My life took a U-turn midway through junior year: I stayed in Reno, Nevada, to finish the school year while the rest of my family moved to Stillwater, Oklahoma, to accommodate my father’s new job. A gracious, wonderful, loving family, already home to three teenage girls, offered to house me for the remainder of the year. Overnight, I became a foreign exchange student without even changing zip codes. Meals were different – free of lactose and gluten. Politics were different – I was under the penumbras of Rudy Giuliani’s Nevada presidential campaign manager. They were game hunters – lo, a bull elk in the stairwell – and I, the reformed vegetarian, had read Lord of the Flies one too many times. Life filled with right wing politics, rifles, and gluten-free crackers, venison steaks, terrible Barack Obama jokes and more gluten-free crackers slowly overtook me.
Everything got to me. I became the archetype teenager. Moody, covered in stress induced zits, mildly sleep deprived. Oh, yes, quite fun.
Thankfully, as not to marinade in my self pity, I had an outlet in my Spanish class.
My teacher, Señor Domingo Tibaduiza, a wiry Colombiano and former Olympic distance runner with a schnoz like Corporal Max Klinger on M*A*S*H, knew how to draw to incredible things from each student. Señor took great efforts to ensure every student succeeded not only in school, but out in the real world. When I told the my class about the move, the floods of ‘we will miss you’ and ‘I know you’ll make new friends’ seemed half-hearted and hollow. But later, after class, Señor told me this –
“Amelia, no te importas las cosas pequeñas porque todas son pequeñas.”
Then, I started thinking. Don’t sweat the small stuff because it’s all small stuff. At the time, I did not see that for what it was. It hit me later as its simplicity overtook me.
That was it. I didn’t have to worry about the next week or year or decade because there are things that I, even at sixteen, can control for myself. The meaning of my life moved from day to day annoyances like gluten-free-rice-crackers covered in soy cheese, to the big picture of how I want to live my life. Life is to be enjoyed not cursed or hurried. The impending move faded out of focus and was replaced by the good around me, crisply in focus for me to finally see. My incredible friends, my family, wheat-based pasta and my future.
The move to Oklahoma pushed me toward a deeper understanding of myself. I have gained respect for the life yet to come. Now, if ever find myself floundering in self-inflicted angst and agony, I recall the words of Señor, take a deep breath and keep on going.