I’m standing in a small room of a 400-year-old building in Old San Juan, Puerto Rico. Hand-pressed reddish bricks peek from behind peeling plaster. Inside air moves with the aid of a historically learned combination of opening and closing doors.
“Going to be a warm one,” I say to the young girl behind the counter. Morning coffee is within reach, but I’ve yet to taste my first jolt.
She smiles and rinses tiny white cups used by those before me.
“Yes, but it’s not Alaska,” she says.
Even without my first tiny cup of coffee gurgling in my veins, I find her words engaging.
“Did you live in Alaska?’ I ask.
“Yes, for several years before the pandemic. Working as a supply engineer in the fishing industry.”
“But Puerto Rico is home, right?”
“Yes, but the money was good in Alaska.”
I imagine moving from one paradise to another.
“Alaska is so beautiful,” she says. “But you need a small plane everywhere you go. The only way to one plant is in a helicopter.”
She talks about looking out the helicopter window, bears gently roaming below.
“But,” she says, inserting a reflective breath, “life changes.”
She tells me today is the second day back to work after having a baby boy.
“It was a hard pregnancy. I was in the hospital a lot. The doctors were not sure either of us would make it,” she says. “So, when my son was born healthy, I named him Angelo — because he’s my little angel.”
She talks about how her mother helped shape her perspective on life.
“My mother always said be happy with what you have. If you want something else, work for it, but remember to be happy with what you already have.”
She pauses. “We only get one life. So why go around being unhappy all the time?”
She tells me how she raises her other two kids to clean up after themselves and help around the house. She says she wants them to know the value of work and how to treat others.
We’re now standing outside; the deep blue Caribbean waters quietly reflect upwards behind her. She talks about earlier in the day as she bought gas for her car.
“A man was being rude and ugly to the girl behind the counter,” she says. “No good reason, just being mean. So I walked up to him and told him to be nice, and the girl was doing her best. We all are these days.”
She pauses again. “I just couldn’t let it go for her sake.”
“Life is hard, but my husband and I are a team, working on our marriage and looking for reasons to be happy with what we have — not unhappy about what we do not.”
Her face is as bright as the waters behind her. To her, paradise is where you are and who you are with each day. And, as her mother said, always remember first to be happy.