A city known for its lights and its love, Paris sent me soaring with its music on every street. I was guided from one jazz note to the next, hanging on every romantic rhythm ’n rhyme as if it were a language that were my own. It was the city harboring classical music, a nostalgia from childhood; it brought me to memories of pleading with my mother to change the car radio station before I even clicked my seat belt. I didn’t know that it would bring me comfort through my teenage years or entertain an overly zealous dinner conversation analyzing musical choices by classical geniuses with my siblings. But it did. And so I feel connected to Paris because I feel connected to music. It was the harp on the steps of Sacre Coeur that allowed for a silent reflection as tourists around eagerly bought souvenirs and walked with their camera lens as eyes. It was under an arch outside The Louvre that a countertenor performing for strangers brought me to tears when I realized I was finally in Europe; the Europe I had always read about, learned about, and seen in films. The country that spoke the language I lazily learned throughout high school. But determined to assimilate, I refused my mother tongue and stumbled through a foreign land with uncertainty, as so many others have done in my neighborhood in the United States.
One feels the vibrancy and pulse of each neighborhood that changes as the day gets old. And while it can all feel different, Parisians unite for their city, for each other, for their food and drink and love that they share. All of these commonalities can be understood without language, and that is why it is music that will forever bring me to new places; because I can always find a passing eye during a performance that leads to a smirk that says it all: “Can you believe this beauty?”
I look at my mother’s path in life and I see a lot of similarities to my own. Both travelers eager to engage with other cultures, both adventurous to climb mountains to gain perspective. As my mother sits atop this wooden fence in Pucón, Chile, she is undoubtedly ruminating about life, a favorite pastime of hers. Always ready to discuss the deeper meaning of life, I realize that is why my friends have been trapped in passionate conversations with me more times than they’d like, I’m sure.
I see my mother and I see myself, more than just in physicality, but in spirit. She returns back to her element in a couple days time and it always warms my heart to see her that happy; to be surrounded by friends and family that she’s missed, to be with the natural beauty that she loved so much, to be at peace with her life. I wish for all of us to find that.
After years of hard work, my abuelo was able to build a country house in Pucón, Chile for my family. They used it as an escape from the city life they were so enveloped in. Just a short walk from their deck down a path led them to Lake Villarrica and one of Chile’s most active volcanoes. They frequently climbed that volcano until they got to the top where the snow began to collect. After an all day climbing adventure, they’d eat their lunch and have a picnic near the top of the volcano.
Pucón is a place I’ve heard my mother talk about my entire life. It was a small town with few people towards the south of Chile. It was where my abuela, a gentle woman who mothered 5 children with various appetites and temperaments, was able to take in the sun and care for her flowers. It was where my mother honed her photography skills I didn’t know she had until yesterday when I came across a box of old pictures and was stunned by the backdrops and framing.
I share these pictures with you now to show a life that seemed so simple and focused; one without technological distractions, one that encouraged playing with dolls and dirt and your siblings; where conversation was king and records were enjoyed. Sometimes I wish I’d known that life instead but then I realize that is exactly the home my parents built for me and my siblings.
My mother grew up in Santiago, Chile in a house my abuelo built with his own hands. Not a week after they moved in, a historic 9.6 earthquake tore apart Santiago’s streets, creating waves in the pavement, uprooting trees, and causing fear in millions. My mother remembers the corners of the house moving while my abuelo screamed, “Get out of the house, it’s going to fall!”
It didn’t that day, nor did it ever. They lived in that house for decades and it still stands just as strong today as when it was when it was built. This is the view from my mother’s window that she woke up to every day. The Andes towered over the city and protected my mother. It was the city she grew up in, fell in love in, and ultimately, left so she could raise children in a country that seemed so promising.
Those mountains are still as beautiful as ever as are the people that live there. Practically my whole family still resides in Chile and it warms my heart to know that even with a few scattered around the world, our bonds are still as strong as that house. My abuelo built a place where laughter, love, and respect were bountiful; where hard lessons were learned and brilliant ideas were born; a place that is still in my mothers’ heart, and as a result, in ours as well. There’s not a place like Chile in the world.
