Incomplete Works and Waterways

incomplete works and waterways

With the pillow pressed upon my eyes and forehead, hoping to blot out all the antagonizing rays of the morning light, a softly accented voice chimed in over the intercom, notifying all passengers that we would be arriving at Amsterdam Central within the next hour. I relented; the sun won. Sitting up in bed, I decided it would be best to take one last shower as it was going to be a long day before I would have another chance to shower – and there is something medicinal in the consistent downpour of warm water.

There’s two things to remember while showering on a train; the first being that it isn’t your typical shower. A big red button is to the right of the shower, and it requires a bit of force to activate, but when it does water begins to pump out – though not as an even flow. Each button press grants you four five-second intervals of tranquil warm therapy. So where you could zone out and travel to that place beyond the reaches of space and time in your typical shower, you’re consistently being pulled back to reality every twenty-one seconds. Not your ideal shower if you ask me, but how can I complain? I’m on a freakin’ train, in my own freakin’ room, with a bed, a bathroom, and the locomotive industries’ best attempt at a conventional shower. That’s pretty damn cool by any one who isn’t a Saudi Prince.

The second thing to remember about showering on a train is the fact that you are on a moving vehicle – a very large moving vehicle, with a huge amount of inertia. Which, given the terrain, can move in a number of tilted directions while still moving straight – and these movements will be sudden, often with no perceived warning. So, imagine being in a shower, in a train, painfully hung-over, with shampoo in your hair and partially down your face, when the train decides to toss you a few different directions. This last shower became its own Survivor challenge – the prize being you don’t puke over yourself, or end up concussed, wet, and naked on the floor of the shower only to be finally discovered by the little old German train attendant who was barely able to understand your desperate need for water the night before – forcing you to attempt to communicate to her in a very primitive dialect of sign language.

Miraculously, I managed to find the button in my shampoo-endured blindness and was able to remove the pestilent soap from my eyes and face. Disaster averted – for now.

The repacking of the backpack is always a bit of a challenge, being as I need to make sure the bulk of the weight – my laptop – rests somewhere in the middle area of my pack, and the rest of the weight is dispersed and away from the top part. In theory, it’s not that hard to manage, but I wanted to keep some things fairly accessible should I need to stop to retrieve them. Last thing I want to do is ruffle through underwear in public – not that there is anything wrong with that, I just don’t feel the need to appear any more like a vagrant than I already do.

When the train finally stopped, I had to have been one of the first people out the door. I had finally made it to Amsterdam, and I didn’t have a second to waste.

My watch was already on and honing in on the GPS coordinates of the station as I stepped off the train and onto the station platform. I had reviewed the city topographically the night before, but as you get closer to the city center the more maze like and tightly knit the streets and canals become. Somehow the universe also spared the T-Mobile coverage as well, as it extended from Germany and into the Netherlands. “Hallelujah!” I whispered under my breath. Remembering the gospel of Mobile clearly states: “Thy Google Maps, thy won’t be lost, in United States, or in Europe.

Leaving the station with most of the morning already spent, and the sun looming higher, I doubled my pace since I had a good walk ahead of me to get to my first destination. I had originally intended to spend two days in Amsterdam, but at the last minute I had a change of heart. I had committed most of this trip to my own adventures and self-discovery, not remembering that this trip wasn’t all mine to squander. It was about legacy; it was about family. It was time to spend with family I don’t see often, and a grandfather who has given earth almost a century of his time and consideration. So I hacked a day out of Amsterdam, and a day out of Geneva, and settled on getting as much done in whatever remains of the day as possible, before having to board another train to another destination.

Only half a mile of walking with my oversized pack, the sun and the hangover was already starting to get to me. I was painfully reminded of one of the reasons why I don’t drink anymore – the net effect was always a negative. To make matters worse, the heat had started to creep up – a bit worse than the day before. Somehow I knew this was foreshadowing misery of the heat stroke induced kind, be it today or tomorrow – I knew at some point the heat was going to have me on weeping dust.

But I was in Amsterdam. Finally.

