"I´m sick in my bones, they tell me I will die in about a year" she told me as she took another drag from her cigarette and her eyes drifted back to her telenovela ("Terra Nostra" in case you´re wondering).
My name is Alexis Rinck, I´m 20 years old and studying abroad in Santiago, Chile...and I did not know how to respond to what this woman had told me. You can take all the spanish classes at your university but I swear, none of them will prepare you with the vocabulary to express remorse, compassion, or sorrow needed for a situation like that. Instead, I sat there and looked at her with a sad look on my face and sipped my tea, wondering if I had understood her correctly. But I knew I did. Since I´ve been here, I have only seen her cough more and more every day, talk about more and more aches and pains, get out of bed less, eat less, and smile less.
Studying abroad is an incredible privilege, and I know for many of my classmates it had meant drinking a lot and partying. Frankly, I thought I would be doing more of that. But the closer I got to this woman, the more I looked forward to coming home early, walking into her kitchen, seeing her shoot me a huge smile and ask if I want to drink tea with her and watch soap operas. Which really begs the question, why? I´m 20 and in a foreign country but I´m spending significant amounts of time with someone four times my age who barely speaks.
When I was 16, I was ready for it all to be over. After childhood sexual abuse, verbal and physical abuse, a sexual assault in high school, and abusive relationships, I felt as if I couldn´t take it anymore. Self harming by 8, cutting by 15, suicidal by 16. Me, the honors student, band geek, teacher´s pet, wrote suicide notes in class and spent time trying to figure what would be the best way to off myself. It took me losing one of my closest friends to suicide a week after my own failed (clearly) suicide attempt to want to change my life.
A quick note for those of you out there who feel alone, depressed, suicidal, I just want to tell you it gets so much better. I know if I was told that back in the day I would have punched that person. But, I got out of that small town, went to college, found my passion, and I´m currently finding myself.
But that´s not the point of this message. I am a constant work in progress and by no means an inspiration. There are days I falter, fall back into that depression, and want to fall off a cliff.
However, this woman, this elderly Chilean woman somehow represents three things to me.
1. She makes me appreciate life and reminds me to get out an enjoy my youth while I can. Because of her hands, she can no longer sew. Sewing was her passion and hobby. She can´t leave the house on her own and hardly does. Instead she sits inside all day, smokes cigarettes and watches TV. When I look at her, I can´t help but wonder if that will be me someday.
2. She reminds me how those we love can leave at any moment. I drink tea with her everyday as if it is our last.
3. She represents to me the beauty of a full life. Her living room is filled with pictures of children, grandchildren, old pets and old friends. This woman lived through the Chilean dictatorship and lived to see freedom. She has lived such a fulfilled and beautiful life that she does not fear her death and has accepted it. In that sense, I hope someday to be like her.
I'm still figuring it out, I think we all are. So figure it out with me: [email protected]
P.S. FEEL THE BERN #berniesanders