“We Are Many”

We Are Many

“De tantos hombres que soy, que somos

No puedo encontrar a ninguno.”

“Of the many people I am, we are

I cannot settle on a single one.”

These are the opening lines of one of my favorite Pablo Neruda poems—“Muchos Somos” (We are Many).  Preparing for our trip to Colombia has me thinking about multiple identities, the many people I am, or we are.  Indeed, “I” and “we” become blurred as I/we move through different contexts—home, school, village, city, country.  Travel complicates this blurring in extreme and transformative ways.  In my daily life, I am a teacher who has become accustomed to speaking with authority, even when I am not, in fact, as confident as I appear.  My role is to instruct.  But, when I travel I am reminded of my position as a learner, a novice.  My confidence evaporates and I move, wide-eyed and anxious, through dazzling and intimidating new spaces.  I am, again, reminded of Neruda’s lines:

“Cuando todo está preparado

para mostrarme inteligente

el tonto que llevo escondido

se toma la palabra en mi boca.”

“When everything seems to be set

to show me off as a man of intelligence,

the fool I keep concealed in my person

takes over my talk and occupies my mouth.”

I suspect that this experience is a common one for many people.  However, Neruda’s lines feel especially relevant to me as I prepare to meet many new people in Colombia and communicate with them in Spanish, a language I have always loved but have never mastered.  I promise to embrace the challenge and not worry so much about “el tonto que llevo escondido,” because I know the experience will be worth the effort.

~ Will Walker


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