I threw out all my prejudices, this town was finally my own to paint – and I knew what color I wanted to see it in. As I had crossed the square by the train station and into the the streets of Amsterdam, an all too familiar scent wafted under my nose. Pancakes. Sweet, sweet pancakes. Though that wasn’t all that was laced in that first deep breath I took. Coffee, deep fresh roasted coffee. I could almost taste that clean and bitter finish of hot steamy mug of Amsterdam’s finest.

“How long has it been?” I thought, walking past several restaurants offering full English Breakfasts – whatever that was.

My heart jumped half-way to my throat, as if an icy finger traced down it’s center.

Almost five months. It’s been almost five months since February, since that day. It really isn’t logical why I gave up coffee. A weird sense of martyrdom, I guess. I gave it another name, a spiritual fast. The truth is, whatever it should be called, it parallels the mentality of self-harm. To this day I still seek divine retribution for what transpired, for what broke. For the hurts I caused, for what I destroyed. I couldn’t give up racing triathlon, that was taken from me forcefully – and it seems that God, the Universe, or whatever powers that be, wanted to keep that from me indefinitely as my arm has shown no sign of healing.

My hubris was shattered just like my arm.

So I gave up the only other things that I could think of that I took any comfort in. Coffee and sweets. Sure, I’ve had some sweets in Europe. A chocolate croissant here, some gelato there, but in the states – I hadn’t touched a single cookie unless I baked them. Even then, I gave all but a few away.

I wanted to do more to hurt myself. I wanted to do more to bore the love I still have out of my head, this pain out of my heart. There just wasn’t anything else to cut, except myself – and I don’t do blood. The fact I am too queasy for self-mutilation is a blessing in disguise, I guess.

It’s a terrible in convince that our eyes only allow us to see the facade each of us wears, leaving us completely blind to the truths written on the insides of these masks that we force ourselves to stare at as we look throughout our own masks, onto this world we all share together.

I am ashamed of how I feel. I am always ashamed of how I feel, and worse, I’m ashamed of who I am. This has been perpetual, and is not just originating in the aftermath of February. My self-loathing rivals the worse kind of hate the history of mankind has ever seen. If the state could prosecute for thought crimes, I would be right up there with Kim Jong Un and Stalin. A subliminal Pol Pot, if you will.

And I know I don’t deserve it, I know I should be kind to myself. In the end I am all that I have, and why would you want to mercilessly beat the living shit out of yourself every hour of every day? But I have, and I do. And in the aftermath of all that has happened I really have no reason to let up. There was a good thing that had me loosen my grip, albeit ever so slightly, but in the end this untreated and unmanaged darkness swept across my mental plains like death in the Midwest after the tornados touch the ground. As the sound and the fury trumpeting his arrival, so the darkness begot the self hate.

Faces blurred by the passing of each table side. Plates of cheeses and cut meats, served side by side with juice and still warm bread. Swedish pancakes, fresh fruit, fragrant coffee, and the occasional cocktail all still being served at nearly noon.

After passing the fourth, or fifth, restaurant a new smell traced just under the fragrances of the meals I wasn’t allowed to sample. Something familiar, something skunky.

The road curved and then split, to the right was a side-street with buildings that seemed to press in upon each other even more tightly packed that the preceding street. In a magnificent display of colors and imagery, the sign that hung in front of the first store had me smiling as wide as a Cheshire cat: Magic Mushrooms.

I’ve reached the Knockturn Alley of Amsterdam, where dodgy shop after shop sold procurement of magic in the form of cannabinoids. I could almost see the little clouds of smoke in the air of the streets, though it wasn’t cauldron steam. I peeked into the first store.

Neon colors and paraphernalia covered every inch of the adjacent walls. Pipes, and bongs, and every other instrument that you could name – probably, as I have no experience with these things. The shopkeeper’s head peered over the counter, and what could only be a joint hung half smoked from the corner of his mouth. I waved and backed out of the store, not turning my back to him until I was sure I wasn’t about to get pulled back inside.

