My mother's recent death --and before that, her long slide into ill health and dementia-- taught me precisely the opposite of what my ever-practical and frugal parents would have intended: I'm more determined than ever to live for today. I'm planning on spending my money and my time with abandon and joy and love.
I should mention that I'm a capitalist's nightmare. Shopping malls give me headaches. My stereo is at least twenty years old, and my TV is a cast-off relic the neighbors put out on trash day. I still own (and use) a VCR. My wardrobe might gain or lose a few pieces over the years, but if you compare conference pictures from five years ago to today...well, let's just say I'd prefer the internet didn't have such a long memory.
So I'm a natural saver, and I understand it's important to pay one's bills, and save for a rainy day, and to put away for retirement.
Still, I can't help but notice the following:
1) People sometimes die unexpectedly, never able to enjoy their savings
2) Conversely, a lot of people get progressively ill until they die
3) A whole lot of people never get to enjoy what they've worked so hard for because, by the time they're ready to, they're too old, too sick, or too dead.
So whenever I get too practical, too sensible, I remind myself of the summer I spent in Italy.
My whole life I had a fantasy of studying art "someday". Though I've painted all my life I had never taken an actual class in the subject I loved, because art seemed far too frivolous to pursue seriously.
Then one day, in passing, someone told me about the Florence Institute of Art. My fantasy surged up and took hold of my heart. I tried hard to talk myself out of even thinking about it.
I was self-employed at the time, running my own business. I had no such thing as paid vacation. Work wouldn't get done. I had a young son. There was no legitimate reason to go.
But when I looked into it...it became impossible to say no. I discovered it was affordable (the dollar was strong back then). My six-year-old's father agreed to pay his way. A friend of a friend put me in touch with someone who had a cheap apartment for rent, three blocks from the Duomo. For the price of a plane ticket, a good friend agreed to come along and look after my son while I painted.
I ran out of "someday" excuses, and wound up spending an entire summer in Firenze with my son, one of my best friends, and thousands of the most beautiful, artistic, people in the world.
It still counts as one of the best times in my life.
I don't remember the expense, or the work I didn't do, or the hassle of traveling -- with a child, no less. Instead, I remember the scent of linseed oil and the glistening skin of the artists' models (with no air conditioning, Firenze is a sultry place in July.) I remember holding original Da Vinci drawings in my hands. I remember meandering down the paths of the Boboli gardens, and laughing with my son as we tried to eat our gelato before it melted in the heat. I remember drinking wine in cafes with fellow artists from all over Europe. I remember my son being coddled in restaurant kitchens, playing with local kids in the city pool, and learning to shout "scuzzi!" as we navigated the crowded stone streets of the city.
I remember the magic.
So even though I don't really have the time, the money, or any legitimate reason for doing it...I'm planning on renting a house in the Italian countryside for my 50th birthday, in 2012.
I plan to dedicate the trip to the memory of my mother, a sweet, sensible soul who would have loved to go to Italy, "someday". She never made it.
Any adventurous friends willing to throw caution to the winds, shout carpe diem, and join me?