People are the most fascinating creatures!
But when we remain in our own world—our personal bubble—for too long, we forget this. As a tourist (and aspiring writer), I’m reminded of this very fact: everyone has a story. People—especially those who don’t make regular appearances in our everyday lives—have everyday lives of their own, containing major events and supporting characters just like us. But we simply don’t ask about them. Of course, this sort of rediscovery doesn’t just happen; something had to prompt it.
Our group was visiting the Church of San Miniato al Monte in Florence. I had broken away from the group to explore the grounds and to simply be on my own. Only I wasn’t completely alone. I had stepped into the church’s nearby souvenir shop to browse for something to take back home. Once I settled on a few trinkets to purchase, I walked up to the checkout counter and was met with a seemingly uninterested shopkeeper. We exchanged basic greetings using what little Italian I knew, and I assumed, like most customer service exchanges, this would be the extent of our conversation.
But as the shop’s host packaged my items, a change in our miniscule conversation ensued. What began as a simple interrogation (e.g. What are you doing here? How long are you staying?) turned into a discussion of traveling aspirations and name origins and the journey of self-discovery. Essentially, our topics of conversation became intense very fast. In the best way.
The shopkeeper, though had what would be considered a simple lifestyle to those of us in the United States—a mere stepping stone toward a “real career” in the working world—was very content with her life, and talented in her role as a shopkeeper. I know, because she said as such. I asked her about both observations and she offered me an unexpected though meaningful worldview. Everyone is unique. Everyone has a destiny. We all have a talent—something we’re meant to do and something we’re good at doing. Yet often, these talents don’t always fit into our life plan. What she observed was people spend so much of their time trying to please others, that they don’t focus on what they want, what makes them happy. Thus, if it is what makes us happy, we must uncover our talents and our passions and pursue them. But this begs the question, What if one’s talent and one’s passion are different?
When I pressed further on this point, the shopkeeper admitted that the outcome became more complicated. Ideally, our passion and talent are one in the same, but often this is not the case. Regardless, she further encourages people to continue searching within themselves—not outside, not from others—to uncover what brings them happiness, even if it takes a lifetime to do so.
Yes, very intense, very fast.
After putting this experience into words, I realize my acquaintance’s observations may not be groundbreaking or original. But in that moment, in the way in which she presented these ideas to me (passionate yet modest), I felt I was truly hearing them for the first time. And all that had to happen was a bit of polite conversation to get there.
Though I certainly don’t expect every small exchange to advance to such deep topics so quickly, I do feel more empowered to ask questions, listen, and discover in my future interactions while in Italy and upon returning home, in the hopes that those exchanges may uncover more pieces of another’s story.