I walked down this magical street for quite some time and had a good chuckle as a few parents with kids passed me by. I could almost see my own mother’s face, the slightest expression of horror mixed with disapproval.

It’s Amsterdam, the city that just doesn’t care what you do – as long as you aren’t hurting other people, or carrying around hefty grams of heavy narcotics. I read somewhere that you could have upwards of eight grams of marijuana, and a single gram of heroin or cocaine, on you in Amsterdam. For recreational use, even in public. Compared to our almost draconian laws on even the slightest recreational drug use, Amsterdam was like Disneyland; magical, vibrant, happy – with pancakes on every corner. The United States, on the other hand, was serving up it’s own version of Sharia Law. Though your hand isn’t what it would cost you if you were caught with even the slightest trace of drugs, it would be twenty-five to life. I guess giving up your hand might not be a bad alternative – and I’d be highly skeptical of prison pancakes.

A quarter mile down this endless road of wonder my phone buzzed in my pocket; a soft reminder that this isn’t why I was here, and it was not the direction I needed to be going. I pulled it out and saw I needed to head back in the opposite direction.

Retracing my steps, I found myself back on the main road, and not too long there after, in front of my first canal. Not so surprisingly the water was green, but juxtaposed with the burnt reds in the brick road and building faces, and clear blue skies, I felt strangely Martian – that I was not of this place, or this particular Earth. I feel pretty confident there’s no place remotely similar to Amsterdam in California; not even the entire United States.

My thoughts went over every city I’ve ever visited in Europe over the years. I could see a little bit of Venice in the cityscape and canals. The tall and narrow buildings with their sharply pointed roofs brought back images of London. Truth is, while I may see traces of other cities, Amsterdam is entirely in a league of it’s own.

Contributing to this feeling was the countless, literally countless, number of bicycles that covered the city like snow. Packed in every nook and cranny, along every building and every wall. Locked three-fold to a tree, a bench, a garbage can. There couldn’t possibly be this many cyclists in Amsterdam, let alone people. It was as if the bicycles discovered they could reproduce if pressed in upon themselves tight enough.

As I continued over bridges and down side streets, navigating closer to my destination, I was still in awe over the bicycles. “Owning a bike shop could be a very lucrative business venture,” I thought to myself. That, or opening a minor injury clinic. A taxi had just whizzed by me and nearly mounted the curb as it passed only centimeters away from some cyclists. Searing hot pain shot through the upper most part of the scar on my right arm. My left hand shot out to clench it and rub the mark. Images flashed past my glazed eyes, and for a moment I left Amsterdam.

I was suspended in the air, my bicycle and the world below me, a car in front of me, the ground below me. I could see people along the corners of my vision walking down Harts Ave, browsing the shops or chatting. A banner hung across the street above me listing the dates of all the summer night activities for the old downtown area. A couple was hand in hand and laughing, an inside joke no doubt. I could see my destination, my finish line, my goal, the end of my short ride just beyond the car. Her voice was in my ears. As the ground rushed up to meet me, she was all that I could think of.

My eyes refocused. My hand had apparently gone to my forehead and I felt a bit nauseated. I had still not completely recovered from the day before, and I was running on fumes. So I headed down the streets of Amsterdam for an impromptu trek to find a fabled Kabop.

I felt like Anthony Bourdain, carving through central Europe in search for the best undiscovered food, only I was seeking the equivalent of a McDonalds’ cheeseburger. I guess that’s mildly appropriate, both in comparison and quest. Far be it from me to ever search out a McDonalds, but if they figured out how to pile meat two feet high and bake in on a rotating platform, shave it down and collect the succulent droppings in a freshly baked bread round, topped with onions, tomato’s, lettuce, and yogurt sauce – with a dash of crushed red pepper or hot sauce, my car’s GPS would look as if I was playing Connect the Dots across the better part of the United States as I tried to consume my way to death or glory.

