One more week of my life is over. This week doesn’t feel like it ended. It was a beginning. Seven days of meaningful interactions. Seven days full of beginnings.
Anything that we consider beautiful is rare. Each of my interactions was unique to the day, the time, the people, and the place. Each happened the perfect amount of times, once. If I were to try and relive any of these experiences they would start to lose value. They would lose their beauty. As a disclaimer, these summaries don’t capture the beauty of each experience. The beauty is in the details of each moment that I was able to spend with these different people. Memories are inaccurate but I’ll try and keep my recollections as real as possible. The lessons I learned hold true regardless of the accuracy of my memory.
This week started with the appearance of Anna and JoAnna in our ward on Sunday. A mother and daughter from Virginia who spent two days here. The week started with Americans befriending Americans on a small island in southeastern Brazil. Of all the wards in all of Brazil we ended up in the same one.
Loygee (Loyd is his name, my roommate, but in Brazil it’s properly pronounced with a G) and I (Mac) were blessed not only to spend time with Anna and JoAnna (it's nice that their names are poetic together) but with the family they were staying with. It started Sunday night with Alexandre and Stéfanie inviting us over for dinner. She made shrimp stroganoff inside a pumpkin. I bet you’ve never tried that before. Her desert was even better. Even so, the food was not the most rare part of the night. We stayed up late talking like old friends. These two days were the only two that this group would be together. Ever. The first and the last time. It was such a rare occasion yet it happened so naturally. We took advantage of these moments. We didn’t hesitate to trust, laugh, or open ourselves to new friendships.
One day, one car, four Americans, and lots of unfamiliar territory. Alexandre lent us his car for the day. This was the only time I’ve driven in Brazil. We started at the highest point on the island, where you can see the whole city. Every time I am there I am reminded of how small I am.
If you ever feel entitled, self-righteous, or extra important, go somewhere that will remind you of how little you really are. A mountain, hill, airplane, city, freeway, or even a bus can do the trick. Maybe that’s why altitude makes us feel closer to God. We are removed from the busyness of life and are able to put ourselves to scale. It sinks in that we are nothing but beautiful dust on the surface of a living planet.
(As a side-note and contrast to my other statement: If you ever feel unimportant, empty, or alone, go to church. It will remind you that you are divine. If that doesn’t work just love somebody that feels the same way you do. The cure to loneliness is making someone else feel loved. Both situations and feelings can bring you closer to God.)
We then went to a couple beaches. Navigation was an adventure in itself, I’m glad we are all still alive. The weather wasn’t typical tropical beach weather, but as I’ve reflected back I think that our experience was even more unique because of the imperfect weather. Instead of tanning or hanging out on a beach we hiked, explored, and had energy to experience each other’s company in beautiful places. We walked and walked through the wilderness until coming to a rocky coast.
“Where are we?!” I repeated and thought at every new turn. A camera lens can’t do justice to what we got to see. It especially can’t record these girl’s enthusiasm. Anna is 59 (in case she is embarrassed by me posting her age, I think she should know that all three people that read this will probably not have the pleasure of meeting her). She has more energy than most people my age. She led the way through the hills near Praia Brava (good name, it means Angry Beach). That sense of adventure is rare. Loygee and I were lucky to meet Anna and JoAnna. It was only two days with them but that little hike was once in a lifetime. Sure I can go back, it’s not far from where I live, but this is the only time it will feel as it did. This was the only time it would be with new friends in a borrowed car with absolutely no idea where the trail would take us.
Anna and JoAnna left Tuesday morning. It was sad to see them leave. Luckily our friendship was a beginning, not an end. Thanks to them we still have Alexandre and Stéfanie.
The week continued on. I’ve made friends at school, real friends that I can talk to and trust. My interactions are becoming more meaningful with each moment I spend with my foreign friends. There is no specific experience to relate regarding this large group of people. Being here in Florianópolis, studying at UDESC, is unique and beautiful in itself. I hope to take advantage of it. This interaction is general but equally as meaningful with every day. Every day is a different experience here, an opportunity to meet and love new people.
