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Elan Vitae


  • Alison Kuhlow


I'm a sucker for a good plan. A good plan considers all the variables and helps you make good decisions. I love to make plans for lots of things in my life so I can make sound decisions and move forward. I feel they help me relax and go with the flow. I realize this is truly not going with the flow, but it's what works for me.

My therapist thought my way of doing things was exhausting me. She saw me making pro and con lists, researching and planning for even the very small things in life. She agreed a thorough review does help decision-making when it comes to life's large decisions, such as buying a house, accepting a job, and investing your money. Doing extensive research to determine if I should change laundry detergent and making a tabbed spreadsheet for vacation options may be too much.

Her recommendation was this; when faced with a decision, ask myself, "¿por qué no?"

"¿Por qué no?" - "Why not?"

I could see her point. Since then, I've pulled back from overthinking the small things and look for times when I can ask myself why not. I've found that when I ask it in Spanish, ¿por qué no?, it brings out a sort of alter ego as I hear my voice speak with an unfamiliar accent. I ask the phrase with a twinkle in my eye as if I am getting away with something just by asking the question. It relieves me from the desire to list pros and cons. It gives me the freedom to make my decision based on how I feel.

This year, I was given the opportunity to really embrace a go-with-the-flow attitude. Schedules aligned to allow my brother and sister-in-law to join me in Costa Rica for a few days of travel. As the trip approached, my brother suggested we make minimal plans and play it by ear as we went. He knew enough about the country and felt we could make it work. He easily convinced me that making no plans was the break we needed from our overly structured worlds.

We arranged our arrivals to coincide so that our trip began late one night at the airport baggage claim area in Costa Rica's capital San Jose. The only plan we made was where we would spend the night. Leaving the airport, we headed to a town two hours away, where we would catch a ferry the next day. Our only plan after that was to head northwest of the capital to find sand and sun.

The following day we were up and off to catch an early ferry. We selected the destination for the night by talking with people along the way. We set our sights on spending the night in Tamarindo. The journey so far felt fun, even if we took the wrong ferry.

Over the hours of traveling north, my brother and I passed the time with a deck of playing cards I gave him at the beginning of the trip. The cards contained vocabulary words in Spanish and English and were meant to help teach critical phrases that a traveler needs in a Spanish-speaking country. Only recently fluent, he became my teacher as he would say the phrase in Spanish and then ask if I knew what it meant.

“Disculpe” - “Excuse Me”

“No hay drama” - “No Problem”

This last phrase I repeated to myself a few times as we drove into the city where we were to spend the night. This was when I began to feel like playing it by ear had gotten the best of us. Our destination was hosting a five-day international electronic dance music festival. The blissful beaches described by our fellow travelers were filled with tens of thousands of revelers. The entire town was throbbing to a sound so deep I was sure my heartbeat would convert to this new rhythm.

My sister-in-law quickly grew frustrated with how difficult it was to find a hotel and questioned if this was really the way to travel when all we wanted was to relax. While I agreed with her, I did not want to abandon our plan. I admitted to her that I also felt the added pressure, but we have an opportunity. We can find a ride out of town first thing in the morning.

The next morning we all agreed that all was not lost staying the night. We had inspired mojito-filled conversations, and my sister-in-law danced until 4 am with new friends.

Once we found a ride out of town, my brother and I resumed my Spanish lessons while searching for a beach where it was less about the bass.

Some phrases he said I had heard before.

“Hasta luego” - “See you later”

There was one I couldn't put my finger on the meaning of, "lo siento," but said I had heard him say it to his wife often.

"Lo siento" - "I'm Sorry"

He agreed and laughed.

My brother asked me if I knew the meaning of "¿por qué?" I learned its meaning, not because someone had told me but from watching someone say it. A few years ago, I found myself behind a mother pushing her child in a stroller. Walking behind them, I could tell she was talking in Spanish. While I had no idea what she was saying, I soon learned that whatever she said did not make the child happy. Instead, it evoked such a raw response from the kid that I could not help but pay attention. It wasn't just the word uttered that helped me decipher its meaning; it was how this small child said it. This soul expressed dismay and misunderstanding in a way as every being does. The child dropped their shoulders, threw back their head, and wailed - pushing the sound of this word from their lungs with such strength and duration - "¿por qué?".

"¿Por qué?" - "Why?"

We both chuckled at the story and how clear it was to understand what was said just by the physical actions and tone. We agreed that we had all been on that question's giving and receiving end.

Our taxi driver recommended our next destination, and as he dropped us off at a local hotel, all I wanted was to head to the beach. I checked in with the front desk about any security concerns I should be aware of before I headed to the beach alone. I asked if my belonging would be safe if I left them on the sand and went swimming. All I got in response was a look of disbelief. I chalked it to my limited Spanish lessons and walked the block to the ocean.

As I arrived on the beach, I took in the sight. Waves rolled in, expansive amounts of sand blanketed the ground from left to right, and the sky was speckled with clouds. I was in awe. Not only was the sight beautiful, but I was also the only one there. Not a bad result for going with the flow.

Later during the trip, I connected the story of the boy in my neighborhood pleading ¿por qué? with the motto of our trip, ¿por qué no? While both contain the question of why, both elicit entirely different responses.

Is it simply the addition of the word no, or is it in the way we ask the question?

My thoughts have yet to lead to answers. They have made me more conscious of my inner dialog and the tone I use with myself. It also has me looking at how I interact with others. I want to maintain openness to receive their responses and encourage flexibility when given a choice. ¿Por qué no?

Following the ¿por qué no? philosophy for the remainder of the trip led to a fantastic family dinner, revelry with new friends, and soaking up the sun on multiple beautiful beaches in Costa Rica. With success like this, traveling with no plans is now my only plan for my future. And as I look to continue this philosophy in my daily life, I can only ask myself this; ¿por qué no?

Photo credit: congerdesign via Pixabay


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