The spaces we inhabit and the spaces we create.
Life, at times, can feel overwhelming; the seemingly endless amount of work we need to do makes a day, a week, a lifetime feel like an insufficient amount of time to get it all done, but we try. That “all”–everything we know, everything we have experienced, everything we’ve done–exists here, in this city, on this planet, in this galaxy. All of it is contained in this space. Basically all we know is space, an unimaginable emptiness, a void that can seem so full and so busy but in other moments can feel lonely and empty.
The other day I was feeling overwhelmed, the city and my future pressing in on me, and I just needed to get out of Cusco to find a clearer space. I went on a hike, climbing into the Andes, over 4,000 feet (1,219 meters) above Cusco. I felt free. I felt free from the traffic, the bustle of people, and the constant noise. Up there, the silence of nature allowed me to step back and take a breath. I could hear the birds, the wind in the trees, my heart beating in my chest, and I could breathe again. Up in the mountains, I feel space differently. The city feels smaller, the lives of half a million people contained in my field of view. The sky feels bigger; I can see for miles as the sky curves and the mountains unroll beneath me. But I felt just as small, wandering around those mountains, walking towards things that feel so close but are hours away.
On this hike, I was thinking a lot about space and all the ways we can interpret the word. Space can refer to physical places like a city or a lake, and it also can describe things that are less tangible, the space our memories take up, a space that feels safe. Space is everywhere. The atoms we are made of, the physical matter that is us, is 99.99% empty space. We reflect the universe in this way, we are all composed of emptiness, gaps in the fabric of life. Although we are composed of gaps, it is the connections between our atoms that make us, us. It is the connections between ourselves and the people and spaces around us that makes life possible. How these gaps in the fabric of life can be bridged is so beautiful. We, you and me, are most likely thousands of miles away from each other, but these words somehow connect us. These words cross borders, travel through time, and hopefully create a space of their own.
Hiking up in the clouds, I thought about the spaces I inhabit. My space as a brother, a son, the spaces I occupy at my University, my home, the space I take up in people’s memories, the spaces and people that make up my memories. I thought about how spaces change and at the same time are frozen in memories, unchanging. For months, I have been away from my home, my family, my city, my life in the US, and I am sure things have changed, but to me, in my memory these spaces are as they were, as I left them, unchanged. Although I have changed, I am sure I am frozen somewhere too, in a photo, someone’s memory, I am the same as I once was. In one place I have stayed the same and in another space I am a changed person.
Soon I will return home. I have lived in Cusco for 9 months, not a long time, but enough to see things change, to see myself change. I have seen waves of tourists come and go; I have seen the landscape go from arid and brown to lush and filled with life. These spaces changed and so did I. Throughout my time in Perú, I have observed how I interact with spaces. The space I take up changes based on the language I am speaking, the place I’m in, and the people I am surrounded by. I have not just learned about the space I take up, but the space I need. I learned how to make space, so I can journal, meditate, take care of myself. I have also learned how to create spaces for others: listening, helping, knowing where I am wanted and needed and where I am not.
Soon I will be distancing myself from the life I have created here in Cusco. I will be leaving the spaces I have learned about and lived in, and return home, a space that in some ways is more familiar and yet has changed and will feel strange. I love that we are composed of space, both literally and figuratively. We are made of gaps, tied together by the spaces that have formed us. The spaces that others created for us to grow, the spaces we have explored, the spaces that have taught us. We are formed by spaces. We are formed by our communities, our home, our schools, all the spaces we reside in and how we interact with these spaces. Being here in Perú my roommates gave me a space to experience Perú from the eyes of a local, my teachers gave me a space to learn, people in the streets, markets, and cafés, all gave me the space to learn Spanish and Quechua. As time passes, I will change, Perú and the people here will change, but this experience, this space, will have a lifelong effect on who I am. Although I am leaving, putting space between me and my life here, Perú and the people I have met, will always hold a space in my heart.
Kele Ramsay is a student at University of Minnesota Duluth and an ISA Featured Blogger. He is studying with ISA in Cusco, Peru.