turned world traveler who ensured a highly organized, structured trip that allowed us to let go and truly live in the moment. Accompanying our tour manager was our bus driver, a Polish man with kind eyes and a warm smile, who displayed incredible driving skills that were only enhanced with his positive, friendly demeanor. I knew I could trust both of them to deliver, and so through this trip I was able to have some of the best experiences of my life. My spirit was truly free, and in 14 days I felt as though I lived a lifetime.

In our bright blue Contiki tour bus, decorated with the hashtag “#NoRegrets,” we went from London to Amsterdam, where we spent a night and part of the following day. We then went to Rhine Valley, Germany for the afternoon and evening, and spent the next day in Munich. We then travelled to Tyrol, Austria, and then to Venice, Italy. From there, we went to Rome for two days, and then to Florence for a day. The journey continued to Lucerne, Switzerland, and concluded in Paris where we spent two days. It was a very busy trip,with sensational food/beer/wine/coffee, tons of walking and driving, little-to-no sleep, white-water rafting, sight-seeing of world wonders, guided tours, dancing, learning, exploring, and tiny hotel rooms with minimal accommodations. With that, we had everything we needed; the trip was perfect.

I did not anticipate meeting people on the trip that I would connect with or have any interest exploring with; I was looking forward to solitude, personal reflection, and deep soul searching. However, mostly everyone in my group was extremely kind, warm, open-minded, and fun to be around. So, naturally, I bonded with people and had so much fun sharing experiences. Strangers turned buddies; it was like my freshmen year of college all over again! I still managed to have plenty of alone time, the time I was greatly seeking, but spent the majority of my time with the awesome people I met.

Again, I will save you from the details (because, after all, what happens in Amsterdam stays in Amsterdam. JK! I’m happy to enlighten anyone who’s curious; there’s a lot to learn from a culture so different than our own. However, I’ll need about two hours of your time; my family and friends and I had quite the extensive Q & A session! LOL) and jump right into my lessons learned:

    (1) It's okay to do things alone. Society pities the “loner,” but the truth is, we are never alone. Learn to stand on your own two feet, and let God’s light guide you forward. Solitude is an important part of personal growth and connecting to God; it is the only way to fully recharge your batteries. Learn to shut out the noise, whether it be through prayer, meditation, reading, walking, running, or what have you. 

        (2) It's okay to do things with people. You won’t get very far in life through constant isolation. Just as it is important to recharge your batteries, it’s important to use them! Let people into your bubble; social interaction ignites all kinds of great things in our bodies. If we want to be the best versions of ourselves, we need people to guide and support us. There’s not much fun to have on your own. Let people in! With that said, I think we need to incorporate European standing cafes into American culture some how; they're great both for ENJOYING coffee, which we typically gulp down on the fly before our busy day, and for taking the time to connect with people!

    (3) Eat good food. I'm not sure my hunger has ever been more satiated than when I was on this trip, particularly in Italy. I allowed myself to enjoy the food I ate, and found so much appreciation in the simplicity, rich flavors, freshness, and high quality. Eating good food until you’re full is such a blessing; we should feel grateful if we can do that. Eating highly processed, low-calorie food to fit a body mold is miserable and extremely unhealthy. Eat well and treat your body with the respect it deserves. If that leads to buying new clothes to fit a healthy body, then plan to donate your old ones; it’ll be okay. 

     (4) You don’t have to let go of who you are to grow into a better version of yourself. My goal on this trip was to let go of my highly routine-oriented nature and just “live." While in Switzerland towards the end of our trip, a kind, sweet girl from South Africa asked me, “Have you chewed gum this entire trip? I have noticed that you are always chewing gum! How do you manage to chew so much gum?”  And my answer was, yes, I packed six packs of my favorite, Trident White, gum in my suitcase. LOL! I realized in that moment that I had unintentionally hung on to that rigid part of who I am. And, well, that’s just me. No matter how much I change and grow, aspects of who I am will always be there. And that’s okay. 

    (5) Spend time with people who are different than you; there’s so much to learn. People come in to your life for a reason, a season, or a lifetime. There is a great deal to learn from everyone, particularly those you have very little in common with. Perhaps an ongoing, bubbly friendship may not blossom from your connection, but there will be lots of meaningful lessons learned. Challenge yourself to hear and see things from someone different; it will be worth it!

     (6) Recognize fear for what it is: a drowning cloak of darkness that impacts our behaviors, and when it gets the best of us, can impede our ability to live a full, great life.  We all have fears, and when we come to better understand them, they can be unveiled with strength, determination, and unrelenting faith.

