Wednesday, June 6, 2012

Palabras para Julia

A few days ago I posted the following informal poll to my friends on Facebook:

"So I would say that at least once every two days I have an "Oh God what am I doing with my life where am I going who am I?" moment.
Survey: would you guys say that is above or below average?"


The responses I got were encouraging-- an assortment of friends of different ages and from different parts of my life assuring me that they felt the same way, that it was a condition of being in one's 20s, or even just a condition of being human. One friend currently living in Korea wrote, "The thoughts still occur in your 30's, even more so because of being an expat I think." 

I'm inclined to agree. Of course, being in one's 20s encourages feelings of being unsure, unmoored, and afraid, but I think those feelings are magnified by stepping so far away, metaphorically and physically, from what society says we are "supposed" to be doing. I admit that as I watch friends and acquaintances from afar--as they work 9-5 office jobs, whether fascinating or mundane; decorate apartments; get engaged; buy houses-- I find that all that is not without its magnetism. Even days like today, walking down Calle Mayor on a warm evening during paseo, listening to Ace of Base and trying not to burst into a dance party for one in public just for the familiar and exotic and beloved beauty of it all...I still feel that pull, to go home to the familiar, to stop missing out on that world turning at home without me, to start my "real" life (hell, to figure out what that "real life" entails.) It's what I've been taught to want, and the part of me that really wants it is terrified by my choice to stay. (More on that soon.)

...Which brings me to my Spanish final exam last Friday. I am confident enough to say I passed it, although the listening comprehension was much more difficult for me this time around. I am happy to report as well that I wrote my first opinion essay in Spanish, and it felt completely badass. The exam included something I never expected, however. Our second reading comprehension assignment included a very sweet letter from a fictional father to a daughter having a difficult time living abroad. "It's hard, I know, but you will see how these moments of solitude can also teach you many important things. It's something no one can learn for you," he writes. Who knew I'd ever find myself sniffing away tears during a language exam?

This fictional father goes on to quote a poem from a very real Spanish poet, Jose Agustin Goytisolo, a poem which spoke to me, as well. I want to include it here, although I've cut portions (as the version that so touched me was edited as well, although I didn't know it then.) I'll include the Spanish first, and then my own translation.

PALABRAS PARA JULIA 
Tú no puedes volver atrás
porque la vida ya te empuja
como un aullido interminable.
Hija mía es mejor vivir
con la alegría de los hombres
que llorar ante el muro ciego.
Te sentirás acorralada
te sentirás perdida o sola
tal vez querrás no haber nacido...
Nunca te entregues ni te apartes
junto al camino, nunca digas
no puedo más y aquí me quedo.
La vida es bella, tú verás
como a pesar de los pesares
tendrás amor, tendrás amigos...
Y siempre siempre acuérdate
de lo que un día yo escribí
pensando en ti como ahora pienso

Now, my poor translation:


WORDS FOR JULIA
You cannot go back
because life already pushes you
as an endless wail.
My daughter, it is better to live with the joy of men
then to mourn behind the blind wall.
You will feel cornered,
you will feel lost or alone.
Maybe you will wish you were never born.
Never give in or swerve
away from the road, never say
I can't anymore, I stay here.
Life is beautiful, you will see
how in spite of everything 
you will have love, you will have friends...
 and always, always remember
what I wrote to you one day
thinking of you the way I think now.


I don't now what it is about this poem. The words are plain, the rhythm is basic, there's no rhyme or imagery. But for me the message, sweet and powerful, is enough-- like one more voice in my informal poll encouraging me to keep searching for what's next.