With 12 weeks of vacation time to use and a bargain rental on a Spanish villa, I dug out my passport from my catch-all drawer filled with safety pins, pens and old makeup, and I dusted off the Nars Perfect Peach blush.
Both of my parents had died when I was very young. My grandmother raised me, and she passed away a year ago, which left me feeling homeless. I was an adult now at the ripe age of 32. I had a nice apartment in Tampa, Florida and a good paying job. I didn’t have a spouse or family of my own, so holidays felt particularly lonely as my family consisted of a black mini schnauzer and the occasional stray cat that I took in because we seemed to be kindred spirits.
I had the vacation time saved up and it seemed to be a great time to take that European vacation that I had always dreamed of, but never thought it would come to fruition. My dreams of writing that best-selling novel and squeezing fresh orange juice every morning seemed within reach. It was the perfect time since I had no family of my own.
One week later, after a pricey trans-Atlantic flight and a priceless car ride with the rental agent, I had arrived to my Mediterranean villa. Aside from the quirkiness of the water tap and some spiders the size of my cat, I was thrilled to be living life along the Med.
My first morning, I had my coffee by the olive tree overlooking the terrace. It was quintessential Spain with the fruit trees and sea views.
My neighbor was an older man who had just lost his wife from cancer. He had chickens that woke me up at the crack of dawn. It was a welcomed change from my Sharper Image Sound Machine. He also baked fresh round bread and delivered it over the fence almost daily, along with luscious veggies from his garden. I wanted to return the favor somehow, but I was unsure since I did not bake or grow anything. Eventually, I realized I offered Americana influence with my language and music and that was warmly welcomed.
Every day, I had conversations with my neighbor in a mix of Spanish and English. As the days went on, he would invite me over to meet his friends. Everyone was so benevolent and welcomed me with tapas, wine and local gossip.
My new friends in my new pueblo began to feel like family to me, and I realized the importance of this as I had no close blood relatives left in my life back in the states. It made think about my life with a new perspective. I realized that I DID have family. I had co-workers and friends from University that I would see once a year. I also had the kids from my charity work, and I had my dog. None of these groups of people were blood relation, but they were the people (or pet) that I cared about, loved and I felt they cared about me too.
As I settled in more, I began a daily ritual of coffee by the olive tree in my backyard and took afternoon walks into the local village. One day, I saw a posting for a 10K charity run and I decided it would be fun to meet other locals and up my fitness level. The long office hours had made it impossible to get to the gym in recent months.
Every morning I spoke to my olive tree with positive affirmations and every day, I felt I gained strength to accomplish my endeavors.
I ran the charity race and made a few friends. I started training for the upcoming marathon along the Mediterranean. Could I accomplish such a feat in a short time? I was in good shape, but certainly not marathon ready!
I began to spend more and more time with my olive tree and running. And, more running.
In the morning, I had my coffee and asked the olive tree for the strength to run the distance that day. I know it seems silly, but I was a bit isolated in foreign lands and the olive tree appeared so strong, stable and beautiful.
I was at first disappointed to know that I could not simply pick the olives off the tree and eat them. They were bitter and it was a process to make them edible. But, what I didn´t know is that the trees produced gorgeous flowers or that they lived five hundred years. The locals I met were able to teach me these curious facts.
After I discovered red Spanish wines from the Rioja region, I began having a glass of wine in the evenings by the olive tree. The olive tree represented a source of strength and I felt a new sense of energy and I believed I could achieve anything I desired.
I ran the marathon and I finished it and I felt empowered.
With my olive tree by my side, I could do anything!
I had only a week left in my villa, but I had been busy. I applied for a position with the International University as a professor of International Business for their business school.
I had been prepping for the upcoming interview daily with my sessions by the olive tree.
The night before my interview, the pueblo experienced the biggest storm in recorded history. It was a long, scary night with gale force winds gashing the windows and severe lightning crackling in my ear. I woke to find extensive damage everywhere I looked!
With no electricity, I knew I had no coffee for my morning ritual, but I decided to take a bottle of water for my conversation with my olive tree.
To my shock and amazement, the olive tree had been uprooted and blown in pieces to the neighbors´ yard.
All of the locals were in the street talking about the chaotic night. I had my interview the next day, what would I do without my olive tree to give me strength?
I had confided in my neighbor my feelings towards this olive tree. Although we struggled with our daily language exchanges, he could see how upset I had become with the loss.
The next day I went to my interview and I was feeling drained, but I had prepared and I was ready to know if this could be an option for the next chapter in my life.
I was hired on the spot.
As I returned to my rented villa, I found a small olive tree in a black pot with a red ribbon around it. My neighbor had given this to me. It was extremely generous not only because they are quite expensive trees, but the generosity from his heart was a refreshing moment in my modern world.
The following day, I decided to decline the job offer and return to the states, with dreams of continuing marathon racing and pursuing personal and professional aspirations.
I placed the potted olive tree on my neighbors´ front porch, with a note:
“Thank you for your thoughtful gift. I am returning it to you as I know you will nurture it well in your garden and I have discovered that we all have the strength of an olive tree within us if we look hard enough and your family is who you invite into your life and have mutual feelings of care and love.”
It was then that I knew I would never feel lonely again as I had the power to choose my earthly family and I had the strength of a higher power within.
Author: Sean Ashleigh Russell
Author Bio: Sean Ashleigh Russell is a freelance writer, mother and warrior. She currently resides in Nashville, Tennessee.
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