        (7) Go with your gut instincts, that magnetic pull on the inside that connects you to ideas, places, and people, not your emotions. The great things, people, and places in life won’t make you happy all the time. If you only do what makes you happy and run away from things that may make you potentially frustrated or sad or what have you, you will be missing out. Don’t let emotions get the best of you, but rather challenge yourself to dig deeper. When in doubt, simply follow your heart. 

      (8) God challenges us because He loves us and wants us to fulfill the great life destined for us. We have to accept those challenges, or we’ll veer off course. We’re all going to mess up, get off course, and feel inundated with fear. That’s okay. Learn from it, pick yourself up, and keep moving forward. If you’re really living, it’s going to be hard, but it’s going to be okay!

         (9) Life is about your attitude, not your age, gender, race, circumstance, job, location, etc. Find the positive in everything and everyone, and always be kind, even when it’s not reciprocated. Don’t waste time dwelling in empty complaints and negativity; it is an illogical way to live and an extremely unproductive use of time. Life is too good and our time here is too precious. If my Europe trip has taught me anything, it’s that our world is an incredibly BEAUTIFUL place, and human potential is greater than we can even imagine. In Rome, I learned that Michelangelo considered himself a sculptor, not a painter, was unsure of himself, but he put his insecurities aside and managed to paint the indescribable beauty on the ceiling of the world famous, timeless Sistine Chapel. In fact, he continued making work until 5 days before his death at the age of 88. Nothing held Michelangelo back from greatness; he serves as the perfect example of the importance of attitude. 

     (10) Have humility. Accept there is much you don’t know and can’t do…yet! Be willing to learn. Trust the expertise of others; teachers are everywhere and in the most surprising forms. We just have to be open and willing in order to learn from them.

     (11) Pray. If you don’t know how, ask God to teach you. My nightly prayers are often intentions blended in with unconsciousness, as I am falling asleep after a busy day. I try to live a good life, but question how well I am able to communicate with God. As a high energy person with a body and mind that are constantly in motion, prayer has always been a struggle for me. This is why running has been such a blessing in my life; I always seem to have my best conversations with God while running. On my trip, while I was in St. Peter’s Square in Vatican City, a gentlemen was selling rosaries. I felt extremely compelled to buy one for my Mom, but had no cash on me. An American friend I made on my trip, who in this moment showed me her sincerity, generosity, and kindness, offered me the money to buy this gift for my Mom. She had lent me enough money to also buy who one for myself, which I had anticipated holding on to in an ornamental way, but none the less recognized the rosary as special. I did not realized how very special this moment was until after reading Mother Teresa’s memoir, “Come Be My Light” a few weeks later, and since have started using my rosary daily to help me pray. I feel it was God’s way of guiding me to prayer, while also showing me the importance of the good people guiding and supporting in my life in unexpected ways.

    (12) Having an open mind does not mean sacrificing your convictions. Being in Amsterdam with an open mind helped me better understand perspectives WAY different than my own, and refined and sharpened my convictions rather than diminished them. 

    (13)Cherish people in your life who understand you, and love you unconditionally. The Switzerland gum incident really helped me reflect on this. My family and close friends recognize my quarks, such as my obsessive gum chewing, and don’t question it or think it’s weird; they love me anyway. The people who understand me and love me anyway, those are pretty special people!!! And for them, I am extremely blessed. No matter how far and often I travel, or how many different people I encounter, bond with, and learn from along the way, home will always be where my heart is. 

      (14) Trust God’s plan, but know it’s your role to execute it. There is a quote by Leonardo da Vinci that I believe fits perfectly here, “ I have been impressed with the urgency of doing. Knowing is not enough; we must apply. Being willing is not enough; we must do.” Get out there and do all the great things God puts in your heart. Pray and maintain faith through the inevitable adversity; it will all be okay!

      (15) Recognize the gifts in your life, aka blessings. Even in the toughest of times, search for them and you will find them. As you go to bed at night, reflect, and find reasons to say, “thank you,” particularly after a hard day. Live life with gratitude; life is truly a gift.

     (16) Don’t worry about recognition or receiving credit for what you do; it’s all just God’s ideas after all! We’re just the executors of His greater plan, and the resulting goodness of our actions is all that really matters. He sees us for who we are and what we do, even if man can't.

      (17) Make use of still time; don’t complain about long car, bus, and plane rides. Embrace the opportunity to be in one place at one time! I watched five movies (Brooklyn, Bridesmaids, Joy, Sisters, and Forrest Gump), a documentary (on honor killings, absolutely horrific and heart-breaking but important for raising awareness), read a book (The Color of Water, an amazing, powerful, inspiratonal book), and did a great deal of thinking and praying during the commutes on my trip. It never felt like a burden or frustrating; it was enlightening and peaceful. 

