There are times in everyone's life when we feel a little lost, a little out of touch with our true self and where we are meant to be. A few years ago, I was feeling this way. I was yearning for something more, but not sure what that something more was.
So what did I do? I booked a solo trip to Verona, Italy, where I volunteered as a Secretary of Juliet for the infamous Letters to Juliet, also known as Club di Giuletta (more on this a little later).
For nine days, I essentially wrote letters for love. My mission was to be part of something bigger than myself. To give my heart in a way that I had never given it before: to the world.
Little did I know that through this experience of being a Secretary of Juliet, I would learn that some of people's greatest stories of heartbreak are also their greatest stories of triumph. I would learn that somehow every letter seemed to get into the hands of the right Secretary who could relate to that particular story and knew just what to say. I would learn that no matter where you go, even if you're traveling alone, you are never alone. All of us humans are connected, we each experience suffering, we all have dreams, and we all share this longing for this profound and powerful thing called Love.
What is Club di Giuletta?
Club di Giulietta started in the 1930s when people would leave letters on Juliet's tomb, asking for advice in love and heartbreak. The guardian who would watch the tomb each week decided to take it upon himself to gather these letters, and in the best way he could, respond to them, thus starting the mission of Club di Giulietta. Since then, hundreds of people write to Juliet each year, and volunteers from all over the globe come together as Secretaries of Juliet to reply to the letters.
I was lucky enough to be one of these secretaries, and to learn some very powerful lessons about love...
Lesson #1: You can't solve your own love problems, so don't try to solve anyone else's.
The moment I first walked into the place, a middle-aged Italian woman named Elena greeted me and showed me around. She gave me a run-down of the basics of the letter-responding process, how I should address the envelopes, where to find more stationery when I ran out, how to label the letter and write a short description of the content which would later be used for storage purposes. Then she walked away and left me to start writing.
However, as I sat there, I felt so up-in-the-air. How could I start writing if I never got any direction on how to actually reply to the letters? She had trained me on the logistics of letter packaging and such, but she had never given me any training on how I should respond to the letters. The task of responding to a mountain of people who opened their heart to me was intimidating. I didn't want to do it wrong.
So I ran up the stairs after her and said, "Aren't you going to give me training on how to respond to the letters?"
What she said surprised me. She looked at me and said, "You can barely solve your own love problems, eh? So don't try to solve anyone else's. Your job is to just listen, be a friend to them."
I walked back downstairs, half shaken by her directness with me, and half relieved. Who looks at you in the eyes and says you can't solve your own love problems lol. But it was such a relief to know that my role was not to fix anything. I was only there to help them feel seen, offer a kind word.
I cannot fix anyone's problems, and no one can fix mine. But we can love each other through them.
Lesson #2: I am a whole, you are a whole, and together we are a venn diagram.
One of the most beautiful letters I read was from a girl named Stevie. This is what she wrote:
I'm sitting on a train from Florence trying to find the words to tell you everything I'm feeling. My heart has been aching for so long it has become my new normal. I feel as if I am broken. A music box with a missing pin. People tell me to trust, that my time will come. And I want to believe. I want to trust but I'm so scared. I feel... probably too much at times. But it's because I want to love someone in multitudes. I want to give my love a piece of my heart unafraid that they will take and kill it as others have done in the past. I'm tired of pretending to be okay when treated poorly. I so desperately want to fall in love and stay in love. A love that is strong and trusting, loyal, passionate, and fulfilling. I want to love a man that treats me as his queen. And I want to love that man with all the love I can give to him. I want to love him so strongly that we both never question what we have because we feel it in our souls. I do not wish to lose myself in him or for him to lose himself in me. But rather for us to come together as two separate beings, connected at the heart. I want a love to write poems about. One that makes me laugh and cry joyfully. One that expands my mind, soul, body, and heart. One that scares me but never is lived in fear. One that is a partnership. I want to lift my man up in his life and dreams and support him. And one where he does the same for me, his woman. I want to be ravished and to make passionate love. I want to feel that love that we share in my mind, heart, and body. And please Juliet I need it to last. I want a love like this until I die. I know I have asked a lot. And I know you are a very busy woman. I just wanted you to know. Your story inspired me when I was a little girl. You are a reason I believe in love as much as I do. And I want to thank you for that. You gave me, and so many others hope for a love deeper than most. And I believe.
What I loved about this letter is that she understood that love is not two halves coming together, completing one another. But it's two people that are completely whole, connecting at the heart, like a venn diagram. Truth.
Only when we become complete in ourselves and who we are can we fully give of ourselves in the way we were meant to give ourselves.
Lesson #3: To love is to become vulnerable.
Every letter I read of someone who was in love had the same element: vulnerability. There is something risky about love. When we love, we open the door of our heart for someone to love us as well as hurt us. We cannot love without opening this door. We must to be vulnerable in love.
Lesson #4: Just because you have a love life doesn't mean that you have love in your life.
There were those letters that made me see that just because someone has a romantic partner does not mean that this relationship was necessarily fulfilling. Some of the letters from people who were in relationships were some of the most saddening and rid of love. It made me remember that you can have a life filled with love with or without a relationship. A love life doesn't equate to love in your life.
Lesson #5: Heartbreak comes in many forms.
Heartbreaks came in the from of mothers who are mistreated by their child, individuals who found out that they have cancer, and someone who lost a parent. Heartbreaks come in many shapes and sizes. I was amazed by the different reasons people wrote into Juliet besides romantic relationships. There is a whole spectrum of heartache that needed healing.
Lesson #6: Love comes in many forms.
Being able to love these people who I didn't even know filled my heart with love. I remember feeling so on fire with love for some of these people who opened their heart to me. I felt so alive and so fulfilled in writing to them. This made me realize that romantic love is not the end-all of love. There are so many ways to love outside of a committed relationship that can make us come alive, and we cannot forget about these.
Lesson #7: It's those places where you've felt the most pain that you have the most to give.
One of my fellow Secretaries came from a difficult situation. She had taken this trip to Italy so that she could heal from a recent tragedy. Her mother had just passed away from cancer, and just a few years later, her father had left her and her mom. An only child, she was left all on her own. Some may have seen her as someone who needed intense therapy, but she knew that at trip to Italy surrounded by only beauty was the best therapy you could get. And we knew that all the letters that flowed in about someone losing a family member were the ones only she would know how to reply to because she was going through it. Her place of pain because the place where she could give the most to others.
Lesson #8: Some of our greatest heartbreaks are our greatest triumphs.
There was this one woman who moved in with a man who she thought she loved. After about a year, she woke up with all his belongings gone. He called her and told her that he didn't love her anymore and that he had to leave. While she felt the world crumble in front of her, and it took time to heal, she told a story of how this situation taught her to truly value herself and to know her true worth besides a man loving her in her life. Some of our greatest downfalls lead to our greatest triumphs.
Well... there you have it. The top eight lessons I learned from volunteering for Letters to Juliet. I still think back on my time in Verona as such a sweet few weeks. Going there made me feel less alone in this world. It helped me realize that love is much more than a relationship, and that someone who is whole in themselves is best fit to have a fulfilling relationship. I hope you enjoyed reading, and please leave a comment about what lessons you've learned about love. I would love to know!
Lots of love,