Two years have passed since I purchased the journal. The soft, red, leather book called to me from the window of a quaint shop in a small, Italian village. It was my first international trip alone.
I had spent my entire life ignoring my natural instincts. In the religion I had followed from childhood, human nature was discouraged. Indeed, we were taught that the heart is “deceitful above all things” and “desperately wicked.” My desires were irrelevant. All that mattered was that I was in submission to God, and eventually, to my husband.
With the divorce nearing finality, I knew it was imperative that I learn to trust myself. Make my own decisions. Listen to my gut. I decided that on this trip I would practice doing just that.
It was strange at first, paying attention to my instincts rather than quelling them, but after a few days, I became thoroughly intrigued with the concept.
Which wine should I order? I ran my finger down the menu until one of the options “felt right.”
It was called Carpe Diem, and I finished the entire bottle.
Which direction shall I hike?
I followed my intuition, and ended up lunching on a hidden bluff overlooking the Ligurian sea.
What does my nature want?
I cast aside the restraints and fears that had been ingrained from early childhood, and allowed a handsome, young, Moroccan man to woo me.
Or perhaps it was I who wooed him?
My time in Morocco was followed by three days in Cinque Terre, a string of five fishing villages situated along the coast of the Italian Riviera. I hiked from village to village, exploring without the constraints of time or companions. Never doubted myself. Never questioned my choices. Simply listened to my heart.
I traveled with only a backpack, so space for souvenirs was minimal. I didn’t want much though, only the things that truly spoke to me.
In the ruins of the Kasbah at Ait Ben Haddou, a handmade necklace with a beautiful, black stone seemed to appear out of nowhere.
In Monterosso, I was stopped in my tracks by a grey, paisley scarf hanging among forty brightly-hued scarves.
I hiked into village Vernazza toward the end of the day. Many shops were closing, but gelato was still in abundance. I don’t think any woman has ever been more content than I was strolling cobblestone streets, with an ice cream cone, and listening to the sounds of Italy.
It was then that I noticed the art gallery.
My heart beat faster as my eyes feasted on each beautiful piece. For several minutes, I studied a large, colorful, urban painting.
A voice spoke, and I turned to find the most handsome Italian man standing next to me.
“I love this piece,” I said, “It draws me in.”
I was thrilled to find that this was the artist himself. I instantly wanted to throw my arms around his neck, and profess mad love, but that was an instinct I opted not to follow.
I couldn’t afford an original, but he helped me choose two beautiful prints. He signed them, and tucked them safely into a tube, which I held close on the overnight flight back to the U.S.
It was there, in the village Vernazza, where the red journal found me. I have often touched the soft leather, and breathed in the luxurious scent, but in two years I had never written a word on the pages. It was too significant. Too dear. Whatever I wrote must have depth and meaning. I needed it to tell my story so that someday, when my children find it, they will know the significance of the journey.
Finally, this morning, I decided it was time. I unwound the leather strap, and penned on the first page, “Your heart is desperately beautiful. Always let it guide you.”