There’s always moments. In the dark slogs and the unremarkable monotony there’s flashes of contentment, or maybe even a slight nanosecond of euphoria. Perhaps they are hidden and so small they become forgotten as soon as the realization fades, with enough distance between them to become convinced of their nonexistence. And then, one day, squashed between under-the-table footsie with your seven-year-old host sister and ease of communication in your second language and a little nugget of independence that is becoming more and more effective at persuading you that you’re enough, you plunge blissfully into cliché because the moments string together directly in front of your eyes and you’re running through the banner like the ribbon at the finish line but the edges continue to stream behind you indefinitely, flapping at your hips and stuck in the middle but dynamic all the same.
I’m not saying a switch just flipped. Sometimes it feels like that, but I know my moments — that I worked hard for and sometimes avoided and often longed for — have been steadily building. I’m not saying Spain is better or even magical. I still get frustrated and tired — the Spanish concept of a night is impressive in its extent while simultaneously designating the most insignificant of portions for sleep. Two-hour classes can be trying to sit through, frequently my words get jumbled and I doubt my language abilities and people and relationships are complex and frustrating. I have breaths of shame, regret and consternation and occasionally encounter lurking envy. But I wake up and sometimes my stomach gurgles with the remnants of the twilight hours and I sift through the world that took place on the opposite end of the waking cycle, and I smile.
I scroll through atrocities and inspiration, resilience and indignation, opinions and reminders of previous chapters. I smell October in Alaska and the mushy leaves are tangy and pungent and for a brief pang in the side of my chest I long for that crispness. Still a fire rages at injustice displayed to me by my country and my own complicit society, and again fleetingly I contemplate my place in those fights. Faces I love, accomplishments I’m proud to share, places my eyes trick me into thinking I need to be… ah, so is social media. The product of all this, to my surprise, is more often than not a smile. I think that’s what happens when you decide to love yourself. And when a whole lot of circumstance finally aligns on your side.
Layers too numerous to ascertain define my comprehension of Spain: a 10-year-old’s brief, wet and wrought family vacation, second-hand expectations and a historical lens I don’t always agree with. Memories of the Bolivian silver mine of Potosí that galvanized capitalism by feeding Spain’s debts through exploitation and the brutal colonization of all of Latin America sometimes seem dismissed here, but for me they are unshakeable. The date 1492 and the pedestaled statue of Columbus and Queen Isabela dominating the central plaza indicate something more to me than simply the “discovery” of the New World — namely, a vicious inquisition here and a ruthless genocide there that in many ways continues to this day. Now Spain, who laid so extensive a conquest, boasts its own political turmoil as it marches on without a government and I catch whiffs of a fallen empire. Tomorrow I will celebrate Indigenous People’s Day as I walk to class past that elevated Columbus and I will continue to ruminate also on the insanity occurring at home. This is a time to be alive.
I wander (but mainly still lose myself) through the sometimes commercial, sometimes industrial, sometimes ancient streets of Granada that still exude charm and have thoroughly won me over and I’m not sure what it is that lets my insides feel light.
Perhaps my femurs know I am here solely to learn, expand and enjoy. That I am constantly, acutely aware of my fortune and privilege and somehow that inspires no guilt but only more gratitude. Absolutely nonlinear, by some stroke of serendipity this current section of the carousel has me twirling with a chunk of peace — stones roll off, chinks ever-plentiful are acknowledged, and still through it all there’s an overwhelming sense that I can handle it.