The First Step

I wandered around Florence for about an hour looking for my hostel before stopping on a side street to give myself a rest and call my mom. That morning I had taken the train from Grosseto to Florence to give myself something that I had envisioned from the outset of my trip. And to remove myself from a situation that felt instinctually wrong to remain in.

My back against a yellow stucco wall, a mixture of paint and dust rubbing onto my luggage, I heard my mom on the other end. Both of us, relieved. The whole train ride I had grappled with whether or not it was the right decision for me to leave the farmhouse in Grosseto. I had left behind free lodging, shared food costs, close proximity to the Mediterranean, a really good friend in my fellow house sitter, and two cats wandering around. And I broke a promise to help care for this home. But I also left behind the home owner trying to tell me what the next steps in my spiritual healing journey should be. And I was becoming enraged and suffocated because of it.

I left home because I needed absolutely no one to tell me what to do. I left home because I had undergone a trauma so deep that it compelled me to uproot everything. The trauma was an extreme experience in many ways, the details aren’t important right now. However, it woke me up to the fact that for most of my life I had been more concerned with pleasing others and staying in their good graces, even if that meant I was hurt in the process. At the farm, I wasn’t being traumatized like I had been back home, but I was experiencing a similar sensation of being silenced. Of my desires and needs being ignored to fulfill the wishes of someone else. I decided to not allow it to continue. I left. I took a step away.

Recounting my thoughts from my train ride to my mom, a blush hue set over the city as the sun began to set. The flow of pedestrian traffic persisted through the Florentine streets with suitcases being lugged around and different languages flitted through the air. It was a familiar scene. Busy city streets, lots of people, but still alone. I felt calm. This was familiar and easy and that’s what I wanted in that moment.

Back on the phone with my mom, she said to me, “Gracia, I have something you need to hear. I think it’s perfect for where you are at in life right now.”

I kept my sunglasses on despite the darkening sky, as I knew I was about to get weepy. Plus in Italy, any time of the day warrants the wearing of sunglasses. She began…

Start Close In

By David Whyte

Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.

Start with the ground you know, the pale ground beneath your feet, your own way of starting the conversation.

Start with your own question, give up on other people’s questions, don’t let them smother something simple.

To find another’s voice, follow your own voice, wait until that voice becomes a private ear listening to another.

Start right now take a small step you can call your own don’t follow someone else’s heroics, be humble and focused, start close in, don’t mistake that other for your own.

Start close in, don’t take the second step or the third, start with the first thing close in, the step you don’t want to take.

Just that morning the homeowner at the farm had told me I was running away from everything I needed to face. He told me that I had already run away from home and if I ran away from the farm, I would just keep running and I would never face the “devil inside of me” as he put it. I knew he was coming from a place of sincere caring, but I also knew that I didn’t need someone running my life. I didn’t need someone telling me what to do or telling me where I was in life and what was the correct next step. I absolutely appreciate the guidance and wisdom of others, but in this case, if I had stayed, I would have been submitting to his control. His way of living and seeing the world, which after knowing him for several weeks, did not line up with the life I wanted to lead. In the midst of trying to control the tears brought on by a scary unfamiliar feeling of knowingly disappointing someone, in the midst of that new sensation, I told him that I might be running away, but it was me running. Not him. Not his decision. So I took the first step. Into the unknown and into the possibility of discovering something inside and outside of myself that I had always wanted to know.

That night in Florence, I wanted to give myself a gift of the Duomo di Santa Maria del Fiore illuminated by the moon, gelato along the Arno, and the promise of a morning where I was in complete control of the direction of my first step. It may seem small and possibly trite, but you don’t go from crawling to running as a child and in a moment in my life where I was and am seeking to heal internal wounds, that moment in time needed to be small. I didn’t need to leap across a river and hike up a mountain in order to heal as the home owner was metaphorically suggesting I do by remaining at the farm. In that moment I needed to simply walk alongside the river and gaze at the beauty of the mountain from afar and know, without a shadow of a doubt, that that was enough for me. I needed to be hushed by the brilliance of the best meal I have ever had at Zeb Gastronomia and making new friends; by the emptiness of a church at dusk and only the presence of marbled women as my companions looming magnificently large overhead; by the Basilica di San Miniato where unbeknownst to me resided those who had passed and remained in the flowers and statues ornamenting their graves. I needed to be hushed. Saturated, as my grandparents put it, in a beauty of my choosing. This was the first step that felt authentic to me. This was the beauty I wanted in my life.

