You’re going abroad for a year to volunteer at an orphanage in Sri Lanka and at a middle school in Bali (OK, for real though, you’ll probably be surfing half the time), so to say that I’ll be living vicariously through you is a huge understatement.
We’ve already discussed how proud I am of you for having won this scholarship and for having had the courage to chase an adventure of such magnitude. What you will live, the experience you will gain, the consequences of this monstrous decision are as of yet unknown… But you had the guts to follow through with this dream anyway, and that’s what impresses me the most.
I’m sure you have specific responsibilities and things to do/blog about during the next few months as per UNC’s request, but, in addition to all of those formalities, allow me to create an unofficial –yet still extremely important—list of things your big sister wants you to do, because she said so.
I want you to play, and explore, and laugh until you cry, and question absolutely everything around you. Why? Because it’s through questions that we can dig deep into people and learn about them: what makes them tick, what hurts, what gives joy, why they choose to love life or hate it, what their reasoning is for the latter, etc.
I want you to absorb the local languages and customs so that you can leave behind the tourist stigma, which we all carry with us at first, and develop into a traveler. When you arrive at each new place, observe your surroundings, commit that first impression to memory, and then get to know the area as if it were your hometown. Once you achieve this, think back on that first impression… Seeing how far you’ve come and how much things have changed will probably make you smile.
Don’t be afraid of the obstacles and challenges that will inevitably arise, but if you do feel fear anyway, really allow yourself to feel it. Then, after you’ve indulged, invite the fear in and stare at it straight on with the bravery I know you possess; confront it so that you can dominate it. Never, ever let it paralyze you. You are infinitely stronger than whatever “it” seems to be.
If you feel like praying, pray. If you don’t, then don’t, but don’t let that stop you from seeking answers to the religious and spiritual stirrings that invade you. I want you to branch out from what you have been taught in order to expand your consciousness. I don’t mean for you to obstinately, blindly, and foolishly turn against your upbringing, but while you’re questioning everything, you might as well learn about all the different ways in which humans define faith, and how and why they believe what they believe.
I demand you have a “Humans of New York” type of afternoon. You’ve tried this before; do it again. I’m sure this time around, it’ll be even more eye-opening, especially when it helps you realize how connected we all are as humans and how much we actually have in common, even if our daily lives are absurdly opposite.
What kind of a writer would I be if I didn’t ask you to write about your travels? Write, write, write! Write well. And if you can’t, just send me the drafts and I’ll edit them for you, because your big sister is a huge grammar nerd, and proud of it. Also, because you know Euge will yell at you if you keep writing lower-case I’s.
Take so many photos that your however-many-GB memory stick simply cannot hold all of your masterpieces. When you come back home, we should print the best ones and see if we can find an up-and-coming art gallery that will showcase them.
Allow yourself to cry and miss home, because you will. How you choose to deal with the nostalgia will either help you grow, or keep you stuck living in your past. I know you don’t want that.
And, of course, above all else, love like you’ve never had to love before, because everything will depend on this ability. I’m not talking about romantic love, although if you find that please call me immediately so that we can chit-chat about it! I’m referring to the “love thy neighbor as yourself” type of love, which we all feel is a cliché until we finally realize that it’s what gives humans the strength to keep on surviving. The world is full of so much bullshit already; counter it with love. Some people will choose to hate you for it and will reject it. That’s OK. As much as you’re free to give love, others are free to choose to not accept it. Their loss, move on to the next person that is open to receiving such a priceless gift.
And while you’re at all of this, since the point of this trip is to volunteer, be generous. You already are, but I dare you to take it one step further. At least once a week, try doing something that feels like a sacrifice, and do it with joy. Practice that last part especially, realizing that we have the privilege to choose our reactions to everything, at any time. Give without expecting to receive. Make someone’s day. I promise nothing will make you happier.
I love you so, so very much.
I’ll leave you with this:
“Muere lentamente quien no viaja, quien no lee, quien no escucha música, quien no halla encanto en sí mismo. Quien se transforma en esclavo del hábito, quien no se arriesga a vestir un nuevo color o no conversa con desconocidos. Quien evita una pasión y su remolino de emociones, aquellas que rescatan el brillo en los ojos y los corazones decaídos. Quien no cambia de vida cuando está insatisfecho. Quien no arriesga lo seguro por lo incierto”.
– Pablo Neruda
Loose English translation:
“He who does not travel, nor reads, nor listens to music, nor finds value in himself; he who becomes a slave of habit, who does not risk wearing a new color, nor talks to strangers; he who avoids a passion and its whirlwind of emotions, those that restore light to the eyes and revive down-trodden hearts; he who does not change his life when unsatisfied; he who does not risk certainty for uncertainty, dies slowly.”
– Pablo Neruda
Photo: Belén Alemán / Brooklyn, New York, USA