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Do As The Italians Do

Ellen Degeneres ends each one of her shows with one simple message: “Be kind to one another.”

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Photo by La So on Unsplash
Photo by La So on Unsplash

I’ve always loved this as it’s so simple yet so meaningful. Imagine what a better place this world would be if we all just started there.

I’ve been thinking about kindness a lot lately. A few months ago, I overheard some people talking about me after they thought I had left the room. It’s quite jarring overhearing someone insult you, especially when you’re already having a crummy day. The whole scenario just got me thinking. I try to be compassionate and kind and follow the old treat people the way you want to be treated adage, but I can grumble and gossip with the best of them. In fact, I’m sure I’ve been on the other end of this same scenario. I also tend to live my life in my head. I keep to myself and must remind myself to engage with the world when I’m walking around in it. We really have no idea what others are dealing with in their personal lives. Just as much as a rude comment could send someone over the edge, a tiny gesture of kindness can make someone’s day.

My faith in humanity and the kindness of strangers was recently restored on a trip to Italy I took with one of my best friends.

One gorgeous night after sunset we walked into a rooftop bar overlooking the Roman Forum and quickly realized there wasn’t a place for us to sit. It was a tiny but magical space, with views of a city so rich in history and full of energy. A handsome fella was sitting by himself and in beautiful Italian, asked if we spoke Italian or English. I said English and he flipped languages so effortlessly, suddenly he sounded like he was from Texas. Turns out he was from the states and was going to be leaving in a little while and offered us his table. We got to chatting and he ended up being one of the most interesting guys I’ve ever met. Unfortunately, he was happily married but that’s neither here nor there. We had a great time getting to know him and found out after he left that he had paid our whole tab — a nice gesture, from a new friend.

The next day we were on the train leaving Rome traveling to Florence when we realized there was no room for our luggage. All the storage compartments were taken, and we were afraid to try to lift our hefty bags over everyone’s heads for fear of crushing someone. If you’ve ever taken a train in Europe, you know that you’re pretty much fending for yourself. As the train started to depart, some older Italian gentlemen saw our predicament. They proceeded to move things around to make room for my bag and hoisted my friend’s up into the overhead compartment. We were able to convey our gratitude with sighs of relief and thank you gestures. This proves you don’t even have to speak the same language to have compassion and kindness translated.

In Florence, we hiked up to an overlook trying to find the best views of the city and the rolling hills of Tuscany. Another tourist overheard me asking someone about the view and very matter of factly told us where to go and when they opened. He didn’t seem to want to chat but gave us an extra ticket he had to one of the gardens nearby. When we were in line to buy tickets to the overlook, I heard him say “tre” and elbowed my friend. Sure enough, he had bought our tickets for us. We tried to give him the euros we had ready to go but he waved them off, handed us our tickets, and left to explore. Even though they were inexpensive the fact that he thought to gift a couple of strangers an experience like that was incredibly heartwarming.

We met so many wonderful people; some were on an adventure like us, while others were educating us and sharing their way of life. The passion and appreciation our tour guides in Rome felt for the city was infectious, along with the excitement from our fellow tour group members from all over the world. We got to know some couples on our winery tour in the Tuscan countryside and enjoyed a great meal together afterward. The wink from our Ryan Gosling lookalike guide at the Accademia Gallery Museum in Florence was nice too! People like this give me energy and motivation to be a better person — people who take the time to acknowledge those around them.

Take Ellen, she uses her influence for good — bringing joy, love, and fun to people all over the world every day. I immensely respect and admire the positivity, humor, and kindness she represents. Obviously, we all don’t have the kind of platform Ellen does but little acts of kindness go a long way. Sometimes a word of thanks or a smile to a stranger can make all the difference in the world. My Dad has made a point to go up to someone wearing a Veteran’s cap to shake their hand and thank them for their service. My mom has more than once picked up a stranger in need of a ride in our tiny hometown.

It’s so easy to get caught up in the daily routines of life, that we might forget how our words and actions are affecting those around us. Apparently, sometimes it takes overhearing someone say something rude about you, or a trip out of the country to gain a little perspective. I think it’s good to step back and reevaluate; to be cognizant of the words we’re putting out into the universe and how we’re treating people along the way. The Italians have a lovely tradition of caffè sospeso. Per Wikipedia: a caffè sospeso, or pending coffee, is a cup of coffee paid for in advance as an anonymous act of charity for the next person in need. I’m going to endeavor to be better and more present for the people I cross paths with every day. I’m going to do as the Italians do, even if it’s just buying an extra cup of joe.

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