This time of year, Earth's northern hemisphere is predominantly warm and sunny. Across the varied climates of Europe, life flourishes. Pardon the facile metaphor, please, but it seems the time and place must also be conducive to the particularly human kind of flourishing. I wasn't expecting this trip to engender much in the way of reflection; certainly it wasn't a goal, or even a tangential to-do. At an inward glance, I hadn't noticed much on my mind. Upon reflection… oops.

What gets people growing? Lots of things. A change of scenery prompts reevaluation of priorities. Relationships — romantic and otherwise — form and change and reach cusps, strengthen and weaken, become more and less important. Or one's unplanned quotidian patterns, calcified by habit, become tiresome enough to jettison.

All of the above apply to me in the last few years. And before that? To allude to a recent entry, how did I become “who I was before”? There are those who have called me a Renaissance man. True or not, it's fitting that the clearest explanation yet of how I came to be should be painted, in a polyptych of anecdotes, by the city of Florence.

The apartment. My father studied in Florence when he was about my age. I found the building where he lived. Live there, and when you walk out the door and turn right, you see the Duomo at the end of the street. Needless to say, parents play a giant role in shaping children (read on); needful to say, living here must have shaped my Abba a bit.

The world traveler. After a rainy early morning reserving tickets for the Uffizi and a train to my next destination (Innsbruck), I damply went back to bed. I was awoken around noon by the arrival of a new guest in the hostel. We spent most of the next several days together, walking and biking, riding all day on a train, swapping stories, conversing on various and sundry topics, eating various and sundry local delicacies. Fascinating person. Even before she decided to travel the world, she'd been doing well for herself under unusual circumstances. I have a soft spot for people who don't follow traditional paths because they're busy living meaningfully some other way. (I like to think that's what I've been doing for the last 7 years!) She tickled that spot and backed it up with well-won wisdom and fearlessness. A human reminder of my recent self-discovery.

The careless parent. At an internet cafe, I overheard a mother half-consciously criticizing her son: “You can't seem to stop dropping that X” (for some value of X). Not raising her voice, not even a sharp tone, just a note of resignation, at a volume that sounded as though it were a thought mistakenly spoken. The son quietly entreated her, “I promise I won't drop it this time.” Ouch.

The careful parent. At Museo di Storia Della Scienza, going from room to room, I couldn't stop watching a mother and her very observant, inquisitive 5ish-year-old daughter. The kid, very articulate, would ask a perceptive question. The mother would explain as best she could. The kid would listen and process the answer. A few seconds later, the process would repeat. All told, probably 50 questions were posed and patiently answered. It was clear why this child was able to ask such good questions. Mom had endless patience and respect for her. Here was a child with a fighting chance to reach adulthood with her curiosity intact. I thought about saying something, but couldn't think of how to say it. Instead I merely nodded as my eyes moistened. How yes to raise children. Beautiful.

To be continued…