This September in Santa Cruz, Bolivia, the wind has been clattering against my windowpanes at night, sounding a low, urgent whistle under the rattle of glass and walls. It sends the delicate purple flowers of the tajibo tree scattering, pushes me from one moment to the next. I picture those purple flowers clinging feebly to branches before hurtling away, moment after moment tumbling past. These moments, in a country not my own, in a home that’s temporary, have become my wealth. I believe life is weighed in moments, the present a continual gift.
My husband and I arrived in Bolivia almost two months ago. This is our second international teaching assignment; we spent the last two years in China. Despite the excitement when we first moved overseas, somehow I felt I was constantly waiting—waiting to learn a new language, waiting to feel comfortable in a new apartment, waiting for culture shock to subside, waiting to develop the lesson plan that would change my students’ lives forever.
I have come to realize that waiting is a hollow thing, dust-dry and empty as a husk. I’ll never be a flawless teacher, but when a student slips me a card of thanks at the end of the year, or when someone says “I get it,” or even when eyes glaze over and we can’t learn anymore, why need I be? Students teach me to stop seeking some sterile, nonexistent perfection, and to relish moments instead. Now, the moments of my life fill me like a deep breath—passing a summer evening on the porch with my father, mother, and brothers, inhaling the musky forever smell of my grandparents’ barn, joining uncles, aunts, cousins over tables piled with food, tangling the muddy brown swirl of a horse’s mane in my fingers, spilling words with friends over coffee or across campfires, running through sunlight as it bathes forest trees and fields, helping in-laws collect rocks under a wash of lake water in summer. A far-flung future has no hold; I am exactly where I should be.
One year I asked my students to read, then write about, William Stafford’s poem, “You Reading This, Be Ready.” “Will you ever bring a better gift for the world / than the breathing respect that you carry / wherever you go right now? Are you waiting / for time to show you some better thoughts?” Stafford asks. I breathe. I speak now, don’t wait. My husband tells me, “Our reality is a decision we make moment by moment.” I listen.
The purple flowers twirl. They dance down dark streets my Bolivian friend and I run together, beginning our day. They float lazily into my limonada at the restaurant where my husband and I eat yucca fries and salsa; there’s a tree over our heads, and we smile because it blesses our moments at the table. In my mind, I take hold of each flower, then let it go. I believe in celebrating moments.
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