Several turns in the wrong direction ended up being the right move – I found a cafe that had my prize, and to top it off, it was a Turkish cafe. Gracefully I ordered and was also given the access to the Wi-Fi, I figured I’d take a breather from lugging my pack around in the heat to eat and plan out the rest of my day. My eyes traced the walls for air vents; I could feel the air conditioning, but I wanted to find a vent. I found seating up stairs, and to my luck, a table near a vent – with the added bonus of a power outlet.

The cafe was relatively empty, so there wasn’t any chance of making awkward eye-contact with another party as I opened my pack and shuffled through the topmost contents in order to get my laptop out. I sat and checked some email, browsed some news, poked around on an entertainment site and a tech blog. My browsing patterns are pretty mundane and unexciting, almost done subconsciously without effort or actual interest. Mainly I think it has to do with the lack of Social Media, and in part, loneliness.

I read somewhere that there’s a great and terrible difference between loneliness and being alone. Being alone is situational, while loneliness – if left untreated – can kill you. Right at the start of February, the growing animosity towards social media boiled over and without any warning, to family and friends, I shut down my social media accounts. It wasn’t an off the hand decision either. For months something was prying at the back of my mind. Every time I’d open up social media I found myself spending countless hours absorbed in it.

It’s tragic really, but I don’t think anyone ever made the conscious decision to become so entangled with other people’s lives; other people’s stories. Social media sort of just happened. Like the disappearance of street lamp lighters in the advent of electricity, or chimney sweepers – and I’m pretty sure many homes still have chimneys.

Think about it. In the past twenty years, personal computing and the internet went from dial-up modems – which if you aren’t familiar with, could wake the dead each and every time you wanted to ‘connect’ to the internet, and speeds so slow it would take an hour to download a single song, to always on lightning fast wireless internet that streamed movies to devices you could hold in the palm of your hand.

Not only that, the past ten years alone saw an explosive and radical change within the internet and the way groups of people came together on it. Walk into a high school and ask some kids for their AIM names – see what happens. I’d be surprised if kids these days even knew the acronym. That was social media when I was growing up. And if you ever wanted to join a group or community on a similar interest or topic, you’d be digging through Yahoo groups or web forums. When Myspace, and subsequently Facebook, came along everything changed. You could now connect to every one you knew in one convenient place, and then the ability to share pictures and moments came shortly thereafter.

Before we knew it the scope of our relationships were defined and contained on a single blue and white web page, visible only through a screen. Communicating by email was reserved for working professionals, hand-written letters became a lost art typically sent in return for your generous wedding gift of a toaster, or fondue set. And all of this left me feeling incredibly lonely. I was nothing more than a baseball player on a baseball card; a name and a photo. People would either pick me up and hang onto my little card – looking at it from time to time – or discard it if it no longer served a purpose.

The worst part was the superficiality of it all. So many posts created to draw attention to one’s self, so many selfies, so many tabloid articles posted and reposted. It was all so vapid. Rarely would anyone risk social clout to bring up important topics, no matter how controversial they may be. No one wants to risk losing their ‘friends’. It was at some point afar my accident and before February when I realized this very sad truth: social media doesn’t bring us closer together; it keeps us further apart.

If the only method I have of communicating or spectating parts of my friend’s lives is from social media websites, then I don’t think these relationships were anything close to actual friendships. Friendship requires some sort of investment, more than a couple clicks on a few likes and maybe the occasional comment or message.

So it came to be that I decided having fewer, but more intimate and closer friends, was more important than any number of digital ones. I like writing letters, despite my horrible penmanship, I love long calls until God knows what hour for no important reason. I’m okay with my phone not lighting up with ‘notifications’. Pulling the plug was easy, finding something to occupy my mind in the aftermath of a decade under the influence of social media was impossibly hard.

The tragically irony of it all is there’s this gaping loneliness in me still, but of a different kind. One that not even all the digital smiles or cat videos in the world could replace.

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Just before leaving for Europe I had a chance to meet Jamie Tworkowski at a book signing. He was currently touring for a book he had just finished titled If You Feel Too Much. One of the essays reverberated in me to such an extent that I had him autograph the end of the essay. Titled “Dear Valentine’s Day,” Jamie says a number of things that I’ve been feeling for most of my twenties.

