¡Dejale regalonearte! Let her love you! says Juan, my host dad, as my host mom hovers about trying to bring me ice or kleenex or an apple, all of which I turn down, even as I sit in a crumpled heap after yet another Knee Incident. I’m more than a bit desolate, but accepting help feels, in my mind, like giving up my independence, an independence that here has been hard won, fought for in a city that chatters to a language I had to learn, hums to a rhythm I spent so long failing to understand. I tilt my head back and close my eyes, fighting tears. The last thing I want is to be crossed, the last thing I need is to have to accept graciously help I didn’t ask for on top of fighting pain and a rising panic about maybe never being able to play frisbee again and a strong desire to stay brave so I don’t freak my poor parents out.
Maybe, though, to be crossed in this way is actually the first thing I need. Let her bring you the apple, I admonish myself firmly. Thank her for being so gosh darn attentive, even though sometimes you feel moderately suffocated. Let her love you, because right now, what’s going to get you through this is love, not pretending like you can walk. Sí, una manzana por favor, and María Alicia gets me the apple, bringing without asking the knife I always use to slice fruits into delectible crunchy wafers.
For a long time, I thought that in order to show someone love, you had to say “I love you” to them, face-to-face, otherwise it didn’t count. I didn’t really say “I love you” to people without prompting until I went to college, when I started to really realize how awesome my family was. Before that, the only time I remember an I love you coming out feeling natural was when I’d talk to my dad on the phone during his time doing research in other countries when I was a young kid.
Now, though, I know to pour love onto people in whatever color I feel, receive in a higgledy-piggledy bucket with many a specialized receiving contraption for each special individual.
I’ve got a special input valve for my host dad, now, who cares for me in observations about who I am. He’s a sharp observer, and has unearthed sides of me that, while possibly obvious to the mere passerby, were hidden in plain sight from me. Just when I think I’ve figured myself out, because darn it, I wrote 20 pages in my journal last week, he’ll come out with a “you’re really quite a sensitive person” (prompting an monster blog post), or “you stand up straighter now than when you came here.” The gift, in this case, is someone who is willing to think about me, and who has opened up for enough of a relationship that we can share those types of things.
I’ve got a tranquil bromeliad pool for María Alicia, who has taught me to receive love in confidence, the kind where you bare your very soul and dig into those sticky, tricky emotions. Together. ¿Cómo te sientes, mi niña? she asks me every day. How do you feel, sweetie?, and I know to reply with honesty, and not expect to get off the hook if it’s not todo bien. This is love in constant, lightly nudging drip drops of attention and preocupation. She aint gonna let nothin’ slide. And I do the same for her, more and more.
I developed myself a sturdy holding tank for the women of Brazil who love in rich food. The hollow ankle was not sufficient, and I received the love in the 5 extra pounds I now carry around with me. Oops. I guess that’s what gyms are for!
I’ve carved out a easily-accessible hatch door for my poor dad who has recently been loving me in insurance claims, financial aid forms, tax returns and bank transfers. And blog post comments, the dear sweet man. He’s currently winning, if there’s a race, in all of those categories.
I’ve got a cozy corner to receive my mom’s loving in I’m proud of you‘s, and I wish I could be there with you‘s and weekly emails of the family happenings.
Then there’s the hodgepodge of recepticles for all those friends from school and life who’ve kept up a lively internet chatter during my absence, checking in, telling me about their lives, commenting with plenty of ❤ emojis on pictures, letting me dump on them sometimes when surprising things happened and I needed to process, letting me listen to them when they’re going through a tricky spot themselves.
I think a lot now about the ways I have (and often still do) feel lonely in the world. Especially during lunch, here, when I stay on campus instead of going home, and see all the groups of friends convening to eat, smoke, play guitar and chat during their hour-long break, and then go microwave my leftovers and find myself a shady patch of grass to plunk down in. What I’ve come to realize, though, is that I’ve only ever been as alone as I thought I was, only ever as independent as I deluded myself into believing. The key is really to treasure and coax along the little baby loves we get handed during the day. Maybe the doorman says hi and smiles as you hustle by on your way to class in the morning. Maybe someone from natural theology recognizes you on the patio and stops to say hello. Maybe the cat you’ve let sniff your sneakers for a semester finally rolls over and lets you tickle its belly in a patch of sunlight. Maybe in your african drum class you spontaneously create a smile with the person across from you as you kind of mess up but nobody really cares and the rhythm pulses on with a terrific energy.
I believe in learning to receive the little loves, the microscopic moments, the tiny gratitudes. Because together they add up. And I believe in giving them, too.
It used to be that if, for example, I wanted to show a friend I cared about her, I’d write her a 6-page letter. Which meant I very very seldom showed people I cared. Because who has time for a 6-page letter every day, now, really? Now, though, when I go to the feria on Saturdays, I’ll often buy María Alicia flowers, because they’re a bit of a luxury, but are important for her to feel like the home is homey. She talks about that all the time when people come over, and I know that that small, $2 gesture means a lot. The other day, I was walking home from dropping someone off at the bus station, and picked up a chocolate bar. There was this homeless guy hunched by the sidewalk, not even with the energy to put his hand out. I asked if he wanted some chocolate, and he did, so I gave him some. Then I got to my building, and both of the really nice door men were there, so I gave them some. And then there were these guys trying to squish a queen-size mattress into a tiny elevator, and they looked pooped, so I gave them some. And then I got home and I had 4 squares left, and split those with my friend. The fact that the doormen have been extra special nice ever since, and the moving men let me take the elevator they’d been waiting for was largely irrelevant. I felt happy for what other people received, not for what they subsequently gave me. 7 people (including me) got to be a little bit happier on account of chocolate! 7 people (including me) opened themselves to some chocolate-colored love squirts into their buckets!
I don’t share these stories to be like “oooh look at me giving chocolate to homeless people and moving men”. No. I shared these stories because they’re how I’ve learned that anybody can make their life better adding attatchments, recepticles, drip openings to their love bucket. Mine has grown tremendously being here, as has my ability to funnel love into other people’s buckets. To this, I owe a debt of gratitude to the loving (in giving and receiving) people in my life (like you, you wonderful humans), gratitude itself and plenty of delicious chocolate.