High up at the top of our apartment building was my favorite spot. The nearby view constantly reminded me that I was not born with a silver spoon. Facing south east, the enclosed balcony of our home witnessed every single emotion I experienced during my youth. All I had to do was raise my gaze and capture the vista, to experience a different story.
There was an expression I used to hear often: Al pobre lo ayuda Dios. In English it means God helps the poor. Although we weren’t impoverished, back then, we lived on a very tight budget. In contrast to my friends, I grew up feeling that I was somewhat underprivileged. But after much reflection on those days, I understand that being disfavored goes far beyond material possessions or a state of mind. In a sense, it’s a way of being in which we become unable to perceive those gifts that might be in front of our eyes every single day.
During my adolescence, I’d often wish I had a different apartment, meaning, a fancier one. Most of my friends lived in nice big homes. I hoped for designer furniture and not the bamboo dinner table in which my family shared long meals and deep intellectual conversations. I wanted more and better things, like my own room, a bed frame, a decorative comforter like my buddy’s, and a bed skirt that would cover the old mattress. In its place, I shared a bedroom with my sister and often fell asleep to her voice as she made-up nighttime stories in which we were the protagonists of her entangled plots. At times I wanted stylish outfits. But instead, the clothes that I did have, were always clean and immaculately pressed thanks to a woman I loved like a second mom – Pepa. I longed for beauty inside our simple apartment. But got moments of joy and sadness, memories of over-crowded parties at the house, and that one window in our home’s balcony.
There was something special about the spot that attracted me to stand still and gaze outside. Potted large-leaf plants separated that space from the living room area. Gently tinted glass filtered the UV rays of the inclement sun. And when I opened the window, and stood there in silence, the tropical breeze played with my long hair in a graceful dance. Thoughts floated in and out of mind as I witnessed a busy city framed by a lake in the horizon. It was a meditative spot that often heard my giggles and wiped my tears. That balcony supported my transformation from child to adolescent and finally helped me develop into adulthood. It was a magical area in that apartment, the only place I truly loved, yet didn’t quite know why.
It was like watching an over-sized city globe ornament. The never-changing rooftops. The lush mango trees with friendly leaves waving at me. Old cars of all colors and sizes driving to their destinations. Scents of fried empanadas that blended with the waves of the capricious breeze. The jingle of bells of the afternoon ice-cream cart that made me want to run downstairs to buy a chocolate dipped vanilla frozen cone. Honks and horns of impatient drivers. The loud beat of drums that came from the nearby public high school continuously rehearsing for an event. An open sky that gradually picked colors from the rainbow before going into darkness and letting the stars shine. It was constant movement, texture, noise, color, and scents in the stillness of our concrete tower.
From the heights, I memorized every corner of the city. We lived in the tallest building in our neighborhood and through the years our view remained unblocked. Every morning the sun rose over the Maracaibo lake in the horizon. Over on the far right stood the longest concrete bridge that united the two coasts of the largest lake in South America. And because we also faced south, we had an intermittent display of natural lightning that we could see on certain nights in the horizon. And although I had the sensibility of admiring it back then, I never realized it until I wrote these lines, that the beauty I longed for inside my house was right in front of my eyes.
We go through moments of life wishing for things, titles, houses, or certain relationships. At times those very things we don’t own make us lose sight of what we do have. While I didn’t possess the fancy nor the extras, I enjoyed a panoramic of that line where the sky traces the water. I could admire the creative wonder of a bridge built to fulfill dreams of progress. I saw the angry skies light up almost every night as thunder bolts jolted towards the open lake. I witnessed the grandiosity of our Creator – and it was a show that never got old.
The greatest lack I experienced back then was not being able to notice my gratitude. I did appreciate the view though, as I spent countless hours in the company of the pigeons and the wind. In retrospect, that one spot was a meditative space in which the future and the past lost all relevance and I practiced awareness of the present. The now – that unique moment in which all I am, all I have, is enough.
It was through gazing out of that window in our balcony where I perhaps unconsciously and through repetition learned that mindfulness gradually made space for my happiness. It just never occurred to me that, in reality, I grew up having it all: a window in our tower.
Written by M. Patricia Diaz