What makes Florence such an impeccable city is not its magnificent art, its quaint and ambulatory cobblestone thoroughfares, or its world-class gelato, although we earnestly enjoyed all those things. What I experienced there can only be described in the word "rebirth." The Renaissance (which, you probably know, means "rebirth") began in Florence, but I think that its spirit or ideology or essence remains, and it whispered subtly to me the entire time we were there.
The most quantifiable experience I can use to convey what I am describing was seeing Michelangelo's "David". There are few experiences in our lives where something is so transcendentally beautiful and we are so overwhelmed that we feel like we've somehow stepped out of ourselves and caught a glimpse of the eternal, or like our body has faded away and we are in sublime communion with—no, we simply ARE—a soul. I think C.S. Lewis' description of Milton's "enormous bliss" in describing "the biscuit tin garden" is close to what I am describing, if you are familiar with it.
Unlike Lewis' description, though, I have sometimes (rarely) felt graced with these experiences for extended periods of time. I remember be required to see three performances by the University Symphony in college. During one such performance, the conductor said, "If this is your first time hearing this piece, I envy you." It was a piece by Ravel. The minutes of that choreographic symphony were indescribable, and is immortalized in my mind.
So, too, I sat before the incredible statue of David and was so overwhelmed that I dared not move. I scarcely breathed. The moment of the beautiful transcendence extended to a minute, then to several minutes. When it did finally pass, I was not eager to hang on to it. I was simply happy to have experienced it in the first place.
This grandeur, this Renaissance, was not constrained to the David, although it was most noticeable there. Everything in the city seemed more beautiful, more real, more hopeful. It was like casting aside a ridiculous and hopeless dogma that had enslaved me to my selfishness for something truly powerful, freeing and new.
Its history was of great artists and entrepreneurs who cast aside conventions so that something better, something purer, or something that simply worked could exist. They embraced who they were, their ideas, and what they could do and sought to be great and affect destiny rather than seeing destiny as an ominous, mysterious, unalterable force. People had eternal value; humanism was significant.
Everything about Florence communicated hope—that God made you great, that you are significant, that you can do great things that alter the course of the world, and you have no reason not to try. Embrace yourself, embrace destiny, and create out of your greatness.