Meeting “The One”
Do you remember the moment you first met your wife, your boyfriend, or a close friend? Or did that moment pass in a blur of introductions at the office, a martini haze at a local tapas bar, or a busy orientation on your first day of University?
Even if you don’t remember the first meeting, I bet you will never forget the precise instant when you tipped from strangers to soul mates or acquaintances to soul-friends. Those slow-motion seconds when your eyes held, for a few beats longer than they normally would, and you shared a look that said, “I see you – I really SEE you”. A moment where you knew he could see the fear and loneliness behind your courage or she could see the strength and sweet humanity beneath your quiet exterior.
Brene Brown, one of my favourite writers, researchers, and storytellers, defines COURAGE as being willing to tell the story of who you are with your whole heart; of allowing yourself to be truly vulnerable with people (even when it feels easier to pretend to be perfect).
I cannot think of anything more vulnerability inducing than spending a week speaking a foreign language. A week where you are not permitted the security of your mother tongue – not even for five minutes – (I think many of us would rather chew on broken glass).
So, you can imagine the respect and admiration I have for 19 brave Spanish souls. For the past 8 days, I volunteered as one of the 18 English Speaking “conversationlists” at a Pueblos Ingles English immersion program. For those eight days, the ONLY rule was NO Spanish. Not even a single “Hola” or “Muchas Gracias”.
It all began with a four-hour bus ride from Madrid through the rolling green hills of Spain to the historic and picturesque town of La Alberca. Fours hours filled with plenty of hand gestures, pregnant pauses, and a haltingly told life story that almost had me crying. By 5pm, our group of 40 people (divided evenly between Spaniards and Anglos) stood around the hotel’s bar area commenting about the need for sweaters and scarves because of the unseasonably cold April weather.
To “break the ice”, the Master of Ceremonies for the week instructed each Anglo to find a Spaniard and spend 60 seconds exchanging life stories. Then, upstairs in the meeting room, we each had to introduce our partner to the group (yes, I’m sure some of the Spaniards would have rather chewed on glass in that moment). After the introductions, we heard about the week’s schedule – packed with one on one conversations, conference calls, debates and group “entertainment” activities. I could feel the anxiety build among the Anglos (or maybe it was just me) as the MC promised we would ALL have plenty of opportunities to act, sing, or dance during the daily evening performances (all with the aim of stimulating conversation and giving the Spaniards a chance to practice the English Language). Sing? Dance? What the hell have I signed up for?
As I sat in a room full of strangers, the MC promised that by the end of the week, most of us would have mascara running down our faces or at the very least – tears pooling in our eyes (even the men). I doubt that, I thought. I’m sure these people are great, but c’mon – it’s only 8 days. I couldn’t imagine getting THAT attached to a group of strangers in such a short amount of time. But, I was wrong…
Maybe when you have a limited vocabulary with which to share your story, you skip all of the bullshit and tell the truth. Maybe when you watch people embracing vulnerability and laughing through their language mistakes, you are more willing to tell the truth about who you really are. Maybe when you have to get up in front of the group and wear a costume or sing a ridculous song, you are reminded to stop taking yourself so seriously.
I don’t know how it worked, but within 3 days, I felt like I had found another family. After almost 4 months on the road, the people I met at Pueblos Ingles created a safe harbour for me (in the midst of crazy adventures and plenty of turbulent emotions from the poverty and challenges I have seen). I think each of us shared moments when we saw the world through the lens of new friendships and new possibilities.
On my 12 hour flight from Madrid to Lima yesterday, I got to thinking that maybe we need to re-define the phrase “the one”. For all of my new Spanish Friends, we North Americans spent our childhoods hearing fairytales about how one day we would grow up and meet our ONE soulmate and then get married and live happily ever after.
But, maybe – there are many soul mates and soul-friends who shift the course of our life. Ten years ago, I met “the one” who quickly became a soulfriend to me and who, years later, sat on the bathroom floor with me because the chemotherapy made me too nauseous to get up; seven years ago I met “the one” colleague who turned into a sister and who gives me space to be 100% myself; and this week, I met “the one” who reminded me why I’m on this journey and “the one” who made me cry when she shared her own stories of illness and heartbreak; and “the one” who made me feel safe by reminding me that I am not alone.
The Pueblos Ingles tag line could not be more accurate. They promise programs that are “More Than English” and this week, they delivered just that. I feel incredibly grateful because my time in Spain has strengthened me for the remainder of my journey.
In ten minutes, I need to leave for the airport in Lima to catch my flight to Cusco, so I will leave you with this quote by Brene Brown.
“I define connection as the energy that exists between people when they feel seen, heard, and valued; when they can give and receive without judgment; and when they derive sustenance and strength from the relationship.”
― Brené Brown