We live in an era when memories are available at the click of a button. Photographs have replaced diaries and letters as the means to record events throughout our lives. Don’t get me wrong, I love taking and keeping photographs as much as the next person, but I also like to rely on things I can touch to unearth memories and feelings that go along with them: a shell from a beach I used to go to when I was little, earrings once worn by my great-grandmother, or a picture a child drew for me. We all have these items, and it is they that we usually choose when asked what one item we would take if our house was burning down. These items are special because they make you feel connected to another place or time, or person. Photographs work in a similar way, but you can’t touch them, which means you can’t explore the edges and recall where bumps and scratches came from or wonder why a piece is missing.
I’m the type of person who relishes in the uniqueness of things. I’ve been like this for as long as I can remember. When Titanic came out and everyone was obsessed with Leonardo DiCaprio, I was so annoyed that I boycotted the movie at the age of eight (not that I should’ve been watching parts of it at that age anyway) and didn’t end up seeing it until I was in college. And, forget about Teletubbies and Furbies, those were never going to happen for me. Today, it displays itself more as, I’d rather have a necklace made from a rock found on a vacation to Africa (a girl can dream) than a pair of diamond earrings from a jewelry store in the mall (please note: I’m not knocking any of these things, we’re all different people). It sounds a little crazy and this quality may end up driving my mom up a wall when I’m finding a wedding dress one day, but through this, I truly do understand why many parents ask their children for homemade gifts or written notes instead of something they have to empty their piggy bank for.
On a recent trip to Florida, my mom and I went into a jewelry store in the hotel, owned by a woman named Laura. Laura was outgoing and bubbly and one of those people whose energy fills up a room. After a few minutes of talking to her I found out that she was once a translator for hospitals, which is something special to me as I will be working with translators while doing my work as a child life specialist and I have a special interest in the role language barriers play in the hospital setting.
A blue azurite ring caught my eye and my mom wanted to buy it for me because she knows my obsession with finding unique things and this, with its jagged edges and long, warped shape, was certainly that. What she didn’t realize was that anything from my mom has special meaning to me—a card sent in the mail or a text message on a tough day, all the little things she does every day that make me realize just how lucky I am to have her. So really, even just this gesture, holds meaning enough for me.
But as the night went on, the meaning of the ring grew deeper for me. Laura was not the only one in the store. She was accompanied by Sandra, who worked there once a week, and Sandra’s mother, Nelly, who was visiting from Ecuador. The moment you meet Nelly, you know she is a special person. There is exceptional kindness in her eyes and she speaks in a way that makes you believe in the world again. It is not very often that true wisdom is witnessed and experienced, but when it is, both tranquility and anxiety rush through you almost simultaneously: tranquility because you feel as though life’s secrets are being revealed to you, and anxiety because you don’t want to forget them.
Nelly and I spoke in Spanish (or at least I attempted to) and laughed at the coincidence that our names are only one letter apart. I witnessed the love shared between she and her daughter and it made me believe even more so in the goodness that is around us every day. Nelly offered to talk to me on the phone so that I could practice my Spanish once she was back in Ecuador and graciously invited me to visit her at her home there. We ended the night at the hotel bar and Nelly made a toast with her orange juice (as she has never had a drop of alcohol in her life). During this blessing, which I recorded and posted below, you can feel the kindness and sincerity in her words, something that is a treasure to experience.
I am writing this post for Nelly, and for all those who want to believe in the power of human connection. When I gave her my phone number and the link to my blog she tucked the paper inside her bag and when we were looking at my ring and at the necklace my mom got, she pointed to the bag and said that paper was her “joya,” her jewel.
Meeting you and feeling your bright spirit and unconditional kindness is my treasure, Nelly. There is a quote by a German author Johan Wolfgang that goes: “The world is so empty if one thinks only of mountains, rivers & cities; but to know someone who thinks & feels with us, & who, though distant, is close to us in spirit, this makes the earth for us an inhabited garden.” The rock on my ring is a product of nature. Looking at it and knowing that it came from some part of the world that I may never get a chance to see makes me feel small. But looking at it and seeing you reminds me that although we live in such a big world, the connections we make with one another form links like in a soccer net. The more connections we make, the tighter the net becomes, allowing us to embrace the world and keep our goals close to heart.