December 24, 2009: the downstairs neighbors join me and my roommate, Saul, for a Christmas Eve dinner among non-believers. We are all of either Mexican or US origin, and have somehow found ourselves here in Spain. Five otherwise displaced people - six including Lulu the Chihuahua – come together tonight, creating a family out of the basic human desire to not be alone on a holiday.
Loneliness is a funny thing. For some, it can be a debilitating disease that gnaws away at our insides and breaks down any ounce of desire or motivation we may have ever known. We lock ourselves up inside our homes – inside of ourselves – and accept "alone" as a familiar state of being. For others, loneliness can be the greatest source of encouragement, a heavy-handed push that forces us to step out into the world, become a part of the human race... become a part of something.
Just one week ago, I was sitting in the backseat of a dark sedan on an even darker pre-dawn morning, somewhere outside of dreary London. I was on my way to yet another airport to catch yet another flight. We had just left the hotel when, from somewhere in the front seat, came the statement: "I imagine it gets pretty lonely, traveling around all the time and living out of a suitcase." I mumbled some nonsense answer, trying to convince my driver and me both that it was all fine, that I was used to the lifestyle. And for once I felt grateful for England's dreary darkness; through the rear-view mirror, he would never see the tears sliding down my cheeks.
Fast-forward to Valencia. I am here, alone, surrounded by strangers. And it's Christmas. As with everything in life, I know I have a choice: I can let the disease tear me down, or I can allow it to shove me out into the world.
No doubt about it, I choose the latter. Thus when my roommate asks if we should host a dinner party on Christmas eve, I tell him Yes. Absolutely yes.
A quick run to El Mercado Central ensures we have all the ingredients necessary to destroy the kitchen. Every pot and pan is pulled from storage and prepped for a workout. Saul takes on the main course: an Indian curry with a fragrant basmati rice. I prepare a very American salad laden with dried cranberries and homemade caramelized walnuts. The neighbors arrive bearing 2 bottles of Spanish cava and a delicious German apple strudel. An international mish-mash of food will feed this mish-mash of people.
Conversation and cava flow. We battle over the laptop's keyboard, streaming Elvis, Tchaikovksy, French rap songs. Our neighbors' teenage daughter dances around the room, animated yet stunning, exuding a confidence at 15 that I – more than twice her age – have never known. I marvel at this gregarious child, marvel at the warmth and friendliness of her parents, at the unconditional kindness of my roommate. On this holiday, in this unknown place, surrounded by strangers, I feel part of something, part of a family. We talk, we laugh, we stuff ourselves with too much food, and torture our livers with too much cheap Spanish wine. The evening winds down and sleep finally calls. The kitchen remains in a state of destruction. But this is Spain. Nothing needs to happen today. We’ll clean it manana.