Gratitude (In All Its Shades and Textures and Layers of Feeling)

The majority of this blog post (or at least a half of what was this blog post) I have subsequently trashed. Why? One, because I complained for a good 3/4 page about the smoking problem in Spain which is something that can't be helped and that shouldn't affect me too badly (and that would have been disrespectful to people I do respect). Secondly, because I realize that, while I don't want to "sugarcoat" the study abroad experience or deny any of my very real feelings, I don't think I have any right to complain about the majority of what I had to complain about (also after two weeks of sitting on my thoughts--as I tend to do--I realized how inconsequential they were). And so, in this blog (and in this week with Thanksgiving rolling itself slowly toward me like the giggling Pillsbury Dough Boy himself) I hope to focus on gratitude

The past, past week was wonderful and can be characterized by two words: friendship and movies. On Sunday, I went to a weird movie with my friends Kyle, Isabel and Charlie called The Kindergarten Teacher which was part of the Sevilla European Film Festival. It was an Israeli film about a sad, middle-aged woman whose obsession with the poetic talent of one of her four year-old pupils leads to disastrous ends (re: jail). The plot was weird, but the desperation and complexity of Nira, the main character, was handled well, the child actors were spectacular and the cinematography was interesting (beautiful light, the camera as a living presence that the characters would sometimes bump or gaze into and that would shift and spin with the narrative, distancing itself for a "stage" effect or following along like an extra as characters moved around a room). I also planned an event for the women in my program called "Woman Crush Wednesday Movies and Milkshakes" which was a huge success (about 12-15 of 30-Ish girls showed up). We went to this kitschy "American" diner called Tommy Mel's and got milkshakes--delicious plus they offered peanut butter for the milkshakes (a rarity outside of Corte Ingles). The Nervion movie theatre was gigantic (and packed) with fairly comfortable seats, and better yet, it was half-price Wednesday so we didn't feel bad about ordering giant boxes of popcorn, too (though maybe we should have, after the decadent milkshakes). The movie we saw was Argentinian and called Relatos Salvajes. It also had beautiful cinematography (long, winding shots of cars on open roads, etc) but otherwise, was really weird and violent (and oddly hilarious at parts--at least to us Americans who were the only ones laughing in the theatre. This disjuncture between American humor and Spanish humor seems to happen a lot). On Thursday, we went to my new friend, Eline's house (friend of Sofie, both from Belgium), and we all went shopping together and then cooked! It was a real taste of my future apartment life (but actually, I hope my cooking can taste that good). We made (well, mostly the actual Belgiums) Belgium pancakes with apples in them, and then we covered them with all manner of sugary goodness (cinnamon sugar, Nutella, whipped cream). It was wonderfully fun mostly because it was such a mixture of people--Belgiums, Americans, Germans--all speaking their second (or third) languages together and bonding over our culinary attempts. Lastly, on Friday night, I went to another movie--an Austrian thriller called Goodnight, Mommy which was super creepy and beautiful and shocking and would-recommend-with-caution (some of the scenes were extremely distressing; just ask the forty year-old man beside me who was curdled up and turned away from the screen for half the movie).

Great things: seeing little improvements and moments of clarity for students like Juan, a boy with Downs, handing me the yellow colored pencil while I was trying to teach him "yellow" with a yellow crayon. Little moments of humanity: Teresa and her best friend, both who are mentally handicapped, pretending to hypnotize each other during our workshop at Asociacion Tandem. Having the Starbucks barista tell me I spoke Spanish very well. A conversation with my host family (parents, Maria Carmen and Rafa) about the education system here compared with the U.S. Many other after-meal conversations with Carmen and Andres about my time here and exchange students they' ve hosted in the past: "You always have a Seville home here. We try to treat you how we would want one of our kids to be treated if they were alone in another country. We eat all together because we want you to feel like family." The kids at my internship who hug me or wave at me or draw pictures for me (one of which was signed "To: Gerlaim, Love: Paula" which I honestly deserve because I forgot that drawing on a desk when I left the school). Really getting to know Sofie in all her kindness and goodness and incredible similarity to the character of Sophie in Howl's Moving Castle (which I have ascribed to her with a deep reverence for the character and this girl herself) and her strength and humility and loving way of being. And so many moments of beauty in the city itself: walking back from el Centro with the delicate shell of the sky cracking pink and purple against the darkening buildings, the Cathedral appearing even more gothic with the impending rain, tuxedoed photographers waiting outside of a church and the bridal party waiting inside, with derby hats jauntily set, for life to begin anew with a simple exchange of words, a whole cloud of character balloons making its way up into the atmosphere, never to feel the greasy, unconditionally loving grasp of a child's hand.

