Written by Stamie Turner on June 30, 2013
What is life changing for one person may not be for another. Our experiences and expectations from life are all different. We can only hope that there will be experiences, people, maybe changes in us, that will some way have a meaningful impact upon our lives or on the lives of others. I’d like to believe that I can always take something away, even a little something, from a stranger I have met along my cobblestone path of life or that maybe I leave them with something that may impact their day, life or even moment. Hopefully, all good. The seeds planted, my pomegranate, may or may not be life changing. But if you could leave, even one person with a thought, a kind a word, a suggestion or an experience that would change their life, would you? Would you recognize a life changing, “aha moment”, that maybe they made in yours?
My first trip to Madrid was in March 2012. This was six months before my mother passed away. The guilt of traveling for almost 4 weeks to Spain and Portugal, rather than spending time with my ill mother, has been a constant regret. Yet, somehow with this regret I have been able to find a blessing.
During the heat of a national strike in Spain…(craziness all around when I first arrived in Madrid… Protesters, spray paint, closings, thousands and thousands of people in the streets), I was able to connect with an Australian women who was traveling alone. Susan and I had all of the same conversations that I seem to have with other women who are traveling alone about traveling alone…The People, the experiences, the food, the wine, husbands, boyfriends, loneliness, etc.
We met on a Tapas Crawl and decided to meet again the next evening for a Flamenco Show. Somehow, she was able to get to my hotel through all of the protesters. It was crazy luck that she found me in my hotel, not even knowing the name of it. Serendipity at work again because I had never given her the name of my hotel (we were supposed to meet at the Madrid Bear) and I had only been standing in the lobby locked behind the door when she glanced in and saw me. She couldn’t get to The Bear because of the protestors. I was thinking that there was no way we were meeting up for a Flamenco evening because I was not about to trek towards The Bear in the middle of the protesters and I had no idea how to find her! Luckily, she was more brave than I, because, we did, there was, and it was great!
During one of our discussions, Susan mentioned that she had met another woman who was traveling alone and this woman told her about an organization that connected Anglos ( natural born English Speakers) and Spaniards, together for a week of conversation in a four star hotel with lodging, food and wine paid for by a language teaching company in the rural villages of Spain. Bahahahahahaha…right, Susan.
She was getting ready to embark on this strange offer of a “vacation” where she, “supposedly”, had to contribute nothing but conversation. The old adage of, “if its too good to be true, then it must be” rang through my head. Without totally bursting her bubble, I told her I wanted the information and I wanted her to follow up with an email to me, telling me just how great it was! And she did. Life changing were her words and she had signed up for a second week.
Life changing. I was so ready for life changing but not all of the dots had yet connected. What was I going to pursue? When? Why? I always have a lot of ideas. I have a lot of different people in my life from all over the world. I think I know more than every one else…(so, I’ve been told)…I call it “being well rounded”, but I only had a vague idea of what my next career slash “volunteerism” would be. I was treading upon thoughts that might instill change but nothing that had yet moved me forward.
My mother. So misunderstood. But after her death, I decided it was time to make a change. Angel’s wings and a tad of faith that I could do it. So, I signed up for the strange offer of a “vacation” and planned on staying in Europe for several months as I made actual life changes and decisions to start my new business for women traveling alone. I also knew my sweet child was considering a move to Europe after graduation and OY…here comes Mom! My hope was to also live in Europe and commute to the states …ahaha! poor McKay.
Life happens and so did my first experience as an Anglo conversing with Spaniards all week. I was back in Spain with a group called Vaughan Town. Yep, it was all Susan said it would be and more. But what it wasn’t, was a vacation. I spent a week, 80 plus hours, ( to be almost exact), doing nothing but talking to Spanish adults who spoke very little English. Speaking only in English. No Espanola allowed from either the Anglos or the Spaniards. I saw the initial timidness of speaking, all of the hesitations of finding the correct words and the frustration of expressing one’s self. Yes, the Spaniards, to me, represented my mother. It was life changing….an “aha moment”.
I was beginning to understand my mother by being in a foreign country with people who were sharing some of their insecurities in speaking another language. Fifty something years to understand my mother? My mother came to the States as an eighteen year old bride and spoke very little English. I grew up thinking that my my mother was always sad, frustrated and that SHE never really understood the people around her.
For the first time in my life, I recognized my mother’s frustrations, her hurt, her anger and her shelter from life by just staying at home to protect herself from having to express herself. Can you imagine having people around you who cannot speak or understand your native language yet be arrogant enough to think they should speak yours? Tolerance an d patience for others? Not me. I have shouted obscenities at the telephone when asked to press one for English, two for…you get it. But this was my mother. How did she have a relationship and marriage with a man who didn’t speak her language? How did she raise four children in a home where only English was spoken? How did she live in the South where tolerance of other’s differences was not a virtue?
This woman tried. She tried to understand. She tried to express. She tried to love. She tried it all in English. Rarely was there anyone around that she could speak to in her native language. How sad for her and how sad for me that only until now that I never recognized her need. We all know that words express only so much. Thankfully, her actions spoke louder than some of the words that I’m sure she never really understood. The anger and frustration sometimes superseded the moments of communicating in a rational manner. And yikes! I learned to communicate from her. Quick to anger, very impatient and easily frustrated when I have to explain. It all makes sense.
My mother didn’t know that she was passing on her form of communicating in the only way she knew. Frustrated because no one could understand her. Tired of always trying to explain. Her accent, her explanations, her desire for speaking perfectly. Not being able to express yourself in your native tongue in times of passion, hurt and love must be the ultimate compromise in life. I never understood how difficult and truly, how unfair it was to her. Every now and then she would exclaim that she needed to speak Greek but it was rarely one of her complaints. She never once expected her children to speak back to her in Greek. We were not ever formally taught although I understand and speak broken Greek…never to my mother. Both a blessing and a curse in my life. I wonder if she ever realized where some of her deep seeded frustrations may have been rooted.
But life can be so unfair and very twisted. My mother was stricken with oral cancer. Oral cancer for a woman who already was frustrated by communicating. This could not be a more unjust way of dying for a woman who tried to communicate in the only way she knew. This cancer is so debilitating if not caught early and is a very nasty, undignified way to die. More of a frustrating slow process that those around cannot understand. Slowly but surely, one stricken with this disease and left to die will suffer from losing taste, smell, the ability to swallow and of course, vocal communication. Up to my mother’s dying day, there were people around her that continued to say, “I don’t understand you.” Nurses, doctors, hospice staff, her husband and her children. As she laid dying, she struggled to communicate her last thoughts and wishes, and all I could say to her was, “momma, I’m sorry, but I don’t understand you.”
My life was changed by spending time with the Spaniards. I have now been to Vaughan Town to volunteer three times and will continue to do so. I have met some incredible people from all walks of life. I have made friends, here and yonder. All of us have stories, broken dreams and wishes for the future. To hear theses stories, dreams and wishes spoken with timidness, broken English and a little frustration is a reminder of my mother.
I am so sorry that it has taken so many years to connect the dots, have a life changing aha! Moment about my mother but I am so glad that I have found a small blessing and a way to give back and to honor a mother who was so incredible yet so misunderstood. To my mother I owe so much and as I embark on all of my life changes, I thank her for the courage.
Momma, I understand more than you know and I honor you with loving thoughts and courageous changes in my life. Thank you for the gift of life. I now understand. Happy Birthday to me…the first time without my mother. And thank you my beautiful Vaughan Town Spaniards for the gift you have given me. And to Susan, I am sure you have no idea how your conversation with me impacted my life. Thank you. Yes, Life changing.