     (18) Slow down on the communication. As a 21st century society immersed in the early stages of social media and digital communication, we are currently in hyper-communication-mode. I think we can all admit that it is exhausting.  When possible, we have to disconnect. The truth is, we don’t need to immediately read or respond to a text, message, or post. If it’s urgent, someone will get to us. We need to remember to breathe, be in the moment, and live in OUR lives. I must admit, it was SO nice to not have phone contact throughout my trip! My occasional “I’m alive” texts to my family and quick Facebook posts to my family and friends were enough to keep me connected and allow me the distance I needed to live in the moment. 

      (19)You will only get things done in life if you’re moving forward. Stay out of the past; learn from it and move on. Don’t worry about the future; set goals and work at them each day. Forgive people; we are all sinners and constantly make mistakes. You will be let down by others, and you will let others down. So, with that said, remember to also forgive yourself. Aim for excellence, not perfection, and trust that as long as you are moving forward, you are headed in the direction of His plan. 

    (20) Take risks, leaps of faith! Be uncomfortable. Get butterflies. Have comfort knowing you are on the right track if you are pushing your boundaries. The world is a beautiful, HUGE, yet small place. If you can't travel, find some way of exploring and widening your horizons. Take those cooking classes you always wanted to. Ask for that promotion at work. It's in you, you just have to find the means to get out there and make it happen.

      (21)Beauty truly comes from the inside. Despite being extremely dehydrated, sweaty, sleep-deprived, and more than likely bloated, I cannot recall being hit on as much as I was by men on this trip! I can honestly say I’m not sure I remember the last time a guy made me blush, but I’m currently blushing just reflecting on it! It began in Germany at the original Hofbrauhaus, when our tour manager encouraged us to not stick together, but rather to scatter ourselves and  hang out with Germans. Upon taking her advice, I met some incredible, smart, interesting, HANDSOME German men who were just as interested in getting to know all things American as I was all things German! This continued on (and IMMENSELY intensified!) in Italy through Paris. I assumed it must “just” be a European thing, until I met two gentlemen in Paris, who happened to be from Columbus on the “Columbus Crew,” which I later learned is a professional soccer team. They were cute, friendly, and definitely interested in talking, but I couldn’t have ended the conversation quicker to head on my way. As we walked away, my adventurous, fun Australian friends said, “Wow, Americans are so nice!” I then I came to realize that my connections with guys on this trip were not just a “European” thing, but rather a result of being open and free, allowing my true beauty on the inside to be reflected on the outside. 

     (22) We all have our own timelines; we will never know how much time we have on this Earth. Don’t waste any of your precious time standardizing yourself and your potential, or feeling pressured to make important life decisions to fit the societal time-frame. I think this is where people veer off track and go wrong in life…and that’s okay! We all figure things out in life in our way; it’s never too late to get back on track. Just remember moving forward to follow your heart, that magnetic tug inside that drives you to ideas, people, and places, and live YOUR own journey on YOUR timeline.

      (23) Don’t take yourself too seriously. At the end of the day, we’re all mortal. It's absurd how we’ve succumbed to obsessively categorizing ourselves by rich or poor, black or white, male or female, Buddhist or Christian, married or single, introvert or extrovert, etc. over the fact that we are all humans trying not to die. We are all just trying to make it here on Earth, one day at a time, headed in the direction of the same place, Heaven, or the Other Side, or whatever it is you believe (or perhaps don’t yet believe). And we can't take any of the stuff we are obsessed with along with us. How about we just focus on this commonality, our inevitable mortality, and try to survive each day and live our best lives in harmony? I know we won’t have perfect harmony here on Earth, but through simple acts of kindness for others each day, we can have a more loving, vibrant, productive world. I truly believe this is possible, we just have to try.

     (24) Every gain comes with a loss; we cannot have it all. That’s how nature works, and that’s how life works. In nature, it’s how balance is maintained. It’s hard for us to view our lives this same way, because we want to have it all, but I think life follows the same rules as nature. One day, we will all know this with certainty. So in the meantime, we have to let go and accept life for what it is. 

     (25) Love. Yourself, other people, animals, books, hobbies, learning, whatever it may be. Do whatever it is you do and for whomever it is for, with love. With love comes fun with the labor, humor throughout the setbacks, drive for excellence, quality time with family and friends, and so much joy. Live a life you love.

