On September 4, 2010, I was the recipient of an incredible gift. The gift was something everyone wishes for, but that few people receive, especially in their young adulthood. Poets write about it, musicians sing about it, it flies by and it can’t be turned back. The gift was Time… free, unrestricted, and promising Time.
Having never had such a large quantity of this precious gift, I was overwhelmed by it’s potential. I had won the lottery, and I knew it. Unfortunately, understanding the value of Time is not the same thing as knowing what to do with it.
At first, I felt burdened by the enormity of the gift that fate had temporarily bestowed upon me. I wondered if it should have been left in more capable hands. The question that came at me from all angles was, “What do you do with your Time?" The seemingly harmless inquiry left me flustered. I panicked… What do I do with my Time?! What should I be doing with it?! Did this gift come with a user’s manual? I imagined a metaphorical re-gifting where I was wrapping Time up in a little box, tying it shut with a satin ribbon, and passing it off to someone else… someone who knew what to do with it.
In retrospect, I think this initial panic was a by-product of my Type A personality. I was more or less stressed out by my lack of stress. I am a chronic multi-tasker and without multiple tasks to address in my day-to-day life, I could not function. I am very familiar with having a lot to do and only a little time to get it all done. Suddenly, I had nothing to do and all the time in the world to do it! No deadlines, no appointments, nowhere in particular to be and, being an ocean apart from all of my loved ones except Kevin, no one in particular to see. My agenda was a clean slate. The only person that would be adding things to the empty pages was me! That’s a lot of freedom. Even my “free” time back home was more structured than this new type of Time. I used to fill my weekends, for instance, with the things that I couldn’t accomplish during the week. Once in Italy, I found that there was nothing I had to accomplish during the week, and thus nothing that I couldn’t finish during the week to do during the weekend. It was like I was stuck inside a movie set. The cobblestone streets and earth-toned houses were all props, and the smiling passersby were all actors. But unlike the traditional Hollywood movies sets, this movie didn’t have a script. And I was the director….
Fortunately, my state of bewilderment was short-lived. After a few deep breaths and a couple shots of espresso, I was able to convince myself that I could handle this new job of being jobless… in a foreign country… surrounded by people who speak a different language. I am a creature of habit. I just needed to adjust to some new habits. I would start with the basics, and build my itinerary from there. And so I did, and five weeks later I am finally ready to address the question that I have been avoiding for so long.
So, here goes nothing. I know I have kept you waiting in suspense for long enough. Drumroll please… what do I do with my time? I floss. And I don’t just quickly pass a minty flavored string between my central and lateral incisors in a lackluster effort to appease my dental hygenist at my next scheduled cleaning. I really give my teeth and gums a thorough flossing, extending the coated thread into all crevices, and ridding problem areas of the day’s tartar build-up.
Alright, I am being facetious. I apologize. And well, I actually do floss now that I have the Time to do so.
The fact is, besides the obvious pastime of becoming acclimated with my new surroundings and learning the language, the majority of my days this month have been spent doing things that, like flossing, were previously designated to the bottom of my priority list. For example, I sleep for more than 6 hours a night. I walk instead of drive. I go to restaurants for Apertivi, a glorified version of cocktail hour where you buy a glass of wine and get a free spread of snacks. I eat gelato, savoring each little spoonful and making the little cup last as long as possible. (This agenda-filler will need to be replaced come November when the gelato spots close for the winter season. It’s devastating, but I will compensate for the looming six month deprivation by putting in double sessions through October.) I volunteer at a day-care two mornings a week. I run. I take pictures. I work on little photo projects on my computer. I go to hockey games. I accept invitations from new friends to visit nearby towns. I learn new things every day. For instance, the other day I learned that I had been washing our laundry with fabric softener, not detergent. I think this oversight cancelled out the functionality of our only regularly working appliance.
Another outlet for my newfound Time has been cooking. Prior to coming to Italy, my idea of a good dinner was a bowl of cereal with my signature addition of extra milk. It was quick, easy, and satisfying… the perfect trifecta for a busy schedule. And, as I decided when I first tried operating our stove, it would have been the safest option for our nightly menu this year as well. The oven component is broken and the stovetop burners have one level of flame, VERY HIGH. The appliance has the destructive instinct of a two year old boy, though it’s objective is not to divebomb the floor or throw a toy ball at an unsuspecting target. It’s intent is more malicious… Burn, scorch, cremate, KILL!! Thankfully, I overcame my fears of using the stove and have since learned to tame the monster enough to concoct some delightfully delectable meals. Sausage and peppers, Chicken with honey-roasted pears and green apples, Steak Bolognese. Much to my surprise, I actually enjoy cooking! I can’t wait to expand my efforts in this terrain when a new oven lends me more options than pan fry and boil! Rachel Ray look out…
To anyone reading this post, I understand that my described escapades may seem disappointingly trivial. I have not saved the world (yet), but I did make some delicious homemade pasta sauce and I did learn over 100 verbs in Italian. I don’t feel the pressure to fill my schedule just to say that I am being productive, and perhaps that’s my biggest accomplishment so far. Finally, after five weeks of living in Italy, I am feeling comfortable with my possession of so much Time. Like my engagement ring that eventually molded into an extension of my finger, Time has gradually become an unimposing accent to my daily life. I know it’s there, but I don’t notice it and I don’t constantly worry about losing it. Because the truth is, if I leave here with nothing more than a couple extra kilos around my waist, a healthy smile from all my flossing, a few new recipes, and a scrapbook of pictures and memorabilia from a year abroad, that is more than fine by me. And, who knows? Maybe more awaits… Rome wasn’t built in a day. These things take Time, and Time is what I’ve got!