I feel as though lately I've been taking time to really be in the moment. I'm not thinking about what's going on elsewhere, or trying to plan or think ahead, just being and enjoying being and not existing solely in my head (where I so dangerously tend to be all of the time). I am thinking about the future as in the next two quarters at school, this summer, senior year and beyond. But it's not with fear or trepidation or hesitation or frantic anxiety like before. It's with excitement and hope and the feeling that God has some plan for me--a plan where I'm meant to help others and get to know great people and develop myself further as a person. But I'm also settling into myself, something that I haven't done before: I'm not so critical or harsh or wanting so much. I feel comfortable in who I am and what I want and what I'm doing. I don't feel so insecure in friendships or in what I'm doing on a daily basis (personally, academically, extracurricularly). Things seem to be fitting into place and resting peacefully and I'm letting them. There is no hurry or rush and sometimes I just find myself saying, "Wow, I'm happy" in a very conscious, pervading, apparent sense. It strikes me in little moments--walking across bridges and seeing the Giralda clear and crisp in the morning air, running through the rain to class and laughing at myself for forgetting my raincoat again, writing in my Moleskin while sipping cinnamon tea, eating sunflower seeds with my host family with my legs warmed by the heater under the table, laying in my bed with early morning sunlight streaking in from the blue-blue sky over the white-white apartments, walking past the bakery Picnic and waving to the local baker. There's so little pressure here, and I'm learning not to put so much on myself.

A love letter to that which I've been given but have no right to call my own:

I am grateful for: Thanksgiving presentations that Prezi makes pretty (the font of which even Garamondster appreciates); for kids who say they're grateful "for the love God gives us" and "for our family who tries to give us the best they can;" a waiter who knows just how much butter and jam should go on toast; old and new friends (the unnamed and numerous) who understand my future ambitions and fears, my inner quakings and murmurings, my questionings and assertions, my absolute infatuation with email exchanges (those of which make me smile and realize again and again how loved I am and how good it is to be connected to others); Kyle who makes me 82 song playlists complete with poetic descriptions of each artist, challenges me to be a better doodler and writer (as he himself is incredible and so driven) and treats me with such loving care as a friend that he constantly inspires me to be a better one myself; my mom, whose constant positivity, patience and grace, whose quick laughter and wit, whose energizing smile and gentle, cradling eyes, whose absolutely, stunning radiant beauty of being have kept me sane and grounded and buoyed even while a continent away; my dad who with constant reaffirmations and an outpouring of time and well-thought out, well-experienced advice, who with Hemingway looks and way-too-cool ambitions (he's learning how to snow kite surf, friends), who with such tenderness of heart and crystallization of mind, has always shown me what it means to be a good (and badass) person; Samantha, whose creative energy and hilarious spirit, whose patience and resilience and ever-reaching, ever-achieving positivity, whose gentleness and kindness and grace of being, whose quiet and strong heart have guided me as a person and an artist; Kameron, whose leanings and strivings and energetic socializings, her eat-the-world-entire spirit, whose humbleness and eyes ever toward that secret goodness in others, whose nonjudgement and relaxed understanding, tall hugs for short people, never asks too much but deserves all the beauty and all the love the world can give; all of my grandparents: because I can chat with them like friends, because they show me love and attention even when I'm busy in my world, because they send me articles on current events with accompanying pop quizzes, because they make me look better than I could ever look myself; the opportunity that is the here and now: a program, a university, a volunteering job, an internship, a city, a language, a host family that are constantly challenging me as a person, a thinker, a woman, a writer, a Christian, a cemented personality, someone comfortably situated in the way I was--I feel so different, so very renewed; God for without Him, nothing would be and for the for the being that He has made--this time of gentle wrenching away from the past, the small dancing steps toward the future, the stretching of backs and creaking of long-resting bones, the cooling taste of oranges after supper at ten o'clock at night, the never-faltering laughter of my host family, the sensation of ancient cobbled streets through thinly soled shoes, the frantic energy of school children before recess, the realization that the world is so vastly different and large and layered and beautiful and terrifying and contains multitudes and multitudes of people who I will never know or never understand and who will never know or never understand me but who I feel with the same pulsing feeling as I feel in my own wrist when I circle it in pen with a false tattoo. Lastly, and especially, those people who read my blog until the last sentence even though the majority of it is a ranting, philosophical, poetic, wandering mess. 

Alistair is here. Tomorrow marks 3 weeks. I hope I can take this growth and goodness of feeling and gratefulness back with me; it might be the only thing to keep me warm this winter (bienvenido, Polar Vortex Dos). CJB


Caroline BrownComment