Choosing family

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Flashback to April 2015: She met me at the airport. I saw her and hugged her and we instinctually sat down on a bench and started talking, eating the smoothie and avocado she brought. After 30 minutes we realized we were still sitting in the airport, so distracted by our catching up in person that we never left. We headed out on a train towards Gent.

We are soul mate best friends who hadn’t seen each other in 4 months.

The Bed and Breakfast she had been running is in the center of Gent, Belgium, and is owned by a family who we knew from their stay at Sadhana Forest. The B&B is a huge, old, wooden, house that creaks as you walk through it. The many floors and rooms each have their own personality and their own half-finished projects. At one point I had to step through a human-sized hole in the wall of the son’s bedroom in order to use the bathroom. The three rented rooms and the vegan smoothie, bread, and spreads breakfast were just right.

We commandeered bikes from the house and set out on adventures: riding through squares, along canals, to find french fries and chocolate and vegan restaurants and coffee, and to experience the city together as though we lived there and did this sort of thing everyday.

From my journal: “I am here in Gent, walking down winding cobblestone paths, coming upon the setting sun over the canal… Last night we went to steamy jazz club down a graffiti-ed alley that vibrated your soul. The players changed frequently but the jam never stopped. It was electric and I couldn’t stop smiling. I even got up and danced in this club, so overcrowded people were sitting on the stage.”

I could see myself living in Gent. It’s a perfect mix of old-world architecture, some new modern design, and tons of young artsy people speaking in mixed-language concoctions.

A few weeks later we biked like crazy fools up and down the hills of her hometown, Barcelona, stopping to explore graffiti-strewn neighborhoods, the beach, markets, the best touristy things- all flying down the bike paths of huge main roads, slicing the city in parts until I knew my way without having to think about it. We sat in cafes drinking espresso, drawing mandalas, making plans for new adventures, sharing our emotions, creating programs to solve the world’s problems.

We slept and ate, and ate, and ate at her parent’s home: the apartment she grew up in. A 7-story building filled with 14 apartments in total that are each occupied by a member of her family. They collectively own the building. I marveled at the modern home, interior-designed by her mom and dad, with Andy Warhol prints and Beatles anthologies and sculptures and terraces.

Routinely we would enter her apartment to find her mom making gluten free vegan lasagna, pizza, risotto, Spanish spinach (with raisins and pignoli nuts), smoothies, whipped frozen pear desserts, soymilk flan and chocolate soymilk flan… gluten free snacks waiting on the kitchen counter for us to take on our daily adventures.

Barcelona is marked for me by family- both of ours, with whom I spent much time. Both of our families struggled to understand our desire to volunteer and travel. We both grew up upper-middle class from parents who wanted us to grow up, get jobs, and be happy. We desire different things. We want to give back and learn and share. We want to make the world a better place.

I’ve made what seems like big life decisions in the past few years, though they seem like obvious next steps to me. I give my service, my volunteerism. I’m vegan. I practice gift economy. I believe in child-led learning. I value experience over stuff. This is who I am.

My mom wants to know what my goals are. This is a good exercise for me. I want to make the world a better place than I found it, on many levels- as a friend, teacher, care-taker of the environment, a lover, a sister, a daughter, to animals, to people I work with, to strangers and old friends, to the education movement and field of, to communities I come across, to shopkeepers and train-ticket takers, to materials I interact with, through art, making people smile, love. To leave energy, creativity, and positivity wherever I go- sprinkled like fairy dust. These are my goals.

One night in Barcelona my family met me at her house and we all had dinner together: both of us with our parents, meeting for the first time. Like children who have tons of playdates before their mom’s meet. Or lovers who are ready to take the next plunge. We’d been talking about each other to our families for almost 2 years. We were ready to share together. Our parents hit it off. Our moms with their silk scarves, black, patent leather shoes, and funky jewelry. The men talking music and history and culture. We sat there, across the table from each other as we translated between our parents, smiling till it hurt, feeling blessed to have the room filled with years of so much love, from across the globe.

People of my generation talk about choosing their friends as family. She is my soul-sister. I choose her.