Blossom

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Half of a deluxe banana split slowly melted into a creamy puddle at my seat, while a ten year old me sat in the bathroom stall of a Pennsylvania fast-food establishment, sobbing. Our family was on vacation in Pennsylvania’s Amish Country, and we had taken a pit-stop off the sprightly, tree-lined highway to have some dessert at our favorite east-coast ice cream joint: Friendly’s. All day we had been driving past picturesque farms with cheery red barns; veering to the right for the occasional horse-drawn carriage, driven by an odd-looking bearded man, making his way slowly, peacefully down the road. It really was a lovely vacation in every way. Then, there at Friendly’s, mid-dessert binge, my dad decided to divulge to his family and eldest daughter the philosophy currently on his mind.

“You know, Mir,” he began, between bites of his caramel sundae, “It’s time for you to start having some experiences in life.”

“Whatdaya mean, dad?” I asked, half-listening, my eyes fixated on twirling a banana coin in hot fudge until it was fully coated in chocolate.

“Well, this travel that we’re doing here has me thinking…” his voice trailed off, before locating his point and starting in again. “You’ve seen so little of the world. Your life experiences have been very small so far. You know, you’re kind of like those horses leading the Amish carriages. The Amish people put blinders on the sides of the horse’s eyes so they will keep looking straight ahead. It keeps them from noticing anything else around. I think your life has kind of been like that so far. You’ve only had this narrow line of vision without seeing much outside of it. Pretty soon, it’s going to be time to remove those blinders, look around, and start seeing the world around you. Going to new states, new countries, even. You’re old enough now to start getting a real view of the world.”

For a reason I cannot explain to this day, his perfectly benign and even potentially inspiring speech sent me into a terrified, downward-spiral of distress and trepidation. The more my dad went on about life and its bigness and my relative smallness, the more tears welled up in my ten year old brown eyes. When I had had quite enough, while dad was still mid-sentence, I bolted to the restroom in tears. Surprise and bewilderment trickled through the family, especially my poor dad. He surely wondered what he could have possibly said that would cause me to become so distressed.

In the bathroom, I sat on the floor in the busted old stall. Something about what my dad had said terrified me to my core. I loved my happy little life. What the heck did he mean, “blinders”? What was wrong with blinders? What was wrong with only seeing a little bit? What did he mean by removing them? Seeing the world? Were they going to send me to see the world right away? I’m just a little kid! I want to be with my family! I want to be back in La Habra, California where I live in a perfectly nice condo and play with my neighborhood friends, and go to church and just be happy in my life! I don’t want to have all these experiences! What experiences does he even mean? What was dad even talking abou…

“Mir?” my mom’s voice interrupted my desperate mental diatribe. I opened the stall and ran to her arms. I heaved sobs as she just hugged me, surely wondering what in my dad’s sagely advice had set me off so intensely.

“I don’t want you to send me away to live somewhere else, Mom! I want to live with my family!”

“We’re not sending you ANYWHERE, honey. Daddy didn’t mean that in what he said. He just wants you to have a big life, that’s all.”

He just wants you to have a big life, that’s all.

Much like a grandfather giving his seven-year old grandson an heirloom pocket watch before the grandson has yet learned to tell time, my dad’s advice was a strange gift presented to me at an age at which I could not understand it. But the day arrived when his words suddenly became astoundingly meaningful to me.

Nine years later, I sat on the bed in a small, comfortable room in the Italian alps. A room offered to me by the family who had hired me to care for their children. The border of Switzerland, high above in the crevices of the mountains towering above, was visible from my bedroom window. I was busy foraging through a care package sent to me by my grandma, my Mamo. It was full of stickers, cards, confetti, and news from home. Inside, there was an unassuming card she had picked out for me. On it was a quote that immediately leapt off the page and into my heart forever. I sat perfectly still on the bed as I read it over and over again:

“And the day came when the risk to remain tight in a bud was more painful than the risk it took to blossom.” – Anaïs Nin

As I taped the card to the wall above my bed, I lay down with my hands behind my head and considered it intensely. For the month I lived in that room, it was the first thing I saw waking up, and the last thing my heavy eyes took in as I fell asleep each night.

The profundity in that singular sentence impacted me immensely, and has never ceased doing so. While living my dream summer in mi bella Italia, I’d be lying if I were to claim that there was not pain associated with transplanting myself on the other side of the world all alone at the age of 19. I had more than a few vaguely familiar “de ja vu” moments when I had to steal away to the bathroom, sitting on the floor, wiping tears away, missing my family and boyfriend, and wondering if taking the blinders off and experiencing the world really was the best decision.

However, when I took communion during a mountaintop mass after a 13 mile hike with the 82 year old priest of the mountain town’s Catholic Church, the answer was clear.

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When I sat in a tiny boat with cracked paint inching its way into the Mediterranean along some of the world’s most incredible coastline, with the salty sea spraying in my face, the answer was clear.

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When I gazed up at Milan’s towering duomo, and bowed my head in silent prayer inside as a choir chanted in the distance, the answer was clear.

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When I stood amongst chianti vines, plucking grapes off them and sipping the wine produced and grown in that very village, the answer was clear.

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When I sat on the stoop of Gelateria Dolce Freddo licking a gigantic cone of straciatella with the adorable and hilarious Elettra, Maddalena and Alessandra, the answer was clear.

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While in Italy, everything my dad had to say to me that tearful afternoon in Pennsylvania became clear. Though I am still in part that terrified ten-year-old, longing to cling to the familiar, my dad’s advice – and the life my parents’ built for me with an emphasis on discovery and exploration – has grown in me an insatiable curiosity for life. It is a constant yearning for new information, new places and faces with which to interact, in any capacity and disregarding the distance. As I’ve gotten to know myself these 28 years, I’ve begun to accept that there is room inside me for both wayfaring and abiding, and I’ve learned that my father’s words were not solely relating to seeing the world in a physical sense. They were in regards to the eyes through which I view the world right in front of me every day.

Today, I still hear his words ringing in my mind, as I consider in what ways I’m limiting myself by looking at something through the narrow view of blinders, instead of removing those inhibitors and seeing the whole picture. What injustice am I ignoring because I’m choosing the comfort of my little life instead of reaching outside to more demanding places? What judgment am I passing on to others because I’m allowing closed-mindedness to infiltrate my worldview? What human connection am I passing by because I’m choosing not to experience the ache of empathy? What risk am I not forging ahead with because of the fear of what might be on the other side?

I challenge you to heed the wisdom presented by Peter Tavis nearly two decades ago in a Friendly’s diner in Pennsylvania’s Amish country. Remove your own blinders. Engage your periphery, look around, and notice this world with wide-eyed wonder. When you inevitably begin to feel the invigorating discomfort of the seedlings of inquiry sprouting inside you, endure the temporary suffering as you grow into this next, more vibrant version of yourself. For the only thing more painful would be remaining closed in a bud. It’s time to blossom.

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1 Comment (+add yours?)

  1. Your Mamo
    Mar 01, 2015 @ 16:59:39

    Oh, how I love you, my Miriam! So beautifully written, sweetheart. ❤️

    Reply

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