Christmas has come and gone. Whatever holiday you celebrated, I hope it was wonderful. In reflecting on the many presents I received, an important one from long ago came to mind. It was a gift that had nothing to do with any holiday, but it embodies the spirit of this time of year: love.
In the column, “Adventures with the Cowboy,” I told you about the first full day in I spent in Mexico with a native. I failed to mention an important part of that story. When I came out of the bathroom at the cowboy’s brother’s home, a small girl was waiting for me in the hall. She had gleaming black pigtails to her waist and was off the charts on the cuteness scale.
“This is Azucena,” the cowboy said. He obviously adored her.
She smiled up at me and quietly gave her preferred name, “Susy.”
“Susy,” I repeated and told her my name, but she took my hand and called me “Tia.” I wasn’t married to her uncle but how would I explain that in my limited Spanish? I let it be because she didn’t seem to care. Susy accepted me for the clueless gringa I was. She pulled me through her house, showing me the things that were important to her: toys, books, and her little brother. She patiently told me the names of things in Spanish and I repeated the words. I explained what they were in English and she did the repeating. We laughed and had fun and didn’t care if we were butchering each other’s language. Being only six, Susy didn’t understand everything going on, either. Maybe she thought I was a little girl, too.
As we were leaving, Susy asked the cowboy if she could come with us. If he’d been the type of man who could’ve said no to his adorable niece, I would never have married him. When he told her to “get in the truck,” she looked up at me and grinned as if we were partners in a conspiracy. Her dark eyes were shining. She repeated what he’d said as if I didn’t understand him but would understand the words if she said them. Who wouldn’t fall for such a precious child?
Susy seemed to understand me no matter what came out of my mouth. We didn’t need language so much. That afternoon, she made the many painful introductions to strangers seem easier. My Spanish was so bad that people would often look at the cowboy and ask, “What did she say?”
I wanted to yell, “What is wrong with you? I was speaking Spanish!” but the amazing thing was that Cowboy usually understood. Maybe it was in the same way parents understand their newly-talking baby when no one else can. It comes with familiarity mixed with a lot of trying hard.
Susy sat close to me when we rode around or stood close when we were standing. She was my tiny six-year-old champion. She made me feel loved and accepted, so I wasn’t really a stranger anymore. I couldn’t speak the language of her country, but I understood hers. Susy spoke love and I got it loud and clear. I stopped being so nervous about not understanding words. Everybody everywhere responds to love.
Here we are in the last week of 2014 and by the time you read this, there won’t even be an entire week of it left. I usually feel panicky at this time; I start to beat up on myself for not accomplishing all my goals or for my “fails” and perceived “fails.” I refuse to do that this year. Instead, I’m going to work on being more like six-year-old Susy—full of love and not afraid to take it out and spread it around.
I wish you the best in 2015. I hope there are many “Susys” to take your hand when you need it, but if you don’t have a Susy, try to be one.