For one of my writing classes, we were asked to look at a picture of our childhood and reflect on what was going on. I’m not going to share that assignment on here, but looking at that picture almost brought tears to my eyes today.
I don’t remember exactly how old I am, but don’t think I’m older than 7. This picture was taken in Havana, Cuba, in one of the slums of the city. You can see the floor with the missing tiles and with grime so old that no scrubbing can get rid of it. There’s a stove behind me and a red curtain next to it. The curtain separates the kitchen from the small bathroom, and it also gives the peson bathing some privacy. There’s an old radio on the table behind me, along with a glass figure and what appears to be a water bottle.
Of course, there’s me, shirtless, shovel in hand and wearing my favorite shorts. Why did I have that shovel with me? I’m not sure. There weren’t any places to dig where I lived. I lived in the heart of Havana, where old Spanish-style buildings rule, where concrete is king. But I had (and still have) a great imagination, so I’m sure that shovel was part of some adventure-type game I made up.
But what really gets me is the smile and the look in my eyes. I look so happy, so innocent. How I wish I could regain that innocent way of looking at the world. Growing up makes one cynical and bitter at so many things.
Whe I also look at this picture, I’m reminded that nothing is impossible. How could I know that only a few years later I would be living in the United States without my parents? How could I know that I would go to school in the U.S. and learn English? How could I know that I would marry a beautiful girl from Kansas and have children?
If I could go back in time and talk to my younger self, I would tell that boy in Havana to dream big. I would tell him to never forget that anything is possible. I would tell him that at 16 he’s going to have a car accident that would leave him with a scar on his forehead and with self-esteem issues, but that there are people with beautiful souls who look beyond appearances. Yes, I would tell him that. There are gentle and beautiful people out there, but beautiful and gentle in the way that only the inner parts of the heart can be. I would tell him to strive to be one of those people.
I would tell him that the life of an exile is not easy, but it does have its rewards. I would tell him to never stop dreaming. I would tell him that his dream of becoming an best-selling author can and will become a reality. I would also tell him to strive to regain that innocence when he’s older and to see the good in people. But most of all, I would tell him that it’s all going to be okay. I’m telling myself all this today, too.