It was my favorite moment of my month long travels around Europe. Yes….after visiting some of the best cities in the world, the most popular monuments, the most famous beaches – my favorite moment took place in the Dublin Airport – go figure!
I had said goodbye to Barretstown camp an hour earlier. The campers had left for their flights and the other counselors had dispersed for their various countries via cars, buses and planes. I was alone for the first time in a while, feeling a bit emotionally fragile after saying goodbye to campers who’ve endured struggles I can’t even imagine and new, wonderful, caring friends that I’d grown close to over a seemingly short week. I wandered aimlessly through the brightly lit terminal, reflecting on my truly amazing week, when something bright caught my eye. I did a double take as I spotted a pack of about eight teenage girls in hot pink t-shirts. On my second look, I realized this was the same pack of eight teenage girls in hot pink t-shirts that I’d waved off a few hours earlier in front of the Barretstown Castle. It was my cottage three girls from Spain – all eight of them. Together. Walking directly toward me, chatting with each other – oblivious to this wonderful random meeting that was about to occur.
As soon as I realized it was them, I instinctively dropped by bags and yelled across the terminal, “Chicas!” The group of hot pink girls stopped, stared at me – presumably stunned by the jolt of yelling in the airport. A long few seconds went by as they registered me…someone they thought they’d never see again… from camp… now there… in front of them…in the airport. During those long few seconds, my heart fluttered as the thought flashed through my head that perhaps they wouldn’t be enthusiastic to see me. Perhaps my instinct to drop by bags and excitedly yell out to them was wrong. Perhaps our haphazard reunion would be less than thrilling to them.
As we pulled away from our hug, we had little to say. We didn’t speak the same language. We couldn’t communicate our excitement to see each other in words the other would understand. But we didn’t need words. What bonded us was beyond words. Seven days of utterly fantastic craziness – dancing, singing, activities, teamwork, support, laughter, smiles, tears, friendship, love. As one of my new friends had told me earlier that day, “Love knows no language.”
Before I saw the girls in the airport, I had been thinking about my week. I wondered if I’d made an impact at camp. I wondered if I had changed at all from this experience. I wondered if the campers would even remember me when they left camp. I wondered if because I couldn’t speak clearly and deeply with all of them, that they didn’t feel as close to me, as I did to them. All those doubts melted away as the joyful squeals of eight special girls from Spain filled the terminal and the massive group hug ensued. The love that certainly didn’t need the same language to be understood was filling in all the crevices in the bundle of our hugs.
Over the next ten minutes I went with them as they shopped for last minute souvenirs. They proudly showed me their new Ireland t-shirts, magnets and bookmarks. They talked to me using single words and hand gestures. Then…the inevitable happened. We had to say goodbye … again. I felt the mixed emotion of not wanting to leave but wanting to send them off to spread the joy of camp and their new found happiness. I hugged each one of my cottage three chicas, looking into their eyes, hoping each one knew how special she was to me. Off they went to the gate. Strangers only a week ago, I watched as they wrapped their arms around each other, helping each other wipe tears, and of course, still laughing.
As they walked away, one girl paused. She was the camper who had started off as the most withdrawn, inwardly angry and somber girl. I had taken an interest in her from the start for her keen sense of fashion and trendy makeup styles – things I know very little about. Although we didn’t speak much during the week, we made plans for her to do my hair and makeup for the Camp Show evening. I didn’t think I could pull off the cat eyes eyeliner that I complimented her on throughout the week. However, she did me up with those exact eyes and we both received rave reviews about her work. Through the course of the week, her anger transformed into laughter. Her normally pursed lips softened into a smile. Her crossed arms turned into linking arm and arm with new friends.
In the airport, as she was leaving with the rest of girls, she paused and turned back around to me with a shy smile on her face. In her lovely Spanish accent she slowly said – “Katy… no forget me…okay?” and laid her hand on her chest. As I blinked back the tears that were already brimming in my eyes, I shook my head and smiled as best I could as she turned to catch up with the group.
There’s no way I could ever forget you or any of the girls from cottage three. You’ve taught me that love knows no language. You’ve reminded me that what I do and who I am matters. You’ve reminded me that it’s okay to let people in. Perhaps this whole experience wasn’t about me making a difference in your life. Perhaps it was about you making the difference in mine.
“Remember those walls I built
Well, baby they’re tumbling down
And they didn’t even put up a fight
They didn’t even make up a sound
I found a way to let you in
But I never really had a doubt
Standing in the light of your halo
I got my angel now”
Katy Hawkins, Volunteer Summer 2012