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My heart started to beat faster and faster.
It was a feeling I was unfamiliar with, and I thought something was wrong with me. I sat down, and I thought to myself, why here and why now. I am not ready for this.
But are we ever really ready for anything?
It was my first time in Barcelona. The hostel was bustling with people from everywhere. Some were playing cards on the sofa by the corner. Two guys were practicing the guitar and two girls from Australia were trying to cook something. In all that was going on, I could only see her.
Her hazel eyes had a hint of yellow around them. A piercing on her lip. A beanie on her head and a backpack on her back that was too big for her. Why was I so struck? I had stopped midair; the spoon held tightly in my hand, but I could not move it towards my mouth.
She placed her bag on the counter to speak with the receptionist on the other side of the room, past the two guys and their instruments. Although it seemed to me that time had momentarily stopped, it all happened in a flash, and she had her keys in her hand.
I somehow got a hold of myself, but my glare gave me away. She walked by where I sat, took a few steps forward, and turned to me. She said, “I love your dreads”. My heart skipped a beat, and without realizing what I was saying, I replied in a low voice, “I love you, thank you”. She laughed loudly and went to her room.
The next day, we went through the street market, to the beach, and stayed up all night talking while I rolled cigarettes for her and her friend. Gottingen, Germany, was her home, and mine was Atlanta, GA. But I was living in Paris at the time, traveling, seeing, and doing whatever I wanted. This was my life, carefree, with no plans, just getting up and going where I wanted and doing what I wanted.
Traveling Between Paris and Gottingen
What I had not accounted for was falling in love. Every other week I took the night train from Paris Gare du Nord station, past Hannover, and to Gottingen to visit her while she studied. When she wasn’t studying, she did the same and, in the morning, we would meet at the station, hold hands and walk through the streets of Aulnay-sous-Bois. When the following day came, we would take the boat via the canal down the Paris. The sun would shine on those days as if the angels were smiling at us.
When I looked into her eyes, I saw the stars dancing in harmony with the seasons. She was my world, and I was hers.
Moving to South Korea
A year passed, and we moved to South Korea because I took a teaching job there, and she wanted a break from studying. It was hard at first to embrace and assimilate into the culture, but when we looked at each other, we forgot all the bad things.
For a year, we lived like that, and I never saw it coming. She went home to visit her grandparents, and she came back but not the same person I knew.
I held her hand tightly and remembered holding on to her small finger-like I always did as she entered the bus to the airport. I waved bye, but I could not see the inside of the bus if she waved back. Like I did not see that she would not be coming back nor asking me to come to her, I was left in the dark. Until this day, I don’t know what happened.
Losing The Love You Once Knew
In one of my favorite books on love and loss – In Memoriam A. H.H., by Alfred Lord Tennyson (1809-92) – you can read:
It’s better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.
— Alfred Lord Tennyson
The ecstasy of loving and being loved is godly. It is like finding out your very existence matters in a way that words cannot describe. It is a feeling of absolute liberation.
But the opposite of all that is even worse when that love is lost, especially when that love is lost without explanation or understanding. You find yourself in a desolate Waste Land, as T.S Eliot put it. You find yourself in perpetuating pain because, like Rachel in Friends, you seek closure.
To protect yourself is a primary human endeavor, but what if there is no way to ensure that, as love often brings? When you open yourself up completely, as we often do when we fall in love, what do you do to protect yourself when things fall apart?
I struggled with those two questions for years. I walked an empty road, and like Frost in The Road Not Taken, I traveled that road, and I doubted if I should ever come back to the person I once was.
Owning Up Life’s Lessons on Loss & Grief
But maybe I never needed to come back. Maybe I needed to experience that love, that loss, and be better off to have experienced it than to not have at all. Would I be the person I am today if I didn’t experience that? Likely not.
Life throws experiences the way that changes us for good. Those experiences shape who we become and, sometimes, who we are for the rest of our lives. I have learned not to judge those experiences. I learned from Tennyson, Eliot, Frost, and many others who expressed their brokenness so that I wouldn’t be alone when I took suffered as such.
I did what I love to do. I read and I kept moving. I was going through hell mentally, but I kept going. I didn’t stop and kept traveling. Maybe to find answers, but I think more to find myself again. But I didn’t close my heart. My love for travel saved me. I met wonderful people again as I moved from country to country and found that loss is a part of life. In losing something, we gain something else; we just have to be open to figuring out what it is we gain.
Although I’m surely biased for being Portuguese, I was not always a fan of my country and people. My positivity toward my nation grew a great deal while I lived abroad. Throughout that experience, I learned to cherish the little details of my country such as having plenty of sunlight and sandy beaches. Foods that I didn’t appreciate started to ignite my attention and curiosity. Today I can say I don’t think I would choose a different country to live in at least half of the time.
Nonetheless, I would say that Portugal’s recent popularity is due to some very specific traits most of us share, which may explain why we have only been reintroduced to other European fellows and even to the whole world just now.Keep reading