I believe I need other people to survive. And not just people, but relationships—meaningful relationships where I can connect with other humans. In order to fully thrive, I need people to talk with and people who know who I am.
Last summer I decided to be independent and daring by moving to a foreign country. Through a Christian mission organization, I headed to Brazil where I couldn’t speak a word of Portuguese and didn’t know a soul. It was truly bold and daring—so much, in fact, I barely survived.
I lived in a small, rural town in the state of Parana, about 150 miles from the Argentinean and Paraguay borders. I lived on campus of a homely Lutheran seminary brimming with young, passionate students, all completely fluent in Portuguese and entirely void of English. Their presence was nice, but the lack of conversation left me feeling trapped.
I’ve always been the kind of person who needs someone to engage me before I can express myself. Because of the English-Portuguese language barrier in Brazil, I had no way of articulating my thoughts. So they stayed caged and my feeling boxed up while the loneliness started enclosing me.
Only one girl, my roommate, could speak more than a few words of English. “You are a crazy cow!” she’d say jovially, playfully poking my shoulder in between words. She loved it. I would laugh, and she thought I was genuinely amused. But during these times, when animal references were the only familiar things, I’d imagine my mom and dad at the sports bar on Monday nights talking about football and choosing hot wings from the English laden menu. I’d think about my best friend Stacie and how she could get me talking about my deepest thoughts in the line at Taco Bell. And I started understanding that she could do this simply because we communicated well and knew each other even better. Mostly, I’d think of my family and friends I loved and long to engage in our relationships again.
I had a hard time in Brazil because I was so lonely. The country was beautiful but I had no one to talk to and, as a result, I wanted to go home. I was scared I’d always be alone, and I would never experience those relationships that kept me going. Finally, three months later, I was on a flight back to the States.
As I left the gate, I smiled my truest smile in three months as I ran through the terminal . My mom and dad reared their heads towards the back of the long hallway to see me. Stacie stood next to them, her presence making me laugh and cry. I was hugged by and chatted with people I knew and who knew me. I’d never been so happy. At that moment I was free from the fear of being alone and from the poison of loneliness.
Brazil was hard on me, but now I’ve learned to be thankful for it. It taught me about the pain of loneliness and the ramification of lost connections. It showed me the richness and goodness of deep relationships and, most of all, it taught me to believe that people were not made to be alone.
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