I am my own home

It’s been a whirlwind past couple of weeks here and it’s quite hard to put anything into words right now, but I think I need to because I’ve got so much brewing inside me. I can’t believe I’ve only been here for two and a half weeks. It feels like it’s been so much longer, but in a good way. In such little time I feel I’ve accomplished so much: found an apartment, moved in, furnished the apartment, got electricity, got water, got a phone plan, (sort of) got wifi, been grocery shopping, got my monthly metro card, had my orientation in Barcelona, came back and had my first week working in my school, taught 2 and 3 year old little babies, wiped snot, wiped butts, met hundreds of people, kissed thousands of cheeks, translated tons of conversations, learned more Spanish, used more Spanish, made new Spaniard friends, made friends from my program, explored the majority of Madrid, taken part in a language exchange, enrolled in two courses, have interviewed for a second job, and on and on. To say the least, it feels like this is all just natural, that I’ve been living here for months. Looking back on it, I’m kind of amazed, but, honestly, it mostly feels like no big deal. Like yeah, okay, I did all that. Word. Now it’s time to just take each new day as it comes to me. And be.

I think my favorite thing is that since first stepping out of the airport into the glare of the Spanish sun gleaming over the mountains, I have never once felt like a tourist. And as the plane descended from my trip to Barcelona through the clouds and turbulence, I felt the simultaneous eagerness and comfort of returning home — that itch of renewed excitement and whole-body ease, that long sigh of remembered and beloved skyline and city streets and unknown faces that have somehow come together to mean home. People have said to me so many times that it must be hard to move to a new place with a different language and culture and history and food and everything, for the most part on my own. Well, to be real, sometimes it’s hard and sometimes it’s the easiest thing in the world. I’m not going to lie, it’s been a real struggle sometimes (many times), but it also just feels right. In truth, it has only been a few weeks and I know there will be times when I am incredibly home sick and miss my friends and family, everything I have known. But I also know there will be times when I feel brand new, when I don’t think about the things and people I used to think about, when I’ve lost myself. I think the best way to lose yourself is in yourself. Not to any person or any place, but to lose yourself in your own being, in your own experience, your own small perspective of this overwhelming and confusing world. Maybe that sounds weird and meta, but I think it’s in yourself where you make your best discoveries, where your greatest, most cherished memories live — in you. It doesn’t matter the place or the people or the opportunities, it’s got to do with what’s within you, what you nurture, what you reach down and scrape out of yourself, what you bring to the surface to give to the world.   

I guess I’m talking about that ever-romantic and complicated notion of self-discovery. Finding yourself or losing yourself, or both, is an entirely personal and never-ending endeavor that is so much about putting yourself into anything and everything that is uncomfortable. The uncomfortable is the space that holds everything you need to grow. It is so important not just to learn how to be alone, but to learn to be lonely, here. To not turn to your phone or Netflix or social media to distract you from that feeling, or any uncomfortable feeling, but rather to sit with it. To feel the gravity of silence. The weight of your singular existence and individuality. To not try to rush it away or remedy it. But to be with yourself in your loneliness and discomfort until it fades away like passing clouds, to not be afraid of day returning to this night sky, as it may. It is deeply empowering, even calming. It is here that I keep finding myself, in Spain and elsewhere. It is here where I recognize the darkness and the beauty around me, and how sometimes they are the same things.

Still, each day, there are times my breath is taken away, my heart stretches to let something new in, my mind jumps to do more and see more and understand more. These moments are nothing short of beautifully human — when I am overcome by emotion, something unexplainable and profound. When the tears catch behind my eyelids in teeming pools. When I don’t know if I am happy or sad or terrified, just that I feel. Only that I feel everything. This is my home. This is the house I’ve built of myself that will carry me through the coming months in Madrid and wherever else I come upon. I thank whatever God or the universe or magic and circumstances that came together to give me these eyes that still have so much to see, these feet that carry me, this mind that grows and learns and understands, this heart that wants and hopes and needs and hopes and grieves and hopes and bleeds and forgives and heals and still, hopes.

“To travel is to live”

When people asked me over and over what I was going to do after I graduated, I said I was going to live in Madrid for a year. It’s funny, but I’ve only been here for a few days and that statement has never felt more real in its most basic meaning. I am here to live. To live. By this I mean I am simply here to be, to exist, to experience this world and myself in the most human way. I don’t know if it’s something about Spain or traveling in general, but it allows you to return to something you lost along the way, to go back to the most humble, curious version of yourself. No one knows who I am here, and in this way I can become new again. In this way I can shed my story, who I perceive myself to be, all the good and the bad, and project whatever remains outward.
I’m not saying I’m going to be a completely different person or that I’ve lost myself in any negative way; it’s more like I have the freedom to open myself up completely — there are no expectations, I do not feel the need to constantly perform or please or get ahead. I am not squeezed under the regimen of time. I speak less, take in more. I can walk down the street at a pace that looks a lot less like a city jog. I am not inundated with convenience and consumerism. Frustrations and stresses quickly coil away. I breathe deeper, wander often, begin without destination. I understand what really matters. I tell myself no less. I try everything. I taste all the flavors, hear all the sounds, feel everything as it passes through me. I look up more. There is so much sun, the sun is always with me. I stop and stare as it bursts magnificently and quietly through the leaves and tree branches, try to commit the image to memory. I smile at the classical music spilling onto the streets, even when it wakes me up in the morning. I watch abuelas chat with their neighbors as they wash down their terrazzas and think how lovely it may be to grow old like this. I hear and feel the word bonita so often this place, this life should be renamed it. I am always losing my breath, I am always losing my words, and feel only like I have gained back some of the things I have lost.
One of my favorite quotes is, “to travel is to live,” by Hans Christian Anderson. This is what he meant.
I know I will not always feel like this, but I hope that when the amazing becomes ordinary, it only means it is time to explore and find this feeling again.