Today is the Thursday before Good Friday, which for the people of Sevilla, Spain, means la Madrugá. La Madrugá is Spanish for “early morning,” and on this night, pasos, processions of various Catholic churches, pass through the city center honoring Christ and the Virgin Mary. Although I am not Catholic, two years ago I had the opportunity to share this cultural experience alongside los sevillanos.
I was thinking about that night two years ago–how my friends and I navigated the massive crowds, got trapped in a plaza between two pasos early in the morning, and were awed at the reverence the crowd displayed during the silent pasos–and next thing I knew, I was perusing a couple hundred study abroad photos during my commute to campus this morning. Photos of la Semana Santa, of the Plaza de España and tiny back roads, and of our first day in our host homes.
It certainly isn’t unusual for me to browse old photos and to long for Spanish life and language (and coffee), but my perspective was different today. More than simply recalling the trip as a whole with a sense of nostalgia, the photos took me back to specific memories, to first impressions of the historical places that became the backdrop of my daily life. And most importantly, back to times of reflection while walking along the Río Guadalquivír and through the Parque de María Luisa, where my views on time and love and life permanently changed in ways that I did not fully recognize until I returned to the US.
As I was discussing with one of my Spain roommates the other day, life for us will always be divided into before Sevilla and after. The “after Sevilla” consists of a life that seeks joy in small, quotidian pleasures, one that prioritizes a healthy work-life balance. It is one in which differences are opportunities to learn from others, change is a challenge to be faced head-on, and fearlessness leads to unimaginable adventures. One where there is always something new to discover, where complacency is no longer an option.
Spain is the place where I had the chance to develop into that person, one that I had been trying to become my entire life up to that trip. The person I lacked the courage to be until studying abroad threw me forcefully out of my comfort zone. Once you are removed from a life-altering experience, however, it is not always easy to maintain those changes when you return to your old world. Much like a language barrier, the old and new worlds, the before and after, do not always understand each other. The balancing act is a daily challenge, but one that I am determined to master.
Because although I was born American, a major part of me will forevermore be sevilliana. As they say in Sevilla, no me ha dejado, “Sevilla has not left me.”
Nos vemos de nuevo muy pronto, mi carísima ciudad.