More Than Words

By: Sophia D.

We hold on to what little we can control. The last thing we want to feel is that our life is moving on without us having a grip on the wheel.

I haven’t visited a place since I was 10 years old where I didn’t speak the language. In other words, it wasn’t until our trip to Greece and Italy last December that I found myself unable to understand everything that was being said around me.

Just thinking about going on a trip to two completely foreign countries was pretty intimidating. Wanting to ease some of the pain of visiting “the great unknown,” I made sure to memorize important phrases such as “Thank you,” “Help!” and “Where is the bathroom?” in Greek and Italian a few days before we were scheduled to leave.

I told myself it was just my tendency to be organized making me memorize those phrases, but soon enough, I realized what was really the force driving my paranoia. I was afraid of not being in control.

Feeling in control would mean that I could understand what people were saying and that they could understand me. But of course, there was no way I could do this.

I hated the fact that I couldn’t just speak in Italian and blend in with the crowds. I stuck out like a sore thumb: the girl who paraded around Florence saying “gratzee” instead of “gratzi-ay,” the girl carrying a map of the Rome Metro everywhere she went, the girl wearing a nice coat and tennis shoes so her feet could endure a long day of walking.

As frustrating as it was at first, I eventually got used to the feeling of cluelessness. And once I embraced the fact that I didn’t speak Greek or Italian, I finally felt at peace.

It is more than words that connect us as people. Sure, language is a great tool, but communication can happen in more than one way. On the sixth day of our trip, we visited the Uffizi Gallery in Florence, which houses some of the most important works of Renaissance art. 

Everywhere you looked stood a piece of art, whether it be painting, fresco, or sculpture, and every room you wandered into led to even more ancient treasures. Each and every painting was unique, even those depicting the same scene. Throughout our trip, we saw several paintings of the annunciation of Mary, and the young woman’s reaction to the news is starkly different in each representation. The two renditions at the Uffizi showed this variety— Mary’s facial expression in Leonardo da Vinci's work was wary, and in Lippo Memmi and Simone Martini’s painting, Mary looked almost irritated.

The annunciation marks a time in Mary’s life where she has to accept that she’s not in control. When she hears that she is to give birth to Jesus Christ, she does stop and question before coming to full acceptance. Once she embraces the reality, however, great joy comes upon her.

People from all parts of the world meandered through the Uffizi’s expansive halls, gazing at the ancient treasures. Dozens of languages surrounded me—some identifiable and others completely foreign. Even though I couldn’t have communicated verbally with 90 percent of the museum’s visitors that day, I realized that art itself served as the medium for communication.

As I walked around, everyone was doing pretty much the same thing. We were all having similar reactions to the art, and, even though we spoke different languages, we all communicated the same thing to the people we were with: wonder. In spite of where we came from, the art found a way to speak to us. At school, we spent loads of class time discussing Renaissance art and the myriad messages hidden within the artwork, but it wasn’t until we had this shared experience that we truly realized the value of it all.

There is something magical about being in a room with artwork you’ve heard people praising your entire life, and everything becomes all the more special when you let go of the communication issues you’ve had on your journey and just enjoy being slightly out of control.