The single most important lesson I learned, that serves as the stem on the umbrella by which every lesson is an extending spoke, is that we’ll all float on okay

During my college years, the song, “Float On,” by Modest Mouse strung a bright cord in my heart that has resonated with me ever since. College was a special time in my life; my spirit was free. I attended an outstanding university, John Carroll University, where I was exposed to new ways of thinking and seeking understanding not just through my science curriculum, but also through my required liberal arts classes. In fact, some of my strongest connections with teachers and my most impactful classes were not of my major. One of which being an English class, that went from 50 students the first day down to 15 the next as Dr. Roark had a reputation of being tough, “out there,” and giving a great deal of work. As an overachiever, I stuck the class out, but I did so reluctantly, at one point letting him know, “I don’t have time for your class; I’m taking Organic Chemistry and Genetics this semester!” However, it was through the class discussions, all of the writing, the “out there” ways of thinking, his tough criticism, and all of the reflection he forced us to do constantly, that I grew into the learner I am today. I had no idea at the time, but through taking this less-than-popular class, the love of learning in my heart burst into a flame that has yet to dim. I never fully appreciated Dr. Roark and his class, or any of my profound learning experiences from JCU, high school, and my youth for that matter, until I myself was a teacher. Unfortunately, Dr. Roark passed away a few years ago. I never got the chance to let him know in person, but I pray he knows the impact he had on me and so many, and how grateful I am to have had the sense to stick out his class although I couldn’t appreciate it for what it was at the time. I consider myself truly blessed to have been one of his few remaining students that semester, and will carry the lessons learned from him and his class throughout the remainder of my life. To Dr. Roark and all my former teachers, THANK YOU, from the bottom of my heart!!!

In addition to my great academic experiences in college, I was having so much fun socially, had a part-time job at a restaurant, Geraci’s, where I was treated like family, and life was SO good. And like all good things, this part of my life came to an end. I cried and cried as I packed up my college house after graduation, recognizing that the freeness of my soul was to be contained as I entered the “real world,” a world I did not feel ready for, and had no anticipation of how to handle. I took the unconventional route, a “gap year” as referenced to in Europe. But here in the U.S., there is no term for not having it all figured out after you graduate, and so I left feeling like a directionless, pathetic, disappointment. A “loser.” Blessed with parents who see me otherwise, through taking this year off, I was able to figure it all out. It led me to my first master’s degree and teaching license, which led me to my amazing job, which I’m blessed to say is my “calling,” where I’ve accomplished more than I ever could have imagined, conquered the marathon 12 times along with countless other races, earned a 2nd master’s degree and principal license, leading me to be able to have this awesome opportunity to travel to Europe, letting out the free spirit I thought was locked away on JCU’s campus. It’s amazing how even when we are focused on moving forward, things in life always seem to come full circle in the most beautiful way. This trip served as tangible proof that life is filled with surprises and excitement; it is never too late to experience adventures to free your spirit and live with all your heart.

On my walk the other night, “Float On,” came on my iPod. As I listened to the lyrics, I thought of my 22 year old self, and who I am today, and uncontrollable tears flooded my face. These tears were for overcoming hardships, for accomplishing more than my 22 year old self had any idea I was capable of, and for being blessed with the gift of my Europe trip, a trip I made happen thanks to God and all the angels I have looking over me, particularly my beautiful, loving, sweet Grandma Scully who I suspect was behind it all, as she always has been and always will be in my life in a very special way. With help from above and so many good souls here on Earth, I was given the gift of being able to free my soul, and see myself for who I am. Moving forward, I made the promise to share my experience, with hopes of inspiring others to take leaps of faiths in their own lives. I also promised to continue to grow and strengthen who I am in light of He who created me, for exactly who I am, and work towards making this world a better place, one little act of kindness at a time.

As for running, I took three full months off and am slowly making my way back! I am hopeful to run the Chicago Marathon on October 9, and will start official training on Monday. I will only be able to train for 10 weeks and need to take it very easy, so I recognize and fully accept that a 3:03 time goal is unrealistic and impractical for this fall. I just want to run, in a fun city, and enjoy the opportunity if my body can handle the training without injury. Ideally, I’ll get in at least one 5k and a half marathon as well. We shall see; it’s all God willing! As said by Modest Mouse, “Bad news comes don’t you worry even when it lands, Good news will work its way to all them plans.” In that light, I feel confident that no matter the outcome, things this fall will work out okay, just as they always do.

I know this was a ridiculously long post; I couldn’t make it any more succinct if I tried! In fact, I know I left some lessons out. I hope everyone is having a wonderful, adventurous summer, and if you're not, don't worry! You still have a few more weeks left, so get out there and live a great life...YOUR great life. Always remember that YOU are a gift, and that somehow, in someway, we’ll all float on okay. 

MP <3

Cleveland Girl in Europe ;-)

Leaving the CLE!
Rhine Valley


Vatican City



On my way back to the CLE, where my heart is!!! <3