Friday night was a huge party at UFSC (another University near ours). Everyone smokes and everyone drinks. I had a lot of fun dancing to the band. I bet sometimes people think I’m drunk. I felt empowered by the fact that I didn’t have to spend money on harmful chemicals and that I was free from addiction. We walked to and from the party with Rafael, a friend and fellow student. We had a great time just walking around the city. The contrast from BYU made the night beautiful. These people live a completely different reality, but they are still good in their own way.
The next day we played soccer, which I have been waiting for since my arrival. On Thursday we made lunch for the missionaries and it turned out amazing. I was so happy that I made a brazilian meal that I tried to repeat this recipe on Saturday. I did something wrong, Loyd and I got a good laugh out of our bad, extremely salty meal together. The leftovers are still in the fridge, we don’t want to throw them away but we definitely don’t want to eat them. After eating we headed out to stake conference.
It’s always good to be in a chapel, a week sometimes feels like too long. I missed the reverence. The meeting was fulfilling. Good music and good talks. It ended. We decided to take a bus straight to our friend’s birthday party. We didn’t want to bother Alexandre and Stéfanie who gave us a ride there because it would make them go out of their way. We told them we were going to take the bus to the party. We walked out into the cool night air into a quiet city, uplifted by the conference.
Another new friendship came out of nowhere. They approached us from behind on our way to the bus stop. Another meaningful interaction found its way to us. We were encountered by two more amazing people, people I’m grateful I have met. People that love openly. The Parrela family. Brother Parrela used to be the stake president. They put us in their car and told us they would take us anywhere we needed to go. We told him which bar we were headed to for Gustavo’s party and they gladly agreed to take us there.
“You are probably hungry,” said Brother Parrela.
“No, we are okay, thanks though.”
“I know that people your age are always hungry, we are taking you to McDonalds.”
“I know that people your age are always hungry, we are taking you to McDonalds.”
I know that doesn’t sound like a treat, but it’s very expensive here. This man had no obligation or plan to even shake our hand and within 15 minutes he spent a fortune on hamburgers and ice cream for us. We had a wonderful conversation and I learned a lot from their perspective. I love them. I’m thankful for the attention they gave us, they would make anyone feel important.
They took us to the bar and trusted us to do good things. They didn’t even hesitate before dropping us off, nor did they tell us a “now remember...” lesson. They took down our emails and phone numbers and promised to take care of us while we are here. How do people become so caring? They are happy because they love without limits.
The bar was amazing. The band covered american songs and I met a lot of great people. It was good to be with Gustavo on his birthday, he is an awesome kid. One interaction in particular is noteworthy. I met one of Gustavo’s friends at the bar named Bruna. He basically forced us to meet, and we talked quite a bit. Don’t get too excited if you think this meaningful interaction has a romantic ending, it’s because it didn’t that it became meaningful.
“Hey, what’s your name?”
“Mac, well it’s actually McKinley but nobody can say that, what’s yours?”
“Where did you learn English?” I asked her.
“I lived in London for 4 years.”
“Oh, that’s awesome,” I could then hear her British accent...
Our conversation continued for a while, it had it’s pauses. We would stop and enjoy the music at the bar. Every sentence was accompanied by a pulsing bass, loud guitar, and hundreds of voices mixed and mingled together.
... Instead of making up the details of our “getting to know you” conversation let’s skip to the good part...
She was a beautiful girl, but she stood a little too close to me for comfort. Her intentions at the start of the conversation were very different from when it ended. If I backed up she would find a way for her body to be touching mine. She talked about a lot of things, even her ex-boyfriends, and I feel like she didn’t often have people around that liked to listen.
“Why aren’t you drinking anything?” she asked.
“I don’t drink.”
“WHAT? Really?! Oh my I’ve never seen that before. Oh my gosh you are so pure (he he)” she was still flirtatious, but extremely surprised.
As we talked some of my brazilian friends signaled to me from behind her, encouraging me to make moves. They even acted some out. I guess they didn’t realize that that wasn’t my intention.
