Waking up in Florence made me realize the U.S might well be on its way to an eventual Renaissance of sorts, but first things first, as we’ll need to remove poisonous thinking, extremism, and this general lack of awareness of practical reality and universal operating principles such as connectivity, beauty, kindness and loving. We human beings are nothing without these qualities other than beasts foraging for our next meal – savages if you will. And I know we are so much more than that. Much brighter, more capable, creative, and loving than some of the behaviors we’re seeing these days from some people, politicians, and organizations set up to spread fear and miss-information. I have never been more aware of this than on my recent trip overseas.
At a time when life in America seemed strange, if not a bit dark, I took a long-planned trip to Italy. These arrangements were made before I had any clue as to what the state of American politics might look like in the present. I just knew I needed this trip, my first to Europe.
When I booked my flight, I had the sense this vacation might assist me in recharging and rebooting my personal system, and get me out of my everyday experience here in the U.S., which ended up being the perfect way to mark a new chapter in my life and help me to see the possibility of a new chapter in America’s.
It seemed like a great thing to do, a real gift to myself, the depth of which was absolutely unknown to me until it happened. And isn’t that just like life, we don’t know until we do.
Flying to Rome from Los Angeles is, in and of itself, no small feat. I still seem to possess a childlike wonder about life, especially around things like transcontinental air travel. What in the first part of the twentieth century took four and a half days to cross the Atlantic on a ship, nowadays takes just under twelve hours via jet plane from Los Angeles and about eight and a half from New York. All the proof one needs of this significant technological feat is jet lag, as our body works over several days to adjust to its new time clock, sleeping at any given hour of the day or night working to balance our position on the planet once again.
After a week of cruising around the Mediterranean, which I know makes me sound terribly chic, though it’s not if you prefer land, our final port was back in Rome, Civitavecchia to be exact. I dare you to try saying it even one time correctly. I’m still practicing. Once back in Rome we boarded a high-speed train at Roma Termini Train Station, Rome’s main train hub, to Florence. My dear friend and travel companion Liz and I commented on how wonderful it would be to have a high-speed train between our respective cities of San Francisco and Los Angeles. But I digress. Back to Florence.
We arrived in Florence mid-day at Firenze Santa Maria Novella, Florence’s main train station used by over fifty-nine million people every year. Amazing to think about that many people moving in and out of this station. Upon arriving we were quickly taken via taxi to Via Maggio, or Maggio Street, to our very quaint and quintessential Florence Airbnb. After climbing four sets of old Italian marble staircases, I’m convinced almost everything in Italy is marble, by the way, we were home.
The streets of Florence are not wide, and many still cobble stone, so walking gave muscles I didn’t even know I had a major workout. No amount of pasta, bread, or gelato could compete with the calories burned from walking Florence. And we walked everywhere because you really can in Florence. The main historic core of the city is closed to through traffic, only local residents, taxi’s, and very small tour buses are permitted, as well as mopeds, which seem to be the optimal way to move around the city.
After our first day, capped with a lovely dinner of pasta, Italian bread, and olive oil that for my taste is surely more valuable than gold, I fell fast asleep for the first time in Florence. For me, being in this place was like a fantasy come to life. Old thick walls, and shuttered windows built hundreds of years ago to stand the test of time. It’s almost as if the builders knew something about time, and about durability, and perhaps even survival. But it was in the beautiful details of our building, and all the buildings in Florence that made me realize these people knew something about beauty and thriving.
That evening there were demonstrations of hatred in America, and some type of mild acceptance of these actions in the White House which I couldn’t believe was happening – the distance made it seem more like a dream than reality.
Things seemed to be going crazy in the U.S., but here in Florence, there was order, and a distinctly different air, a deep beauty, and generosity of spirit that only hundreds of years of experience and learning can produce.
But the sounds of cars and mopeds speeding through the cobblestone streets below soon took me away to a place of deep peace. Maybe it was the olive oil’s calming effects on my brain or the white wine from Tuscany. I can’t be sure because just as soon as I had the thought, I was asleep.
To more fully understand Florence, a quick look at its history is helpful. Just a short six hundred or so years ago, Florence was the birthplace of the Renaissance, led in no small way by the Medici family, and fueled ultimately by the creative spirit of the Florentines which you can still see today in basically every square inch of this city. I found myself having to take what I called “beauty breaks,” overwhelmed at various times throughout the day at the sheer beauty of the architecture, paintings, sculptures, food, and the people of Florence whose spirit of generosity is second to none. These beauty breaks gave us a great excuse to enjoy a gelato or cappuccino or slice of Italian pizza. When it comes to La Dolce Vita, the Italians have this phrase for a reason, they know how to live it – the sweet life.
Historically, Florence as a leader in the European Renaissance espoused a belief in democracy, in science, and the possibility of the everyday person to thrive. One of my Florence guidebooks, written by Rick Steves says of this time, “As prosperity rose in Florence, so did people’s confidence in life and themselves. Middle-class craftsmen, merchants, and bankers felt they could control their own destinies, rather than be at the whim of nature. They found much in common with the ancient Greeks and Romans, who valued logic and reason above superstition and blind faith.” And that said, this was an incredibly spiritual time which you see in the vast number of churches in Florence, and the art work expressing the presence of the divine. Angels are everywhere, as is Jesus, and the various Saints of this time depicted in paintings and sculptures all over the city.
