La Vi is grateful

In July of 2009, while being on a working holiday visa in Australia, I volunteered for three weeks in the Byron Shire. I had to work 4 hours a day and I would get food and board in exchange. I had found the place through a specialised website and based my selection on pictures by the hosts but also reviews from previous helpers. It was a refurbished colonial house and I would have been happy just visiting it. Reviews were positive and a heartfelt one told among other loving things how the host was young at heart and loved jumping out the corn field to scare helpers. All that appealed to me. Some agricultural work surrounded by nice people; it would be a good experience for me who’d always been more urban.
I arrived in Byron Bay, a bohemian hub for surfers and nature lovers, where I would be picked up, a day prior to my volunteering. I was a complete mess. I was tired from the night bus trip from Sydney, heartbroken, lonely and scared. I sat next to a group of strangers on the hostel’s terrace and before I knew it, I was sobbing, telling my tale to a compassionate girl from the UK.

– I’m so sorry. We don’t know each other and I’m telling you all this and I’m crying…
– Don’t worry. I was you two months ago. I know how you feel.

I went to bed early that night and cried quietly until I fell asleep. The next day, my hostess called me to tell me she was waiting for me outside. I expected a pickup truck, a middle-aged woman, jeans and gum boots. I saw a convertible Beetle and a woman my age who looked like a super model (she had been one; just saying): her long golden hair swayed as she walked towards me, shining in her skinny jeans and branded gum boots. It felt like a commercial, basically. She took me to lunch for some quality time before going home and meeting the host and the other volunteers. There were 4 of us travellers/truth seekers. 2 were a young couple from France and the other was a bubbly young lady from all over the world – though she too was French. It was her second stay; she was behind the heartfelt review. My hostess told me about what herself and her partner did for a living. He was a jewellery designer and she was a writer. I had a hard time not letting my jaws gape. “Holly Mother of God”, I thought.
We drove to the property and I was dumbstruck. There were no corn fields, it was not a farm. There was a vegetable patch where, yes indeed, they had grown corn during the season but now it was mostly salads; a patch. The house was at the top of a hill. In the acres wide garden, a tepee big enough to hold a yoga class – I am not randomly using the image, it had been used for yoga sessions, was facing the back of the house where metal letters on rods spelled the word “LOVE”.  The helpers had their very own cabin which had been built at the bottom of the hill next to a pond, so that everybody would have privacy. Mind blowing.
Later that day, when I stepped through the magnificent porch to get inside the main house – as I called it, I felt like an impressionable little girl. Which I was. An impressionable little girl of 31. I was introduced to our host. He smiled. Suddenly, I felt so anxious, so fragile… I was tired, in an unknown place, alone and it was dark outside; it was the perfect mix for feeling depressed.  And that man I had never seen in my life opened his arms and hugged me. He got me by surprise but his hug was not faked; I felt safe.

Our job mainly consisted of weeding. And window washing. And ironing in my case, because I liked it. It took me two days to silence the voice in my head and not surrender to sadness while weeding. It took me just two days to be at peace and start healing. I got close to the flower that was the other single helper. She taught me to voice my wishes without fear and embrace the transformation within. One morning, after reading my mails in the tepee, I went to the house for our coffee before work. Our hostess was alone. I sat on a stool, she took one look at me and asked what the matter was. I broke down and my smoochy story poured out. Stupid was how I felt. She was my age, all glorious in her self-confidence, she was a writer for Pete’s sake; she was everything I wanted to be. She softened my edges that morning and by the time everybody was in the kitchen, nobody could tell I had been in such a state. Two weeks into my stay, I was working with our host when he enquired about my state of mind. I told him about my love live in shambles.
– If someone does not want to commit with you, you should cut the cord.

A few days later, his own other end of the cord moved me to tears by calling me “spectacular”. Those days with them allowed me to detach me from my toxic relationship – at least for the duration of my backpacking which was a few weeks more.
Weeks later and only days before flying back to Sydney, in a hostel where I was to share the room with 11 other girls mostly in their early twenties, I introduced myself to a seemingly friendly Italian. We soon realised we were close in age. That was enough for us to bond instantly after weeks of traveling with people 10 years younger. As we sat on a bench outside our room, this fabulous young woman told me her tale and started crying.
– I’m so sorry. We don’t know each other and I’m telling you all this and I’m crying…
– Don’t worry. I was you two months ago. I did the same thing. I know exactly how you feel.

One night in Byron, as we were having a drink on the porch, our hostess had suggested we played the gratefulness game. “Just say something you’re grateful for about today.” The French guy rolled his eyes. He was 20 and not into tapping into his emotions. His girlfriend spoke before me. That day, she had confided in me; she had had a difficult upbringing and I had been moved by her story.
– I am grateful for her trusting me with her story.
– Oh, Maria, that is so beautiful, said our hostess.

And this is why this memory popped up: today, someone confided in me. They trusted me with their story and as I was walking to my car after our conversation, I felt grateful.

I have so many things to be grateful for since that stay in Byron Bay but there is something I never told my French flower, my flamboyant hostess and my soothing host: I am grateful for you.



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