The Hero's Journey is Not Bliss

An American in Italy During Covid-19, Part 21

When I went to Italy, I really wanted to completely disconnect from my life in the States.

I’ve always wanted to do that when I travel and that used to be pretty easy. When you traveled, you were gone. Phone calls were only for emergencies. There was no emailing, no smartphones, no social media. Connectivity was neither a buzzword nor an ever-pressing need.

When I left my marriage in the late ‘90s and took off for Mexico, I would walk three miles to town to send my sister a letter via fax. I hated doing it but she was worried about me, so I acquiesced. And then, yes, the emergency happened. I came down with a raging fever and dysentery. I needed to get back to the States from Tulum. How I did that in my condition, I don’t really remember. How I arranged to get to Cancun, to spend a night in a hotel, book a flight, get to the airport, and onto the plane is a bit of a blur. But I did it. In an emergency, without a laptop or personal phone – neither of which existed at that time – I made it back home.

In 2011, I traveled to Ethiopia, again without a computer. This time I had a smartphone, but only to take photos. I couldn’t text, I couldn’t call, I couldn’t Facetime. I still had to find a shop where I could log into the internet, which I only did when I could no longer bear to be there and gave myself permission to leave early. But that’s a different story.

I knew going to Italy would be different. This time I traveled with a computer: a new Surface Pro tablet so I could work on my manuscript. And, of course, I had a smartphone loaded with all the necessary apps: Expedia, Airbnb, email, Messenger, and WhatsApp.

And, just as before, concerned family and friends insisted I keep in touch. Rather begrudgingly, I agreed to let them know I had arrived safely but for the most part, they should not expect to hear from me.

I needed to do this journey alone. I absolutely needed to not be in contact. It was imperative – nay, it felt like life and death – that I force myself out of my comfort zone, that I be completely present to where I was and not what I had left behind.

Except, it didn’t turn out that way. Covid-19 changed everything.

Covid-19 was an emergency. Things were changing so quickly that I felt obliged to check in repeatedly. And when that become too cumbersome, too time-consuming, I resorted to Facebook. And when the interest there become too great, I broke down and started a blog.

Instead of having no contact – or the least possible – I was having more than I ever imagined. And that was completely on me. I had to own that. I’m the one who made myself responsible for communicating with others on a daily basis. It is completely my own fault that I couldn’t simply be in Italy, that I couldn’t just relax into the experience. It’s my fault that I felt the need to focus, to report, to reach out, to share. My fault entirely.

So why did I do it? Somehow, I felt I had to. Which, after everything I’ve said, makes no sense. But there was something bigger at play. Something bigger I couldn’t ignore.

And this is the hero’s journey. The “follow your bliss and doors will open” moment. The inevitable “responding to the call.” The moment that feels like there is no other choice but to forge ahead.

I’m here to tell you, it is never easy.  Whether it feels like a choice or it doesn’t, responding to the call and following your bliss is never a cakewalk. Tests and trials plague you almost every step, every day. But there are moments and signs that you’re on the right path, you’re doing the right thing.

For me, that mostly came in dreams.

Dream and circumstances.

Look, I went to Italy at a particular moment in history. Everything inside me told me to go exactly when I did. Once there, a pandemic was declared and the country went on lockdown. Still, somehow, I made it to Sicily. Someone rented me an apartment at a very reasonable rate. That someone not only spoke English but was incredibly helpful to me. His parents were doctors, which, in case of an emergency, seemed like a good connection to have! He kept me informed of everything I needed to know, answered my questions, and helped me navigate the restrictions. He allowed me to move into a bigger apartment that looked out at the sea. He opened his home to me. He was both a helper and a friend.

And then, my travel plans back to the States were upended. The U.S. Embassy gave me no useful information and was unreachable. I tried booking new flights only to have my credit cards not go through. My previously booked flight was canceled. News stations had aired my story in several cities. I had a blog that was working successfully and which was being read by people in forty-one countries. My apartment in the states was being used by friends and was well looked after.

Everything appeared to indicate that I was exactly where I was meant to be. I was doing exactly what I was meant to be doing. I was writing. I was on an adventure.

And still I was plagued by doubts. I was worrying about how long I would – or could – stay. I was worrying about how long my money would last and what the real ramifications of my adventure would be. I was so happy to be there and, at the same time, I couldn’t stop worrying.

I had followed my bliss and the doors had opened. But instead of feeling bliss, I was struggling with emotional blisters. Like herpes or shingles, a virus of doubt, fear, and insecurity was awakened in me again and bubbling on my skin.

The hero’s journey is never easy. And the dragons that need to be slain are typically those within one’s psyche.

So here I was in Sicily. My dragons were awake and the battle was daily. This was my hero’s journey.

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