As I woke up the next morning in Florence, I couldn’t help but think about America, our democracy, and the beauty, or lack thereof at the moment. Seven hundred years ago in Florence, during the 1300’s, there was great struggle there. These were medieval times, which included the Black Death (plague) which arrived in 1348, killing nearly half the population of Florence. I couldn’t help but think that America was having its own what I’ll call dark night of the soul of our country. We seem to be in our adolescence, and the acne is horrible. Can someone please pass the astringent?!?! Not unlike the Florentine Renaissance which started right after the black plague, and yes, I’m making some inferences here to our current political climate which I view as quite dark, our own Renaissance may well be on the horizon. If darkness is simply the absence of light, then eventually the light returns to fill the void. See your own daily sunrise as an example. On that you can rely.
Since returning from sunny Italy, I’ve had ample time to reflect on some dark material. First, The White Supremacist march in Charlottesville, VA was the biggest can of crazy I got to come home to after being surrounded by remarkable beauty in Florence. No, this is not the dark ages, but let’s face it, this is a poison, a bacteria of thought, that has polluted the consciousness of some people here in America.
Every time I hear a white person yell “Jews will not replace us,” or “Blood and soil,” a key slogan of Nazi ideology and battle cry for white supremacists here in the U.S, or “White Lives Matter,” I have to look at history. We, those of us of European descent, took “America” from the Native people, so really, we’re not native or original, the first obvious flaw in white supremacy thinking. Somehow these folks got a different version of history in their grade school education. Now we’ve fully owned the United States, but let’s not forget we took it by force and bloodshed and built it on the backs of many black slaves brought here against their will. Not the noblest of beginnings. And of course, this does not take away all that we’ve created here as immigrants over the past two hundred and forty-one years. A lot of amazing work has been done to build this great country, and I do think it’s a great country, but that’s not what we’re being forced to look at right now with the brazen presence and lack of governmental shut down of White Supremacists in the U.S. When I see any person marching in the street to “take back” their country from a select group of minorities including Black or Jewish people or anyone other than a white, Christian person, I simply want to sit them down and give them a basic history lesson of North America.
It’s not pretty, but it’s real. Ultimately, I see a huge game of projection going on here, which is our own expansionism and colonization guilt being placed onto anyone currently in the new category of folks coming to America. Of course, the White Supremacists/Neo-Nazi’s seem to hate pretty much everyone which is where the Nazi Germany comparison comes into play for me. That was a time when a certain group of people felt they were superior to anyone different than them, and this, combined with a strident sense of nationalism, led them down a path of violence in an effort to stop the evolutionary process of a shrinking planet by trying to take back what they believed was theirs. And of course, Hitler was beyond crazy, moving out into the rest of Europe to spread his hatred, which America halted, along with our other European allies. The Nazi’s beliefs were so strong they killed millions of people in an effort to control their world which ultimately resulted in their own destruction. There is no way to halt our evolutionary progress.
But here’s the good news as I see it. We’re all instinctual at heart, and you can’t fool us for too long. We’re built for survival, and the human spirit knows no limits to its strength, perseverance, and ability to love.
This little fact gives me great faith and hope for our current collective journey. Yes, we’ll have to pop a few blackheads, drain the swamp, re-educate some people to what really went down here in our U. S. history, but like the Florence of the Renaissance, we will rise again, with more beauty, more loving, more compassion, greater health, wealth, technological advancement, art and connectivity.
The world is shrinking folks. The time or even possibility for isolationism or nationalism is over. Now we are required to connect and thrive or die, and that dying part of the process is painful, and the only way out is through. The black plague could not break the spirit of the Florentine people. Afterwards, they flourished in a way that literally changed the history and evolution of the entire world. We will rise again. Anew. Refreshed. Smarter. Closer. More loving, and more empowered to create the world we know in our hearts we’re all meant to live in and thrive. Are you with me? Let’s do this thing.
We will rise again. To create the world we’re all meant to live & thrive in. @barryaldenclark (Click to Tweet!)
And maybe a trip to Florence might reconnect you with God, with beauty, and with the spirit of generosity. But if an eleven-hour flight is not a fit for your current calendar of responsibilities, go to a museum and look at art. Watch the Travel Channel, PBS, or NatGeo. Take a hike in nature and look at the awe and majesty of a beautiful mountain view or waterfall. Travel to a different part of your county or state to see how other people live. And take a moment to get to know the person who looks different than you because of their skin color, or their religion, or the clothes they’re wearing.
When I was in Italy, our tour guide Diego said he wanted nothing more than to go to Texas and be a cowboy. We met a young couple from France who shared about their intention to go to an American baseball game and eat hot dogs. They were so excited at the thought. And I couldn’t help but notice, when in Italy, that every gelato store was packed with Americans. We were all eating that delicious creamy delight, praising the Italians, and appreciating and respecting our differences. All the while I have the sense we had our return trips home in the back of our minds. Home to the place we love, for better or worse. As for me, well, I’m holding for better, because I know in my heart we can do better, and we will. Let me be one of the first to say, “It’s time for an American Renaissance!”
Now, I’m going back to sleep to dream of Florence, gelato, olive oil, and the re-birthing of America.
Barry Alden Clark has coached thousands of individuals in connecting more deeply with their hearts, their life purpose, and helped create a pathway for these folks to move forward in a direction more aligned with who they truly are. He & his creative partner Eliza Swords are currently delivering uplifting content on social media every Wednesday via “Best Day Ever with Barry and Eliza”, a Facebook and You-Tube phenomenon reaching thousands of people around the world. They are also inspiring love and joy through creating heartfelt and entertaining content via their production company Pure Honey Ink. Currently they have projects in development for social media, film, television and publishing. You can reach Barry at www.barryaldenclark.com.