How a homeless Spanish boy and his cat changed my view of connection
Updated: Jan 4
I believe that travel creates unique connections between people. When you are removed from the comfort of your routine, you learn the most about yourself. When you're outside your comfort zone, your walls are lowered and deeper relationships seem to form with ease.
Let me tell you a story about a time this was true for me.
Barcelona, Spain. Summer of 2013.
From a young age, I was restless. I was itching for more. I had dreamed of giving up everything and buying my own car to go on a cross-country road trip when I was 16. A big part of me knew the world was big and knew I wanted to get out there and explore it.
Instead of dropping out of high school for my cross-country road trip, I went to college and explored every summer. In my sophomore year, I applied for an internship in Barcelona to teach English. I was thrilled to have been accepted for the program. I spent the summer learning Spanish and teaching English to 7-8 year olds.
On my last night in Barcelona, I was coming back to my apartment from celebrating with new friends. I had met some amazing people during my time teaching English abroad. But one conversation and interaction on this last night left a life-long impression on me.
In the subway that night I spotted a young boy and his cat sitting on the floor near the train entrance. My heart went out to him and something inside me told me to sit down with them. At this point in my life, I could speak semi-ok Spanish, most of which I learned during my program in Spain. I asked him if I could sit down, he was comfortable with that, so I did. His name was Santiago and the cat was Hugo. We sat there together speaking broken English and Spanish until the very last train was announced. I'm still unsure how two people who do not speak the same language could learn so much about one another and spend a long period of quality time together. But, I do know that it took me being out of my comfort zone in a foreign country for me to overcome the insecurity of our language barrier and connect with Santiago.
In the time we were sitting on the subway floor, I learned that Santiago had turned 18 only a few months ago. He considered himself an adult fully responsible for caring for himself and his cat. His parents had forcefully asked him to move out of their home only days after he had turned 18. He was left to find a new home and a job to support himself. He had not yet found either of those things, which is why we met on a subway floor. His current situation had him couch surfing and begging for money to help pay for the food that fed him and cat food for his beloved pet.
I was flying home the next day, with about 100 euros in my pocket, I knew I was not going to be needing the money for anything else while in Barcelona. I gave what I had left to Santiago before we both had to run off to our trains. It was not a life changing amount but I like to believe it gave him a chance to be comfortable for at least a few days.
Santiago and Hugo have left an impression on my heart that I still carry with me. Connection is not always about having common upbringings or having even a common language. Human connection can stem from a simple extension of kindness. My kindness was not giving Santiago the money I had left but was offering to spend time with him instead of passing by without paying him any mind as many others did day after day. Santiago also extended a kindness to me by offering to share his space on the floor with me and openly sharing his story. When we extend kindnesses, walls come down and connections can easily be formed even between two people from very different worlds.
I hold this lesson with me through all of my travels. Holding space for kindness instead of fear or judgment allows me to experience the beauty of our world. It also allows for me to learn about, appreciate and respect cultures different from my own. I believe in a ripple effect of kindness that is created from travel, that travel not only creates the perfect environment to foster deep connections but also teaches each of us to expand our consciousness beyond our current understandings.
What lessons have you learned while traveling?