My childhood nickname was Chatterbox. A name my older siblings stuck me with, and a name that still emerges at family dinners when I tell one too many stories in a few too many minutes.
“When she isn’t talking, she’s writing.” As a child, this proved true. As an almost-adult, this still proves true. Words always have been my way of communicating (an enlightened idea, I know).
Three weeks ago, I stood nodding and smiling cluelessly as an Ecuadorian man spoke to me in his native language, I realized that I’m not such a master of communication after all. That said, I also discovered how possible it is to communicate with someone without really speaking. There’s such a thing called listening and I’ve come to learn that it’s a skill I oftentimes lack. So eager, usually, to share my own thoughts, stories and ideas, I sometimes forget to just shut up. Not being able to speak Spanish really forced me to just. listen.
Long gone are my days of first and last words and welcome are the days of silence. My days of silence, that is. Because even though I had no idea what was being said (and even though I later learned at one point I was called fat), someone was still speaking. And he was smiling. And it occurred to me that other people might like to talk; other people might like to be listened to, if only I could start giving them a chance. If only I could stop searching for the subtitles of life, and instead start listening.
This past winter break, I went on a SEND trip to Ecuador. This surprised some. Perhaps because I’m not a “roughing it” kind of girl (that, however, is a totally inaccurate assumption, as I am a master camper). Or maybe it was because I have such a strong aversion to the sun, that, once upon a time, people assumed I was a vampire. Or maybe, it’s because I’m a play it safe kind of girl who borders so far on the side of caution that I don’t even watch scary movies. But what surprised me only in retrospect, is that I never once felt unsafe throughout the duration of the trip. I know that sounds naive or ignorant or like the North American media has really succeeded at instilling fear within me (and all of those are probably true), but it’s more than that. It’s that I never worried about me there. It became easy to withdraw myself from the “self” bubble we all tend to live in. Job applications and blogs and an “online presence” and class schedules—things I usually spend an inordinate amount of time obsessing over—disappeared. And I don’t mean they physically disappeared, because, duh of course they did, I left the country. But they literally disappeared from my mind. And I learned to let go of my own little worries, and also the big little worries that the news has instilled within me. And in stepping forward a little (or a lot, rather, because Ecuador is 3,084 miles away), I actually, in turn, stepped back enough to see the bigger picture. And what I found hurt. But what I found was also beautiful.
It was beautiful to not have a phone and to lose track of time and to speak in run on sentences as you try to form your discombobulated thoughts into phrases as you take in the world around you. And the world we saw hurt. But the way we lived in that world was beautiful and just listening was beautiful. Nikki Reed (one of the infamous stars of Twilight), once wrote, “I’d like to stay in that world; a world where iPhones and flip cams don’t exist, a world where people live only to dance to whatever beat they hear.” And to my knowledge, she was not describing Ecuador, but she very well could’ve been.
Because as I flew home and became re-submerged in a culture that I grew up in and spent only eight days away from, I found myself continuously missing Ecuador—the people, the places, the simplicity. Coming back, the first trip to the grocery store was hard. The first meal was hard. The first shower that lasted more than a minute was…okay, not so hard. But holding my glittery pink iPhone back in my hand was, surprisingly, hard. And after a week of feeling inordinately free, it felt especially heavy.
Surrounded by YOLO and FOMO and YOASSSAACO (you’re only a second semester senior at Assumption College once), I’ve decided to take a different approach and instead live the way I learned in Ecuador—intentionally. Not accidentally or casually or tweetingly. But intentionally.
And this intentional living sometimes takes you to this place where you’re in another continent, driving silently through a poverty-torn village, and it sometimes takes you to this place where you end up crying in a Panera (practicing your new listening skills) as your grandmother tells you stories of the grandparents who were gone before your time. And this intentional living brings you back to the presence, pulling you from the petty. This intentional living, it seems, forces you to listen. And listening, like Ecuador, is beautiful. Sometimes painfully sad, but always beautiful.