We kept talking and I told her about why I don’t do what most people do. Then came the big moment.
“You’re a virgin!?!?”
“Ya not until I’m married.”
“So you are telling me that if we went on a date, and kissed, you wouldn’t have sex with me if I was willing?”
She didn’t believe me. I had to prove it to her somehow.
“How can someone tell if you are lying?” I asked her.
“Well I can’t look them in the eyes,” she responded.
So I looked her in the eyes and confidently said, “I’m not lying.”
She almost fell over she was so shocked. She had nothing to say for a minute, then she said...
“I’ll never forget you.”
The sound of that sentence is very satisfying. It fulfills one of the basic human desires, to be remembered. The reward for doing what was right was immediate. I felt so happy for my life thus far because I could confidently stand for something. I was able to show her that she was more than just something to be sexed (I know that’s not a verb, but I can’t think of a better way of saying it ha). She is not just an object of my temporary pleasure. After this part of the conversation the atmosphere changed between us, her intentions changed.
It’s easier for me to do what’s “right” when the “wrong” is so blatantly available. At BYU there is no reward for doing good, you merely meet expectations. The reward system is hidden because you feel like you are either normal or you are punished for being “bad.” This leaves little room to be genuinely good. The reward for doing good is there regardless of the the society in which it takes place, but when “good” is the norm it can lose it’s meaning. Like I have repeated throughout this post, we find rare things beautiful. I don’t mean to imply that I want less people to live a “good” life so that I can feel better about myself. I simply gained the perspective that people who live the LDS standards are rare. It’s beautiful to me that anyone does it. It doesn’t feel rare at BYU but in a world this big we are nothing. I am grateful for the principles of the church.
My brazilian friends came to me as I was getting ready to leave. They said “Você é o cara mais homem que conheço.” I’m not sure how to translate this without sounding like I think I’m the shiz. It’s basically, you are the manliest guy we know. I asked them why.
“Because you could have hooked-up with Bruna and you didn’t because of your principles. You are the man.”
I’m glad that my “principles” didn’t rub them the wrong way. They are such good kids, I love hanging out with them even though their definition of “good” is very different from mine.
We left the bar at about 1:30. Loyd and I walked home casually along empty streets. Florianópolis was still awake. We talked about how good we felt. Even our twenty minute walk home was once in a lifetime.
We got to bed and woke up early for stake conference this morning. A man at the bus terminal helped us find the stake center. His name was Bruno. He was old, at least in his seventies. He was kind enough to walk us to the church because he could tell we didn’t know the city well. On our way there I asked him “what’s the secret of life?” He was difficult to understand because he mumbled a lot. He had an answer, I’m glad I asked. I’m not sure how he phrased it but I know it involved “every day.” That’s all I needed to hear.
The beauty of life was evident to me this week. Every moment is rare, it’s impossible to comprehend the greatness of each day. Life is beautiful because every day is unique. Moments that are rare and beautiful are unforgettable. If we realize that every day is beautiful, and every moment is rare, then we will live an unforgettable life.
One week. Seven days of meaningful interactions. Seven days that I will never forget.
...A quote for good measure. A dead man’s narration of his experience right after being killed. Janie is his daughter, Caroline is his wife...obviously fictitious.
“I had always heard your entire life flashes in front of your eyes the second before you die. First of all, that one second isn't a second at all, it stretches on forever, like an ocean of time... For me, it was lying on my back at Boy Scout camp, watching falling stars... And yellow leaves, from the maple trees, that lined our street... Or my grandmother's hands, and the way her skin seemed like paper... And the first time I saw my cousin Tony's brand new Firebird... And Janie... And Janie... And... Carolyn. I guess I could be pretty pissed off about what happened to me... but it's hard to stay mad, when there's so much beauty in the world. Sometimes I feel like I'm seeing it all at once, and it's too much, my heart fills up like a balloon that's about to burst... And then I remember to relax, and stop trying to hold on to it, and then it flows through me like rain and I can't feel anything but gratitude for every single moment of my stupid little life... You have no idea what I'm talking about, I'm sure. But don't worry... you will someday.”