“Tell me, what is it you plan to do with your one wild and precious life?” Mary Oliver’s words are a reminder that, as a human, I am forever tethered to the earth by knotted threads of sorrow and joy. As a human, I am ancient and deep and something. But, as a person, I am unwritten, just taking the first steps of the journey of becoming lost and daring greatly.
I was 3,745 miles from my home in the mountains, and I finally felt like I had found the place where my soul had been waiting, desperately, to quicken my pulse and make me alive.
Her name was Aracely. Followed by a scruffy, little dog and a toddling boy, she approached me at the elementary school in El Alto, Bolivia where my team and I were volunteering. Against her red-sweater-clad chest, she clutched a thin book titled Inglés: Fácil y Rápido sin Maestro (English: Easy and Fast without a Teacher), her small arms wrapped around it like it was the most important thing in the world. She hesitantly introduced herself and her brother, Gurgen, with a level of maturity in stark contrast to her small stature, intricately braided hair, and pink Converse sneakers.
We talked, stumbling over fractured Spanish and English, fascinated with each other. In her lighthearted laughter and attentive thought, I found a kindred spirit and a beautiful soul. I like to think that she perceived an almost spiritual connection with me as well, but frequent thought and time have blurred the thin lines between memory and imagination.
We took turns testing the languages foreign to us, forgetting adjectives and conjugations in our excitement, and gently correcting each other. She pointed out confusing concepts and words in her book, and I did my best to explain, baffled by the questionable logic of my own language. Though I only recognized it later, it was then that something inside of me realized that I had stumbled across the most beautiful thing in the world, the answer to Mary Oliver’s ever-present question.
The most coherent thing I can say is that it was a paradigm shift. Seeing someone so dedicated, so passionate, so excited to learn, was beautiful and profoundly humbling. Somehow, in that moment, the world seemed simple. She was the last piece of the puzzle, and suddenly, I could see the whole picture. I knew then, just as I do now, that I could never give her everything I wanted to, that my burning hope and excitement was just as strong for her and her future as it was for mine, that to be witness to faces alight with understanding was my greatest aspiration. I still wonder if she had someone in her life who had inspired her love of language or if her seed of passion took root on its own.
More than two years later, these discoveries are molded into a plan. I want to share my passion with others and help guide them to theirs. I want to create opportunities to explore Spanish and Latin American culture, language, and identity. I want the privilege of experiencing the moments when the pieces fall into place and it just makes sense. I want to teach.
With my sights set on secondary education, I will be volunteering again in Bolivia next year, this time for eight months. If there is one thing I have learned from my own education, formal and informal, it is that travel is the key that opens doors for curious minds. I also know that it is the only way to find people like Aracely, people who show me that I am unwritten only because I have not yet finished my story, people who help me discover that I love my life so much more after they have turned it upside down.