I’m twenty two years old, seated on a balcony overlooking the Marmara Sea in Turkey.
Around me, a conversation continues in a language I can’t understand among strangers I’ve just met. One girl, who I found on the Couchsurfing network a few days prior, looks at me and smiles.
“My friends really like you,” she says. “They asked if you want to move in with them and live in their living room.”
I look at the three girls around me, who I have not exchanged one word with. They all smile at me, expectantly and kindly, and I am shocked by the openness in their eyes.
I immediately feel anxious about accepting such an offer.
What if they grow to detest me? What if they want me out of their space? What can I offer in return? What if I’m a burden on them?
“I’m sorry, but I can’t live in their living room,” I say. “I need my own space.”
Our mutual friend smiles and nods, translating what I’ve just said. She listens, then turns to me. “One girl has offered to give you her room. She’ll share a room with her friend. They want you to stay so badly.”
These girls don’t know me, can’t even speak the same language as me, and they are giving up their own beds for me to stay.
A piece of me feels unsure and preemptively guilty, but another piece of me is tired of sleeping in a camped over-priced hotel and spending two hours on the bus to get to and from work. I hear a small voice in my head that says If they didn’t want you to, they wouldn’t have offered.
Just accept and let go.
There had been few times in my life that I had felt so dependent as I did when I was abroad. I had lived in New York City previously and prided myself on being independent, on traveling alone and needing little from others. When I moved abroad, that all changed.
Without a common language, everything became a challenge. Taking the bus, buying groceries, sending mail. I learned to ask for help because I had to, even when asking for help meant gesturing wildly in an attempt to get others to understand me. I learned to swallow my pride and release that guilt of “being a burden.”
And an amazing thing happened. I connected with people, more than I had in my entire life. I realized how much I had to give, and not in the materialistic way as I had previously come to incorrectly understand worth was based on, but in an innately human way.
I noticed how happy it made others to genuinely help me, especially when I acknowledged and thanked them.
In return, I learned to share and reach out more. I learned to give without the expectation of what I would receive back. I learned to have empathy, but still sometimes say “No” when others asked for more than I could give. I learned to be okay with others saying “No” and releasing any attachment to the word. Okay, they can’t help me in that way today. No need to feel bad about it.
I came to understand the power that all human beings have to offer.
When I look back on my (okay, relatively short) life, nothing has made me happier than a positive interaction with a human being. Hugs, genuine conversations, smiles. These things light me up, lift my mood, elate me. So, if helping someone will give me this in return, isn’t it simply worth it in that aspect?
I could have said no in Turkey. I could have gotten my own place, been completely independent, and relinquished any worries about being a burden on anyone. I had done it many times before.
Instead, I stayed in that girl’s room as she slept on a couch and both of us were happy. I practiced Turkish and I taught giggly, not well-translated yoga classes. I shared small plates of olives and cheese in the morning, kneeling around a coffee table that we all set up and cleaned together. I learned to stop apologizing for my presence and feel worthy of the gifts around me.
For isn’t this what we’re saying when we call ourselves a burden? That we aren’t worthy of what is given to us, that we are undeserving.
Independence is an important quality, but so is the ability to accept help.
Once, on a beach on an island in Indonesia, a boy said to me: “When you feel you have nothing left to give, just smile. That is enough.”
There is not much needed to make others happy, but when we think about it so materialistically, we often distance ourselves, hide away in our rooms and worry about being not giving enough. Presence is enough. Happiness is enough. We are all enough.
Author: Kasia Merrill
Editor: Caitlin Oriel
Image: Serge Usteve/Unsplash