I didn’t always know how to handle what I considered imperfection; a dissonant note in music, a slanted horizon in pictures, a misplaced hair. Through the years, my open-mindedness allowed me to adapt, arguably the most useful skill I’ve honed—aside from finding cheap airline tickets. So when I first took this picture I was disappointed. It didn’t portray the beauty that laid beyond the blur and the power lines. It was overexposed and underwhelming. But even with all its imperfection, it drew a response from me; one that has informed my work and life. It has allowed me to accept others’ imperfections and hope that a peace resides in them for theirs as well.
A person at peace does not displace their anger towards harmless others. A person at peace is mindful of the million thoughts that pass but only holds on to the ones that promote fruitful action, productive talks, and positivity. They let go of the ego that others stroked, the blind acceptance of injustice as an unchangeable fact, and only fight to change what we know is wrong. We know it’s wrong because in our worst moments, we seek others’ help and love regardless of how one might define or judge them. It’s wrong when you actively decide to make someone’s life worse for amusement or personal gain. It’s wrong when someone harbors such inner turmoil that the way they feel best to express it is through something as vile as violence and oppression. So for us to have created a society where people act against human nature and lack an understanding of love and life is a crisis.
In crisis we help. If you have ever felt love, the want to help, and the wish for others to do the same, I urge you to act. Through all the imperfection in our broken world, it is still overwhelmingly beautiful because I see it to be. It is not without fault and I am not without anger for things that should not be, but if you want better, you need to be better. It is on you. Do not grow complicit and do not be scared, we are all feeling the same way because we are all imperfect.
I grew up in the “mountains,” which was not so much a mountain as it was a tree-filled foothill. My first time flying brought me to Chile where the Andes were never far but could be mistaken for clouds the way they towered over the city. Seeing that horizon made me long for that view for life.
So a few years later, I woke up in Switzerland to my three best friends waving. After a day of screaming over the price of the food and the childish enjoyment of knowing the German word for “exit” was “AUSFAHRT,” we arrived to Heiligenschwendi. With each mountain curve, we discovered a new picturesque house with farms and flowers to sustain their rural lifestyle. So different from the smog we knew back home, I opened my window and breathed in the most pure breath of nature; hearing nothing but the cows’ bells as they graze, the roosters’ tired songs as the sun shines its first light seen between the mountains, the winds shifting and ever-changing the clouds.
It was a moment I’d felt before. It was perfect.
Growing up, I went to church every Sunday. Mostly the dead weight forced out of bed, I contributed little to my parents’ dedication to devoutness. I took the Priests’ homilies as time to continue the dream my parents interrupted. I went to CCD, a weekly religious class where I distracted the class by experimenting how long I could keep my arm raised (one whole hour) or was the endless murmur in the corner of class that kept the few close to me laughing. I took little seriously except praying and respecting the church officials, mainly out of fear.
That fear to disappoint and disrespect conflicted the doubts I began to harbor. With each life event that I begged some higher power to take care of, I was met with no response and thus, I grew angry. It was a lonely and darker time of my life where I struggled with anxiety and depression, feeling like I’d been lied to my whole life. •
I continued through the years believing in only myself. Eventually thankful for the punches that came, I began to view every occurrence as a learning experience and something positive. I breathe today a more positive, charismatic, and wholesome person than when I was lost, sad and 16 years old.
This extremely personal journey I’ve shared seems necessary in explaining the importance of my visiting Vatican City. I walked through the museum halls until the Sistine Chapel left me speechless. We walked to St. Peter’s Square just hours after Pope Francis blessed thousands. And then there I stood, in tears, from childhood nostalgia and an inexplicable completeness it gave to my past. Life was so confusing then, and it is no less today–but my confusion comes from what’s next, not questioning or angering myself by what’s already happened.
I once told a friend I never felt fear because there always felt like there was something keeping me safe. She said, “well…isn’t that God?”
It’s still a question I hold, but I’m a lot closer to the answer today than yesterday. //