Whenever we travel and share our plans to do so, many outside voices can interrupt what we want to get out of the trip. Dreams of others enter our headspace and can easily get in the way of our own journey because the dreams come with the words, “You have to do this….” If we are not careful, soon enough we can find ourselves living out someone else’s life because we fear disappointing them when we return home and are asked, “Did you go here… did you do this… did you do that?” We are expected to fulfill each other’s fantasies instead of living out our own. What surprised me was when I arrived in Italy at the farmhouse, this was when those questions really seemed to surface. Leaving Seattle, I made a fierce effort to not let anyone’s expectations of my trip infiltrate my plans. But it is another thing to deny the opinion of someone whom you feel beholden to… someone who has given you the gift of a home.

Maybe if I had been in a different place in my life… One in which I didn’t feel I owed someone something because they had given so much, then maybe I could have remained at the farm and worked things out with the proprietor and established healthy boundaries. Maybe. But when we enter any situation in our life, in order to show up fully I’ve come to believe we mustn’t think in the “maybe”. Because that isn’t real. “Maybe” is a wonderful thing to consider because it opens us up to the possibility of what could be. But how do we get to living out the “maybe”? What I learned in choosing to leave the farmhouse, in choosing to knowingly disappoint the proprietor, and in choosing to honor my internal needs above anything else, was that the “maybe” only becomes possible when we take the singular step right in front of us. “Maybe” exists hundreds of steps away or possibly it’s only two steps away. But it isn’t the first step. It isn’t right now. It takes time and space and honesty to get to the “maybe”. “Maybe” becomes our reality when we have walked down our own authentic path and unearthed the core of who we are. It comes from denying others agency over your own life. It is one of the hardest things to do in my opinion. Taking the first step forces you to let go of other’s expectations of you and it frees you up to fulfill your own expectations of your life. And that is terrifying because suddenly, you realize you are completely responsible for your self. But after that initial storm and inner torment, at least in my case, I experienced a calming. A quiet. A hush. A collapsing of the exterior I was holding up to please the home owner, to please anyone before my time in Italy. And then a falling into the center of myself. In the center it is quiet. In the center, there is no “maybe”. It just is. And that is enough.

I talked to my mom for about half an hour on this cobblestoned street in Florence. Holding onto my luggage, still not sure where my hostel was located (it ended up literally being right around the corner but took another forty five minutes to find), I became hyper aware of my mobility. Of my unlimited potential to move and to be wherever and with whomever I wanted. I wasn’t stuck as I had previously feared. I could take the first step at any moment and needed no one’s permission. Ever again. We always have a choice. A choice to please or a choice to protect ourselves and our inner truth. We always have a choice to take that first step, to not remain stuck, and find ourselves soon enough living out an existence we had only dreamed of.

Soon I want to share with you in more detail the pleasant and romantic parts of my experience thus far. More about the quiet churches I’ve come across and the time I spent the afternoon sketching The David with a couple sitting next to me making squeezing gestures in the air and enthusiastically shouting, “Give me more give me more”, and the gelataria owner whom I visited every night in Florence. Before I share these moments however, I want to leave you with this…

If you are reading this, I would imagine that you are interested in travelling or are already in the process. No matter where you are, or what your reason for travelling, know this: it is enough. Your reason need not be as dramatic as mine, you need not consider anyone else’s reason for deciding to leave the comfort of home. They are not the one’s buying the ticket. They are not the one’s packing bags and finding lodging. They are not the one’s living out your life. It’s just you. You, your reason, your first step. And that’s enough. That’s enough for today. And anyone who tries to tell you differently, can go take a hike of their own.


  1. K · May 13, 2015

    Love the boardwalk shot. I always take them because there’s something special about it extending into the sea and all!

    Liked by 1 person

    • graciaimboden · May 18, 2015

      Thank you so much! I couldn’t agree with you more… It’s that limitless quality… the foreverness of it:)

      Liked by 1 person

      • K · May 19, 2015

        🙂 haha! I’m glad we both think the same!


  2. Beth · May 13, 2015

    Florence, Italy. Brings back memories. I was 19 in 1984. I set out on a 2 month trip to Europe with a group of people, Americans. The hardest thing I did was leave them on day 7 and set out on my trip. I had my plane ticket home and a eurail pass to anywhere I wanted to go. Like you I was pissed at people giving me advice and directing my trip. Florence was a very life changing city for me. I don’t remember the details after all these years but I remember the feelings you are describing now. I remember the tiny seed of independence sprouting like a sweet pea seed in my garden. It changed me and has forever guided me like a beacon of light it warns me of oppression and of suffocating situations. Listen to David and tap into the history of where you visit oh yeah drink cheap wine.

    Liked by 1 person

    • graciaimboden · May 18, 2015

      Thank you so much for sharing your story. This is why I love writing… it inevitably connects you with people and shared experiences. It is really encouraging to hear that even after all this time, your decision to go out on your own, continues to have positive ramifications in your life. And thank you for the advice on the cheap wine haha!:) Just the other day I was given the most hard core liquor I will ever care to try… I think it was dressed up rubbing alcohol. All the best to you, G


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