When We Open Up Our Hearts, the World Begins to Mend

EVERY TIME I LEAVE the hostel and explore the colorful city of Lisbon, I gain a better understanding of myself. I can recognize streets I’ve been down before, landmarks and the vibes of different areas.

This city feels like home.

Today, with a plan to find a place to exercise, I stumbled upon a park overrun with chickens. They plucked around, seemingly wild and free; I guess that’s just how it is in Portugal.

“They’re all over Lisbon,” my hostel’s manager told me when I asked about the bizarre experience. Apparently, there are turkeys too. “There was once a peacock roaming behind the hostel,” he said.

I never know what story I’ll come home with when I head out for the day; that’s why I’m here, it’s why I love to travel. There’s always a reason to set out without a plan to just see what happens. It might just change your life.

Campo dos Mártire da Pátria, Lisbon.
Campo dos Mártire da Pátria, Lisbon.

After a quick workout at Campo dos Mártire da Pátria, I noticed a flower shop on the other side of the park.

I thought it would be nice to bring some flowers back to the hostel and start contributing my own vibe, so I headed over to check it out. An elderly woman smiled and shared a few words in Portuguese.

“Fala inglês?” I asked, returning a hopeful smile. She shook her head — that seemed to be the end of any formal discussion. I began to browse the different necklaces and coins on display, many of which depicted a suave-looking gentleman with a mustache and distant gaze.

Dr. Sousa Martins, I read. Curious.

I looked up the name, knowing it wouldn’t do much to ask the woman who he was. José Tomás de Sousa Martins was a 19th-century doctor known for his work with the poor in Lisbon.

Pretty cool; not an ancient martyr or patron saint, but a modern hero.

I began picking up bracelets — “sol,” the woman said with a kindness in her voice as she handed over a bracelet of translucent pink stones and pointed up to the sky.

They were beautiful, all the different bracelets and necklaces of different colors and shapes and symbols; she then took a necklace from the dainty rack and handed it to me in a warm gesture.

I didn’t plan on buying anything besides some flowers, but when I tried to return the necklace she just gave it back. It showed Dr. Sousa Martins, and when I put it on, she smiled with her eyes and her face scrunched up. Perhaps it meant something to her.

This woman didn’t speak any English and my Portuguese is less than passable — but we could communicate without words, passing between us the energy which language can’t capture, love.

I picked up some flowers to take with me, “dois euros,” she replied, taking the ones from my hand and picking out a fresher bunch.

“Ah, muito obrigado,” I said as I handed over the coins.

With my necklace and the flowers, I left through the chicken park and made it about twenty feet before I thought to go back and take her picture.

I returned and made the camera clicking sign; she stood in front of her shop holding the flowers with a subtle smile on her face, surrounded by white, yellow, pink and red flowers.

This to me is the beauty of travel — I don’t know what to expect each time I walk through the door and hit the city streets. I might meet somebody new, learn a bit about myself, or discover that there’s more light in the world than we can possibly realize.

It’s out there — the love is out there. We might not all speak the same language, but language isn’t all we have to communicate. We have our energy to share, our light to shine, our hearts to open up through taking chances, smiling, being who we are.

“My name is Vincent,” I told her before I left.

“Alzeda,” she responded, pointing to herself.

Intending to give a simple gift today, some flowers to add beauty to my new home, I was given a gift in return — a necklace of a 19th-century mustachioed man, and a new friend by the name of Alzeda.

When I returned to the hostel, a bouquet of wildflowers sat on the main dining table. Apparently somebody else had the same idea. That made me happy.

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