Currently, I am in a rather squished seat on a bus bound for Madrid. It is a window seat, which was a happy stroke of luck. However, regardless of view, it seems like the next seven hours would be well spent catching up on blog posts.
Reader, I miscalculated greatly. I did not write at all on that cramped bus ride.
Instead of being conventionally productive, I daydreamed and took in the constantly changing landscape. We rolled through small villages, across expanses of green fields, random castles and fortresses sprung up on hilltops, and as we neared Madrid, mountains came into view. Everything was shades of deep green and blue and much more enticing than a blank Word Document.
So instead of in the moment action, I have for your reading pleasure (drum roll): Reflections on the Past.
When you’re on a bus for seven hours, you get a real appreciation for time and distance. For me, this was the first time I felt very far away from home. Far enough that I could be in a place of transportational limbo for nearly a third of a day, and still not be home or even close (granted, home was not my destination, but still). Everything is just so gosh darn big. And far. And there’s so much of it.
Do you feel a strange stone in your stomach? That would be your sense of insignificance. In my experience, it acts up a lot when faced with any of the following: something that has a B.C.E after its date, a very open sky, holding a baby (any species), or a bus trip that is 7 hours.
Through a process of trial and error, I have found that the best path to feeling like a person again, as opposed to a vague sentient particle, is to focus on the purely human moments of your recent life. Ignore your big questions about life, the universe, and everything; focus on the small.
Here are some of my small moments from the past few weeks:
Three weeks ago, my host-father, Chema, took me to visit his hometown, Fuenteheridos, population: 648. As we drove up and down the mountains, we listened to the radio, and in broken, over exaggerated Spanish, pointed out spots of interest on the landscape: “Look, pigs!” “Yes, for ham.” “Look a castle!” “Yes, an old fortress against Portugal.”
We visited his mother in a house with the date, 1865, emblazoned in the ironwork of a balcony. Greeting us at the door was a cat, who, like any respectable cat regardless of country would be upset at my usage of the verb, “greeting.” A large wooden door opened into a small, dark foyer and I was welcomed with a kiss and the insistence that I have a piece of candy.
Two and a half weeks ago I turned 20! My host family surprised me with a cake, a jar of chocolate covered peanuts, and a book. Many family members sent me cards, which I really wasn’t expecting but was very excited to open. Each one made me cry a bit, though I can’t say exactly why.
Two weeks ago, I took a train to visit Córdoba, another very old city on the Guadalquivir River. When I arrived (about a 45 minute train ride) it was raining and didn’t stop raining all day. This wasn’t incredibly surprising as there had been old-testament-style downpours every day of March thus far, but was still unfortunate as my shoes were very leaky. Part of my day was spent looking for a more seaworthy pair of boots, but my feet are apparently too big for Spain (cue me trying to visually gage the shoe size of every person I meet from this moment on). The rain was so torrential I eventually payed one euro to take refuge in a small archeology museum. A security guard, a receptionist, and I watched the rain together.
The thing I appreciate most about this time abroad is just that — the time. There is space to have small, pure moments of human connectedness that is much harder to come by if you are constantly running from one destination to the next like a family vacation to Disney World. It’s empowering to discover that, though your sense of insignificance might buzz more than you’re used to, it is still very possible to carve a place for yourself into the universe.