San Jose, Costa Rica at 5 a.m. is not pretty.
It’s not really known for being a pretty city, but at that time of day it’s particularly exposed.
I hopped onto a bus with my brother and his girlfriend to head for greener forests. I have tried so many times to replay this bus ride in my mind but somehow it slipped away into the abyss.
Did I sit in the back or the front?
Did I scan the faces as I took my seat?
Did our eyes meet?
Even if only for a moment, I am sure I would remember that.
Strange to think that my life changed in a myriad of ways after that due to a person who, at the time, was nothing more than a fellow passenger, yet in my memory it’s like it never happened.
Perhaps the memories that I made in the hours, days and weeks after that early, arduous journey from San Jose to La Fortuna needed more space than these early morning hours.
Sometime around 10 a.m. we made our way to the hostel, the cheapest one I could find and also the most well known in La Fortuna. After some confusion, we pay and settle in. Coffee. Where is that delicious, dark roasted bliss that I have come to love in Costa Rica? My brother and his girlfriend settle into our shared dorm room as I head for coffee and out to the patio.
A lazy afternoon consisted of lunch followed by walking around the quaint village of La Fortuna, catching glimpses of the Arenal volcano. Back at the hostel, my brother emerges from the room to tell me that he met someone else staying in our room. He described him as “a nice German guy.” Germans traveling in Costa Rica? What a surprise.
Well, it was more of a surprise than I expected.
Eight months prior to this particular moment on Friday March 13th, 2009, I was really putting myself out there in the world. For an introvert like myself, this was both exhilarating and exhausting. However, it was mostly empowering to find myself in the midst of creating a life in a foreign country.
I was not only exploring a deeper sense of self but also enjoying the freshness that comes with new experiences and relationships. I saw my brother’s visit as an opportunity to ground myself in all the excitement.
I was genuinely looking forward to spending time with him and wanted to be fully present for his short week stay.
With this in mind, I had consciously decided to set some boundaries for myself during this one week. These were simple things, like leaving my cell phone off for the most part and taking time away from work. But it was also more than that.
I wanted to allow myself the time and space to observe the relationships that were in my life at that time. Time with myself and time with someone who knows me on a deep level.
Then this happened. I walked into the dorm room to get something from my locker. That must be “the nice German guy.” He turned towards me.
Internal dialogue: This must be a test, since I am trying to keep more to myself this week, but look at those blue eyes.
Small talk ensued from there. We quickly realized that we were living in the same part of San Jose. We were also quick to exchange information, which was not very unusual in this type of situation.
I attempted to suppress my initial emotions, thoughts and experience of him because I had told myself to take a step back; however, all these first impressions are still very vivid in my mind and heart. I looked at him as if I saw the world for the first time.
Yes, this is a hopelessly romantic thing to say.
And yes, I thought he was good looking, but it was not about that.
I felt in my heart that to be in his presence was the most inviting feeling I had ever experienced. He was soft and kind, clearly intelligent and aware of himself and his surroundings. I had the feeling that even if I wanted to not look into his eyes, I could not. Our brief first encounter left an impression on my heart that will always stay with me.
Later that evening, after getting back from a hike, I grabbed my book and wandered into the common area hoping to dive into the world of Isabel Allende. Instead, I found Thomas also reading on one of the couches.
I knew I would be unsuccessful sitting in close, silent proximity to him. How awkward would it be if I just walked through the common area to the patio, where it was completely dark? Awkward. So, I sat down, pretended to read for half an hour, exchanged a few words and reminded myself that it wasn’t the time to flirt with strangers, even if said stranger had long-ish blonde hair and ocean blue eyes.
Saturday arrived with a chance for me to spend some hours alone in the morning. I went on a short hike to a waterfall, which gave me some reflection time.
Alone in nature. I felt at home. I felt light in my body and my heart. I was hopeful and awake.
I let some of my initial resistance to my own experience of meeting Thomas drift away with each step.
I surrendered to the curiosity and magnetism that was drawing me towards this individual who was crossing my path. The waves of internal dialogue were no longer crashing like a violent storm, but rather lulling me to a sweet, dreaming wakefulness.
Saturday night in a quiet village left us sitting around a picnic table on the patio. I invited Thomas to join us for a few drinks.
As we sat there, I listened to my brother and a lovely Dutch woman engage in some political discussions. Seeing as they held opposing views, it was mildly entertaining, but I was hardly hearing what they were saying. Instead, I was lost in my own internal world.
I was keenly observing, or more like staring at, the interesting person sitting across from me. Noticing his mannerisms and wondering about what in his life that brought him to this moment. Even when I willed myself to look away, it was an insurmountable task.
The political banter came to an end and we all dispersed from the lonely patio table. Further surrendering to what was right in front of me, I struck up a conversation with Thomas.
We sat on a bench together outside of the hostel for longer than I had imagined and started an authentic, deep conversation between two souls that continues to this day.
The Sunday sun arrived warm and peaceful. I left La Fortuna that day and Thomas stayed. We were quick to make plans to meet in San Jose when I returned the following Sunday. The week that I waited to see him again contained an entire ocean of emotions, thoughts and wishes.
However, through the world of social media, we had occasional contact. It was brief but served as a reminder that I actually did meet someone and that experience felt like arriving at a house and realizing that that house was my home.
It contained my belongings, my favorite books, photos that I had taken, old sweaters, big open spaces and beautiful morning sunlight. I had never seen it before this moment, yet it existed all along. It was warm and inviting. How could it be? An extension of my imaginative nature, right in front of me.
As much as I can try to capture and convolute words to portray this fortunate meeting, it still leaves me longing to say more.
The love story continues, as many do.
As Thomas once told me shortly after we met, “we have our whole lives to get to know each other.” Yes, indeed we have our whole lives to get to know each other, ourselves and the world that surrounds us.
Those words have given me much comfort in our short five years together.
Can we ever truly come to know another person?
Can we simultaneously come to know ourself?
Perhaps, we are given this lifetime to realize such an endeavor. Perhaps, the fortunate meeting of another soul is meant to be a meeting that occurs anew each day, again and again.
Whether we are young or old, partnered or single, the fortunate meeting is continually right in front of us. It’s meeting ourself.
It’s listening to our partner, our child, our friend. It’s talking to a stranger even when it seems uncomfortable. It’s interacting with nature, with animals, with children.
The fortunate meeting takes place on a rainy day when our heart feels heavy, if only for a moment. It smells like a cool sea breeze. It feels warm like the sun after fresh snowfall. It’s calm and quiet, yet moves with passion.
The fortunate meeting happens when we are alone with thoughts, fears and inspirations. It’s ever-changing, yet always accepting. It’s present with lightness and darkness.
Through the many fortunate meetings in our lives, we awaken to see the seemingly hidden net of compassion that we share. We learn to love and care for another. We learn to laugh and dance together.
Then one day, after a fortunate meeting, we realize that we see the light in another as a mere reflection of the light inside ourself, even if only in glimpses.
Love elephant and want to go steady?
Apprentice Editor: Guenevere Neufeld / Editor: Emily Bartran
Photo: Flickr / Dave Conner