Thursday, June 04, 2015

Thankful Thursday - Spain 2015 edition

Let me start with this - I am thankful to be alive. 
Life is short. Getting shorter by the minute. 
I am grateful to still be here on this planet, living this life, 
loving and being loved.

I am grateful, profoundly grateful for the opportunity, 
the tremendous privilege that it is to travel internationally.
To fly across the ocean. To figure out the subway system in the city I love most of all.
To stay with friends. To wander around without a plan or a goal.
To pack lightly enough to carry all I need on my back.
I am grateful to be healthy and wealthy and strong enough to live this life I have been given.
I do not ever, ever, ever take it for granted.
Thanks be to God.

I am grateful for the architecture and arches in Madrid.
I am grateful for bricks and light fixtures.
I am thankful for quiet places in the midst of noisy cities.
I am thankful for this unexpected hidden gem right alongside the widest and busiest street in Madrid.

I am grateful for traffic circles.
I am grateful for fountains in the middle of them. 
I am grateful for El Palacio de Cibeles -
which was the city's main post office the first time I went to Madrid
in the fall of 1986.
I am thankful for its current exhibitions of art
and quiet spaces to read and write and surf the worldwide web.

I am grateful for the opportunity to accompany my friends to their voting place.
On a Sunday morning.
Yes, Spain holds its local and national elections on Sunday!
So everyone can go. No excuses.
Not that everyone votes - but still. 

I am thankful for cafe con leche, toast with jam, and fresh squeezed orange juice.
I am thankful for thick paper and juicy pens.
I am thankful for long morning walks that end in brightly lit cafes.
I am grateful for the bakers and coffee makers and milk truck drivers and strawberry pickers -
and everybody else who made that breakfast possible for me.

I am grateful for fresh salad - although I could do without the white asparagus and tuna.
I am grateful that I could sit outside and enjoy my lunch.
I am thankful for white wine, water, olive oil, vinegar, and friendly waiters.

I am thankful for the Retiro Park.
I am thankful for the turtles that sun themselves on the tiny pier
and then parade themselves across the grass when the sprinkler system in activated.
I am thankful for the bands that play in the park and the musicians that panhandle.
I am thankful for the hundreds of small bookstands set up in the park for the annual book fair.
I am grateful that there are still so many people in Spain who attend the fair,
buy the books and (presumably) read them.

I am grateful for indoor soccer games for eight and nine year old boys.
I am thankful that the parents of both teams applauded at good plays, 
regardless of who made the good play.
I am grateful that no one yelled at the referee.
I am grateful that there were no cheerleaders and no halftime entertainment.
I am thankful that there were no snacks or juice boxes or gift bags 
or gatorades provided at the end of the game.
The kids played. And then they left. What a concept.

I am thankful for strong towers and fortresses and city walls
and for how they remind me of God and faith and strength.
I am grateful for visible reminders of safety and courage and community.
I am grateful for the quote from The Chronicles of Narnia,
the one about Aslan, the Lion that represents God -
"Safe? Who said anything about safe? Course he isn't safe - but he's good."
No guarantees about safety or ease - but presence, goodness, forgiveness, and love? 
There's plenty of all that.
Thanks be to God.

I am thankful for Santa Teresa of Jesus, her deep faith in God, 
her love for her sisters and brothers,
and her desire for all to know the deep passion for and connection with God that she felt.
I am grateful for her quote: Solo Dios Basta.
God Alone is Enough.

I am thankful for the many hours I spent walking in Madrid and Avila - alone and with friends.
I am grateful for the ongoing sense of welcome and warmth I feel when I am there.
I am thankful to and for Leticia & Eduardo and their children, who welcomed me into their home for the duration of my stay in Madrid.
I am thankful to and for Jorge and Elena and their children, who took me out for a fabulous dinner and time of reconnection.
I am grateful to and for my husband and our two children who understand and accept my passion for Spain and my need to go back there so often.

I confess that it is not as easy for me to take these trips as one might think.
I feel guilty about spending money on a trip like this when there are people I know who cannot pay all of their bills.
I feel guilty about spending money on a trip like this with two kids in college.
I feel guilty about leaving my family and going off on these jaunts where I spend most of the time thinking almost exclusively about what I want to do and what I want to eat and where I want to go - without having to take other people's desires into account.
I wonder what excuse I could give for such trips if something happened to one of my loved ones while I was away.
I worry what people think of me, of us, of my lifestyle, of our choices.

And then I remember...
It doesn't matter what I do or don't do.
It doesn't matter whether I go or don't go.
It doesn't matter how much I spend or how much I save.
It doesn't matter if I go to Spain or I go to South Africa or I go to an orphanage in Nicaragua.
No matter what I do or where I go or what I say or what I write, someone is going to criticize me.
Someone is going to point out my hypocrisy, my selfishness, and my greed.
Someone is going to shake their heads and say, "..." - whatever they choose to say.
No matter what I don't do or don't say or don't accomplish, someone is going to have something to say.

So I went to Spain. I ate. I drank. I laughed. I cried. I wandered. I wondered.
I journaled. I prayed. I asked questions. I answered questions.
I asked for directions. I read maps. I put the maps away and just let myself roam.
I talked. I listened to stories of life and death and drugs and travel and food and romance.
I wrote postcards. I read. I took more than 1500 photos.
I watched election results I didn't understand. I listened to political pundits and ordinary citizens talk about candidates I couldn't identify.
I slept well. I played with Legos. I watched children play games and blow bubbles.
I shopped. I visited several museums. I sat on benches and watched people.
I made a pilgrimage to several churches and cathedrals in Madrid. I walked nearly 12 miles on the day of that pilgrimage.
I visited the home and convent and church of Santa Teresa de Jesus in Avila.
I flew to Bologna, Italy, for two days to visit a former teaching colleague of mine who has retired and moved back to her hometown. (She is fluent in Italian, Spanish, and English.)
I walked and talked and ate and attended a poetry reading with her.
I met beautiful, interesting, talented, kind-hearted, curious, intelligent, creative people there.
I ate great pizza, pasta, and gelato - in Italy!
I drank strong coffee, strong wine, and bubbly water.

And every day, every night, nearly every hour, I gave thanks to God for the gift of life, of my life.
For the gift of travel. For airplanes. For taxi cabs. For freshly baked bread.
For sunshine. For rain. For borrowed raincoats and strong umbrellas.
For elevators. For staircases. For cars. For the subway.
For getting back and forth from every daily adventure safely.
For not getting sick. For not getting lost. For not being taken advantage of.
For bounty. For beauty. For friendship. For love. For shared experiences.

How can I say thanks enough? How can I say enough thanks?
Life itself is such a gift. Travel is icing on the cake.
Travel to see and stay and hang out with dear friends - it brings almost too much joy.
Did I mention that one dear sister-friend of mine, who is a flight attendant, worked a flight from NYC to Madrid in order to spend six hours with me there? Truly she is a soul-sister.

Who am I to deserve such miraculous plenty? I do not know.
But I am grateful, grateful, grateful, grateful.

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