Jamie talks about the God-shaped hole in his heart, the one he’s been filling with a different girl every year or two since Junior High. I can relate. It’s hard to sit alone in your life and not feel lonely in the absence of losing someone. Someone who used to be so close that you can still see them sleeping next to you. Watching the sheets rise slowly to the rhythm of their breathing. Someone who you could swear made the daylight brighter, but maybe that’s because their own luminance silhouetted the sun.

It’s hard not to feel alone in a crowded room, and it’s hard not to want to search for ghosts even in an empty one. Love is a terribly tragic and beautiful thing. And I think there’s a lot of God in love, as I believe there’s a lot of love in God. So when we’ve had something so tangible for so long, we kind of forget about God’s love.

I recently finished Don Miller’s book Blue Like Jazz. It wasn’t the first book of his I read, but so far it has been the most impactful. I could cover the ceiling of my bedroom in quotes from that book, but I know the one that would always stand out the most is the one that says,

“…to be in a relationship with God is to be loved purely and furiously. And a person who thinks himself unlovable cannot be in a relationship with God because he can’t accept who God is; a Being that is love. We learn that we are lovable or unlovable from other people…That is why God tells us so many times to love each other.”

When I read this I knew I had found something important. One of those things you need to be quick to write down, least you forget it. I’ve carried around this God-shaped hole in me, filling it with whatever I could, whomever I could, hoping to feel something other than lonely, hollow, and unlovable. When there was someone who wanted to look me in the eyes and spend their weekends with me, rest their head across my chest, sing my songs. When someone in this world saw me for more than a face in the crowd, only then did I think I was loved. Only when I was in a relationship did I feel like I was loved. and a lover’s spurn is all you need to reverse that feeling of belonging and comfort.

Don was right. There’s no way I could ever fill this hole with God, not now anyways. As long as I’m trying to fill this hole with someone else, as long as I believe that I’ve already experienced life for as good as it will get, I will never have that moment of clarity where I can feel contentment in my own personal blessings. There was one other thing Don said, something else that I can’t get out of my head because I see it in everyone and everywhere I go,

“The trouble with deep belief is that it costs something and there is something inside me, some selfish beast of a subtle thing that doesn’t like the truth at all because it carries responsibility, and if I actually believe these things I have to do something about them. It is so, so cumbersome to believe anything. And it isn’t cool.”

I want to say life is meaningless, vacuous, and empty. That the only meaning it carries is what I give it, that life is only as full as I make it. That I should be at bars or parties enjoying my youth with friends. Going home with any blue-eyed girl who fancies my quick wit, charm, and smile. That there is no consequences or repercussions as long as we’re safe, and we both treat each other kindly. That the pang of guilt I feel each time I do something I feel is wrong is just me secretly getting over myself, and I need to keep at it until that feeling, that little voice inside me, is squelched out completely. That today is only today, and tomorrow is only tomorrow, and this is all any of us will ever have.

And try as I may, I just can’t bring myself to swallow that bitter pill no more than I can believe the sun could ever rise in the west.

When I finished my spin around the internet I got started on catching up on writing about Prague. To think, I started to write about Prague in a cafe in Amsterdam. In all the literature that has ever been written, I wonder how many times in history that has happened. I can’t think I’m the only one, though I do still think it was a pretty special moment.

Not too long after I got started my food finally arrived. Though I’ve had over a dozen so far this trip, the smell of a fresh kebap has always been welcomed – until now. I wasn’t quite sure what was causing it, but I had the most disconcerting feeling that the building I was in, the seat I was sitting at, was rocking ever so slightly like a boat in water. So as the smell of my fresh kebab made it to my nose, my stomach decided to make a quick 180 and push itself in towards my spine, making the thought of eating unbearable.

I forced down what I could and decided if I didn’t pack up now I would probably be looking at checking-in as an overnight guest. Time to resume what I set out to see at the start of the day.

It was only a few streets away, but by the time I was a turn away from where I was looking to go, the heat was making it a pretty sweaty start to the afternoon. I was lucky with shade always staying on one side of the road due to the good density of large canopy trees in Amsterdam.

