by Maris Kraus

“Dio está mirando siempre, mama. Disfrute tu juventud.” God is al ways watching, mama. Enjoy your youth.
Marta’s bony hands shook in mine, and her slightly transparent skin was cold to the touch. Her eyes were a glassy navy blue, with almost an urgency to them. Her chapped lips revealed crooked, yellowing teeth.

“Sí, Marta. Yo se.” Yes, Marta. I know.

I smiled at her with glossed lips and straight teeth perfected by years of braces. I looked at her with young eyes covered in contacts, my vision near flawless.

“Necesito salir, Marta. A las cuatro. ¿Pero vamos a hablar mañana, sí?” I need to leave, Marta. It’s four o’ clock. But we will talk tomorrow, okay?

She nodded her head, her scraggly gray hair moving up and down.
I leaned over, still holding her hand, and kissed her cheek. She held my hand to her mouth and kissed it, smiling.

“Adios,” we said to each other. With a bounce in my step, I left.

I spent the last three weeks of my time at Urban Mitzvah Corps working at Regency, a Jewish nursing home. Most of our time was unstructured, leaving us free to visit the rooms of the residents, building relationships with them. Marta was one of the many residents with whom I spent my time. I heard her stories; she was forced to give up all her possessions when she left Cuba, her husband died in his twenties, and she is the only living member of her family. “Solita”.

Alone. I used my little knowledge of Spanish to converse with her; I tried to take in her advice and hear her pain. I juxstaposed my youth and privileges to her age and hardships.

My talks with Marta were broken. Some things were lost in translation. At times, her words were laced with confusion. But I tried to soak in as much as possible, and enjoy the time we shared.

Throughout this past summer, I had many conversations with a variety of people. Sometimes I didn’t agree with the opinions of others. But if I have learned anything, I have learned to take what I can out of those talks. I have learned to respect words other than my own; I value the feelings of those around me. And I will try to take the advice given to me.

“Disfruta tu juventud.” Enjoy your youth.

I will try my best, Marta. Muchas gracias.