02 Oct A Rainy Night & Clear Blue Day in Amsterdam
I SPENT MY FIRST NIGHT in Amsterdam alone, walking along the canals in the pouring rain. The rain would come and go, falling softly for a moment and then with a torrential force that flooded the streets.
At dusk, one could hardly tell the time. A mixture of the cold downpour and the setting sun drenched the city in an aura of gezelligheid, the Dutch feeling of jovial comfort. The table was set for spontaneous decisions.
The rain caused me to duck in the first bar I could find, which I wasn’t entirely opposed to. I found a bar on the corner of the street, opened the door, and fell inside as quickly as I could without making a scene.
My clothes were soaked through; several sets of eyes turned to see who’d entered; I hung up my jacket and scarf on a hook by the door.
The bar’s age gave it a musky charm that makes one want to find a dark corner lit by nothing but a solitary candlestick and spend a few hours sipping, thinking, and drifting in and out of conversation across the small, dusty table.
It was perfect.
I squeezed in at the bar and asked for a beer. I overheard a man speaking English to the bartender in a playful way which told me they knew each other. He was American, I found out, an ex-pat from Kansas City living in Amsterdam.
This was his neighborhood bar in Amsterdam’s Jordaan District, where everybody knows each other and their beverage of choice. The man had a delicate tulip-shaped glass before him. The meniscus of the liquid sat just above the lip of the glass, like an autumn crescent moon.
It had to be jenever — the juniper flavored Dutch gin with a tradition intertwined with the history of the Netherlands.
After a few jenevers, I figured I had to explore the night, for I’d only just arrived. Yet, the orange glow of the regal candles on each table and lining the walls provided a coziness I couldn’t detach from.
Besides, the bartender said, it’s pouring out. Where else are you gonna go?
The next day, one of my best childhood friends was coming to meet me. He had been living in Germany for about six months, and before that, we were roommates in Los Angeles.
I think about my friend and our time in Amsterdam, literally weeks before the pandemic broke out. I believe right now, the world is finding the time to connect with friends and family like they never have before.
We’re usually so caught up in our daily routine, that we make excuses for not reaching out, for not truly treating life as a means of connection. Our daily interactions are like two ships passing in the night; we’re on the same grid of consciousness, yet we seldom dig deeper.
A real conversation is like a breath of fresh air, we need it to survive. Still, it’s the most difficult thing in the world sometimes to break through that veil and say, this is how I’m really doing.
Moreover, it’s often tough to ask, what is really going on? We want to more than anything, yet can’t seem to find the words.
Seldom do we have an opportunity to talk with a friend or loved one with no time constraint, which may be part of that difficulty.
I’m grateful that we had nothing but time to talk on this trip. The conversations weren’t forced; they came out naturally over the few days as our minds wandered and dug through the memories of our past.
We discussed history and philosophy while we marveled at the architecture of the Dutch Golden Age of the 17th-century. We discussed life and our childhood, our insecurities, and what it all really means.
One conversation in particular that stuck with me. It’s one I’ll never forget.
After perusing Amsterdam’s botanical gardens, we found a bench beside a winding canal. The canal ran through a patch of deciduous trees, baren of leaves from the winter cold.
The rain gave way to a crisp, clear sky as the flowers lining the streets held on to the last drops of water.
We sat down on the bench, happy to have nowhere else to go. The canal was serene; nothing could be heard besides the gentle passing of the day, the quacking of ducks or the clink of a bike.
My friend asked if I’d seen the American actor Matthew McConaughey’s Oscar speech from about five years ago. I hadn’t, but I was curious where this was leading.
Well, he said, McConaughey tells a story of being fifteen years old, and somebody he looked up to asked him, who’s your hero? He didn’t know.
So the man came back two weeks later and asked again. He said, who’s your hero? McConaughey answered emphatically, it’s me, in ten years.
Ten years later, the man asked him, did you meet your hero? He responds, of course not! My hero is me in fifteen years.
We laughed at the confidence of Mcconaughey to tell this story on stage. He knew he was going to win and had his story dialed. We thought about the story and what it meant.
Perhaps, we concluded, it meant that we have to trust that we’re doing the right thing wherever we are in life. Our days come and go; we get caught up in the trivialities, but do they matter?
The worries of what might happen in a week, the anxiety that we’ve made the wrong decision, the guilt we feel when we overeat; what’s the point of putting so much pressure on ourselves?
We thought about what our lives were like at thirteen. We were best friends who did everything together. Throughout the years our relationship came and went. We went to different schools and made other friends, yet our friendship always bounced back.
When it did, it was like nothing had ever changed.
What if at thirteen, we pondered, we flashed to twelve years later and this is what we saw — the image of us sitting on a bench in Amsterdam on a winter’s day. We’re healthy, we’re alive, we have everything to be grateful for.
What if we could stop worrying from that point on and believe, no matter what, in twelve years we’d be right there on that bench, spending time together again?
What if we could allow ourselves the freedom to blow like a fallen leaf, experiencing life on the gust of a gentle wind, like that which chilled us on the decaying bench to tell us: you’re alive.
Perhaps, that’s how we should be living all the time — when we know we’re living with kindness in our hearts, and what we’re doing on a daily basis comes from a place of love, we mustn’t worry about what is out of our control.
The job is ours to listen to the voice within, to follow that voice when we know it’s our spirit guiding the way.
That spirit will not lead us astray; it may present challenges like Goliath before David, but only because we’re equipped with the armor to face anything.
Our spirit may ask us to face our fears to become everything we’re supposed to be, but it won’t ask us to abandon who we are. We must listen to ourselves, really listen, and trust we’re on the path we’re destined to be on.
We sat in silence, listening to the sounds of the city on water. We were glad to have had this experience, just a few days to reconnect like we never had before.
Then we asked one another where we hoped to be in another ten years. We smiled.
Maybe we’ll be back in Amsterdam, enjoying life by the Botanical Gardens.