When my feet finally stopped moving I was face to face with what I travelled across Europe to see – a bench. Adjacent to one of the many canal bridges, with a fairly large tree next to it and an assortment of bikes, was this completely ordinary wooden bench, painted in a dark green, and covered in locks.

This bench is passed by hundreds of people a day, thousands a week, and it would only be significant to those who were looking for it. For those who had read a specific book, and watched the movie adaption.

I took my pack off and placed it on the ground beside the bench. Sitting down I pulled my legs in to my chest and rested my head on them. I was Baskin Robin’s 31 flavors of feels right now and memories were flying through my mind at the speed of light.

Not too long ago I read a book, and then I met a girl. Then, coincidentally, I read the same book again, but over several weeks, out loud over Skype to the girl. It was one of the first things we shared together. The book was John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars.

I secretly hate how much I love that book; it’s love for the bittersweet reasons. Like knowing the cold weather is coming now that July is half way spent, or that the few grey hairs in my beard are only the start of the problem. It’s true, it’s a love story, but it’s more than a story of love – I think love is just the brief overview of it. I think it is more about life. It’s about loss. It’s about finite time and making the most out of it. It’s about knowing that as awake as you are today, you don’t know about tomorrow.

My fingers played with some of the locks on the bench, tracing my fingers over the markered letters indicating the initials of two lovers. I didn’t have a lock with me, I wish I did.

Is it appropriate though? To still want to put her initial next to mine? The all too familiar sharp pain struck my side as I remembered words I had forgotten. “I wrote your name next to mine a hundred times and I never liked seeing my name next to your last name.” It’s okay, I hate my name too.

I’ve hated my name for so long I used to ask people to call me Bob. The pain subsided as quick as it came, but older memories came to light as that first domino dropped. Remembering all the times we went anywhere that asked for my name and I would go through my mental list of biblical names that I’ve used for years: John, Job, Joe(seph). Each time would infuriate you because you didn’t see why I didn’t want to use my name and thought I was being stupid. I thought the entire process was tedious – because if I gave them my actual name, I’d then have to hear them reiterate it back to me partially confused, then try to spell it correctly, then pronounce it incorrectly, and all of this could be solved if I just continue to use my placeholder names so I can get my coffee and be on with my life. I digress.

My fingers began to run across the grains of the wood, finding cracks in it’s character. What does this bench signify to me anymore? Can a thing still hold a special meaning when the someone special it was shared with is gone? Does the story even matter now that the only other character outside yourself has chosen to write themselves out? Do those memories even matter? I found a rock and skipped it into the canal below. I hurt myself coming here, but I’m glad I did. I wanted to sit on this bench.

I read the words of all the messages carved or written onto the bench. I pulled out my knife and held in it my hands, feeling the rough hilt in my palm. I wanted to leave a mark, something outside of my head that might last longer than my own memories. The ones I’m desperately trying to expunge. The ones that dragged me, in part, to Europe – beseeching me to find my reasons to let it go. I searched my heart and knew I had nothing that hadn’t already been said, written, on the bench. I kissed my index finger and placed it upon two words: Always? Always.

My next stop was the Anne Frank House, but I wanted to take a peek at what was really in one of those ‘sandwich’ shops. If you’ve ever seen the show How I Met Your Mother, the narrator and main character, Ted, refers to anything pot related as ‘sandwiches’. Since all my friend’s tell me I’m the real life living Ted – which I hope to God I’m not because, spoiler alert, when he finally finds the one she dies of cancer only a decade later – I figure it’s only appropriate that I try and purchase something ‘sandwich’ related while in Amsterdam.

Despite the fact I’m a grown man, I’ve never been so uncomfortable in a shop. Maybe if it was one of those risqué shops, but it wasn’t – thank God. The shopkeeper had to have been near my age, and I could see in his eyes he knew I had no idea what I was doing. Still, when I browsed the edibles wall, he had no problem reiterating to me that Amsterdam is ‘the land where nobody cares what you do’.  I saw a jar of girl scout cookies, and figured to settle on that – and a can of ‘Sandwich’ Energy Drink. You can only imagine how that may go down.

