June 4, 2018

Cuba: What I Brought Back


I want to write an all-encompassing recap of my trip to Cuba, but quite honestly I’m a) too lazy for all that and b) answering any specific questions you have about Cuba over on Instagram (feel free to DM me, folks). More important than these two reasons, though, is this: of all the things I could tell you about Cuba—where to eat, what to pack, where to stay—there is only one thing I feel compelled to tell you.

But first, let me start by introducing you to three men I met in Cuba.

1) A man who owned a book store in Old Havana. His shop was small, but packed from floor to ceiling with books, posters, records, and postcards. He insisted that we spoke in English, even though I tried to practice my high-school Spanish with him, and I learned that he was a former history professor at a university in Cuba.

2) While shooting on one of Havana's colorful streets, an old man approached me to ask where I was from (we were very obvious tourists). We met somewhere in the middle of broken English and Spanish and I learned that he actually lived in New York for a time until he got sent back to Cuba after fighting a man who was attacking a woman on the train.

3) Our butler, Mario. I hate calling him a butler because he honestly felt like more of a Dad while we were there. He told me that prior to looking after this AirBnb, he was at another home for 25 years, but that this one had a pool he'd sneak a swim in when it wasn't occupied.

Thinking about these men, and really everyone I encountered in Cuba, gave me a feeling of this word that isn't really a word but more of a feeling—sonder.

sonder

n. the realization that each random passerby is living a life as vivid and complex as your own—populated with their own ambitions, friends, routines, worries and inherited craziness—an epic story that continues invisibly around you like an anthill sprawling deep underground, with elaborate passageways to thousands of other lives that you’ll never know existed, in which you might appear only once, as an extra sipping coffee in the background, as a blur of traffic passing on the highway, as a lighted window at dusk.

This was my favorite part of Cuba, and I took it home with me. A lot of my worst days are spent feeling dissatisfied with where I am and who I am. The fact that I am growing, that things are still happening, that I still have whole lives left to live often takes a back seat to my less than perfect present. God willing, I will live to be a 100-year-old woman with a million chapters in my book (some okay ones and some fabulous ones), and meeting these men, and really just experiencing all the people of Cuba, reminded me of this.

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