My stomach twisted itself into a knot and suddenly I felt lightheaded. The nerves were kicking in. Stepping out of my comfort zone into unfamiliar gut-churning, heart-pounding territory is something I am terrified of but also drawn to. When asked who wanted to go on the beach trip with the kids from the Casa de Necesidades Especiales (Special Needs Home) I had enthusiastically raised my hand; however, now my thoughts were all over the place. I speak conversational Spanish, but some of these kids were unable to speak at all. How was I supposed to communicate with them? What would we do once we got to the beach? The bus halted at the end of the pebbled dirt road and I stood up. I was apprehensive, but that was part of the challenge. I am fascinated with challenging my own competitiveness and anxieties by continuing to put myself in new situations because, although I am the most afraid, I also feel the most at home. By putting myself in situations that intimidate me, I begin to reach my own expectations and become the person I see myself as.
A few other volunteers and I walked out of the bus, unusually quiet for our typical bubbly and talkative selves, shooting nervous glances at each other. The soft sand was hard to walk on and even harder for the wheelchairs to roll on. We finally made the trek to a picnic table and admired the beautiful Dominican water; it was turquoise and so clear it looked like a sheet of glass had been put over the ocean. One of the tías in charge of the special needs home began to tell us about each of the kids and their individual personalities. One loved holding hands and laughing. Another just liked to sit at the table and enjoy the view. Others enjoyed floating in the water.
I was asked to spend time with one girl, around the age of thirteen, who was relatively quiet. She needed to be carried, so I picked her up and we walked down to the water in an awkward but comforting silence. My heart rate was slightly elevated but I was finding peace in the fact that language was not a necessity today. Unlike the other days, where I would be rapidly trying to comprehend Spanish and speak it without stumbling on every word, today I just got to be.
When we made it into the water, she squealed with happiness. I smiled, and walked farther in. She then lifted her arm up, and I was unsure of what she wanted. “¿Qué pasó?” I asked, wondering if she didn’t like the feeling of the water on her hands. She moved her hands towards my face, and I began to feel guilty for not understanding her. “¿Qué quieres? ¿Estás bien?” I asked, but she couldn’t tell me what she wanted or how she was feeling. We stared awkwardly at each other for a minute, but then something clicked and I laughed. She wanted a high five! I smiled and she smiled back, and we began a game that would last for the entire day. High fives. We high fived, low fived, side fived for hours on end. Every time our hands came together she smiled with her entire being and within minutes my anxiety was completely gone and replaced with ease and confidence. We conversed like this as the time flew by, making jokes, learning, and having fun. I was overcome with happiness and a confirmation of my love for situations in which I am originally nervous. By the time we had to leave, I had a new friend, a new language, and a new love and appreciation for the power of high fives.