22 September 2015
It is our last night in Rome and we are going to treat ourselves to a much-needed huge serving of pizza. We are intentionally picky, scouting out the street-side restaurants with a detective’s keen eye. We settle on a small unnamed restaurant off of a busy street with pizzas as big as the moon and, as if that wasn’t enough to win us over, covered in bubbling cheeses and steaming meats. It seems sort of fancy, but the prices are fair so we settle in, joking with the proprietor (who we dubbed the Italian Matthew Broderick) and already making inquiries about the house red.
In the spirit of when in Rome… we make a pact to eat as slowly as the Italians do, favouring conversation over a hearty bite and companionship over the temptation of the bread basket. The pizzas come and we slowly pick our way through the mountains of sausage, cheese and artichokes. We make small talk with IMB (Italian Matthew Broderick) and our waiter. The girls who were next to us left and the table began to be set for a reservation that had just been made. We stare enviously at the elegant fancy wine glasses that were placed next to us and wonder who would soon be our neighbours.
Enter two blonde Australian women in their late forties, laughing and looking fabulous. Laura and I joke that we want their fancy wine glasses (fancy wine included) and they laugh politely, turning toward the menu to see what they want to order. I go to the bathroom. When I return, everything has changed.
Their chairs are turned toward ours and Laura has engaged them in a conversation that started with simple where-are-you-froms and has now turned into a raucous swapping of stories. These women have quickly turned into our role models. They are approaching fifty with no plans of slowing down their travel plans. They have been to Singapore together and all over Italy, one worked six days a week to save up for this most recent trip, one had a foreign prince fall in love with her, both are mothers of twentysomethings, both have full time jobs, both speak of life with a zest and vigour that makes me smile just to hear them laugh through a story where they stayed in a hostel and were the oldest ones there.
Our pizza turned cold and our bottle of wine emptied as we chatted with these two women.
You just have to love life,
One said as Laura and I nodded and assured her,
As if to test us, Italian Matthew Broderick came up to our table and asked which one of us wanted to dance to the music inside.
Find us another partner and we’ll both dance!
I said, laughing and winking at our neighbours. They waved us onward and Laura and I danced with IMB and our waiter, dipping and smiling to the pianist’s jazzy tunes. We were deposited back at our table with a free glass of wine and to the company of our Aussie role models, who were giggling the night away. We continued our night in this manner: telling stories, laughing, gasping, finding out more about each other and the lives that we lead and hope to lead.
After about three and a half hours, our respective checks came and we bid each other adieu – Laura and I were off to a pub and they were off to their cushy hotel room overlooking the Piazza della Republica. After we were out of earshot, Laura and I just looked at each other and exclaimed simultaneously:
WOW! They were so cool! They were everything that we want to be!
What was so remarkable about them, we decided, is that they seemed to live every inch of their lives with the zeal that they displayed tonight. And they did it by keeping true to the seemingly ordinary things: the love of friends, the love of family, the love of oneself. What we loved about them is that their labels were varied and equal. They were travellers and Australians and mothers and dreamers and workers and lovers and friends. They did not let themselves be confined by one or two boxes, but more, asserted their independence by living undefined by any one label, instead inhabiting many spaces equally and lovingly.
It can be hard, especially as one grows older, not to let yourself become the labels that the world sees you as. Child morphs into teenager; teenager becomes student; student becomes businesswoman; businesswoman can become mother; mother can become grandmother – and soon you have lived your life as the world sees you instead of how you see yourself. While it is easy and comfortable to rest behind the stereotypes and to perform the actions that are expected of you, it most certainly will demand the fullness of your life for the comfort of your role. Being true to yourself is uncomfortable sometimes – it requires vulnerability, honesty and strength. It asks of you to be assertive, to be brave, to constantly question. But the payoff is autonomy and independence – to be the one who decides how you will live your own life.
To be seen as boxes and stereotypes and labels is a side effect of living in this organised world.
To refuse to let those labels affect who you are and how you act is to live a life as life was meant to be lived – performing nothing, being everything.