If Dr. Who parked his time-traveling, blue police box TARDIS outside of my door, I’d revisit the younger me. That 21-year-old who agonized whether to follow her gut instinct and go to Lima, Peru to live with her American boyfriend and his family in 1972. As my younger self’s guardian angel, I’d whisper “Yes--take that leap of love to follow the Hobbit-like man with the wounded eyes. Fly off to the adventure, despite the entreaties and threats of your parents. It will be worth it.” How would I guess that my decision would lead to 18 years lived abroad, losing some of my American exceptionalism provinciality while gaining an education that doesn’t come out of book?
In the center of the maelstrom of my life, I’d never have guessed that one day my parents would forgive me for thinking for myself. Ironic given their repeatedly statements that they wanted their children to think for themselves--that is, they did until we thought differently. So it came to pass that my American boyfriend designed our wedding rings for our nuptials in Peru and my parents came in support. The matching his and hers rings in the redder Peruvian gold, I viewed as of vital importance--to me and to we.
Time passes and on our tenth anniversary we traveled without our breastfeeding son. Swelling up like a balloon, I took off my precious wedding ring to safely zip it away into the inner pouch of my purse. How was I to know that there was a hole in that pouch, and the ring would be lost during a day of putting papers in and out of the purse. I cried buckets of tears. It was all so unfair, I shrieked to the gods of bad fortune.
Weeks later a light bulb went on over my head. You silly goose. You are still happily married. The ring was only a symbol. Thinking of all those divorced friends and family whose wedding rings rattled about in the back of a junk drawer, I never looked at any symbol in quite the same way again. Even years later, when I lost my replacement wedding ring.
Of course, being human I had many emotional outbursts over the years. The bad haircuts, the dreadful 1980s perms, the rat in the toilet that ran about the house and the rest of the daily storms of life. It taught me that the hackneyed phrase ‘this too shall pass’ isn’t just for parents enduring sleepless nights or teething infants. It’s a life lesson.
I developed my own version of the Soviet Five-Year-Plan. If I wouldn’t remember the rotten event of the day in 5 years, it probably wasn’t worth getting too bent out of shape about on the day it happened and the following days thereafter. Not that this stopped me from venting, but it did allow me to let go sooner than later what was past tense.
Yet there is one decision I regret most bitterly, quitting organized Spanish classes when I lived in Lima, Peru. Arriving there in the summer of 1972, I began the wonderfully challenging intensive Spanish classes, 3-hours a day, and 5-days a week. Foolishly I quit after only five weeks to teach at the American high school. It seemed like a good idea at the time, I was at loose ends, unable to settle and my skills fit their needs. It was the worst decision I ever made. There was never such a school again. No matter how much Spanish I picked up over the years lived in Peru, Paraguay, Ecuador and Mexico, I never became fluent in Spanish. As Robert Heinlein said, I was forever a stranger in a strange land.
For language matters. To be completely at home one must live in the language. I’m embarrassed for the monolingual Americans who ask about new immigrants, “Why don’t they learn English?” Why don’t we Americans learn another language? We live in the world of many tongues, to hide our heads in the sands of our ignorance speaks volumes about us, best unwritten.