He welcomed me to come back before I left town, and sent me on my way after my purchase was complete. Immediately outside I popped open the can for a quick drink, I was both parched and hot. Only then did I see that the can said that it didn’t contain any ‘sandwich’ in it. Strike One.

A bit let down, I switched over to trying out some of the cookies. They were amazing and crunch, like they contained seeds in them or something. I finished two before realizing I may want to slow down, and then picked up where I left off on my walk back to Anne Frank’s.

Fifteen or so minutes later I was staring at the longest line outside of Anaheim, California that I’ve ever seen. “Great.” I thought to myself. I still had two cookies, and wasn’t feeling anything, so I managed to choke them down. The sugar high was kicking in from the cookies and the non-sandwich drink, combined with the heat I was a certifiable hot mess. I reread the labels on the jar of cookies, and was a little mislead. While it didn’t actually say it didn’t contain any ‘sandwich’, it didn’t say it did either. Strike Two.

I knew better though, and I guess God, or the universe, or whatever, was looking out for me in Amsterdam. Maybe having a sandwich while travelling alone wasn’t the best idea, especially since I had to make it to a train later for Paris.

The line for the Anne Frank House, surprisingly, didn’t take all day to get through. Maybe an hour and a half tops. As I finally made my way in, the temperature of the day had started to change, like a storm was coming in the wind had picked up a bit and the sky was no longer blindingly clear.

The one thing about the actual Anne Frank House that I will say, is the curators did one hell of a good job at laying out the exhibit. It runs over several floors, and you go up one side only to come back down the other – never crossing any opposite groups or seeing the same content twice. Even when you leave the building you exit through a gift shop and an exhibit dedicated to those who helped Anne’s family in some way. It was beautiful, creative, and somewhat tragic all at the same time. I somehow wonder if people feel the same way about Gettysburg.

While most students are introduced to the Holocaust in grade school, and are required to read Anne Frank’s journal, I somehow forgot the breadth of it. Which is not unlike me as there was a very good chance I was reading a different library book masked by the other book. While I was there I found something long forgotten, but poignant and appropriate, written on one of the walls:

“I want to write, but more than that, I want to bring out all kinds of things that lie buried deep in my heart.”

I stared at those words for a long time. I could hear the audio narration in the background, somewhere, talking about how she was living here – standing, sitting, or lying, not too far where I was now. A little girl locked away in a house and asked to be no more audible than a mouse, with nothing more than an occasional magazine or book whenever one could be smuggled in, and her diary. There was no hope to play outside, never mind setting foot down the stairs, without the risk of being discovered. The best of us would be hard pressed to show such tenacity in light of our world’s being turned inside out. It took me only four months to falter, to give up, to surrender to the abyss – and I was twice her age.

Though her diary, and her story, were both brought to an abrupt ending, it made me wonder – do any of us ever get to finish our story on our own terms? Or are we all incomplete works with an epilogue at best; written by a family member, lover, or close friend?

I was nudged slightly in the back by someone else shuffling through the room. Looking around I realized I was accidentally standing midway in a very small area, forcing people behind me to navigate around. I continued up the stairs, to the climatic point of the Anne Frank experience.

My one warning for any one who visits the Anne Frank house is to mind your footing. The stairs are perilous and steep, with very little room to actually step on. At some point I was practically walking sideways up the stairs just to make sure I wouldn’t miss a step and slip. I could only imagine having the look on my mother’s face when Dutch doctors call to tell her I broke my other arm falling down the stairs in the Anne Frank house – or worse.

The very top of the Anne Frank House was the hardest to experience. It was there where you knew the journal ended, and ended mid-sentence. A sign to the right of the room explained that on August 4, 1944 the house was raided and the secret annex was discovered. Everyone was arrested, and no one ever found out who betrayed those who were in hiding.

I looked at the date again. August 4. Flashbacks like a movie, from a different life, flickered in front of me. Like an old home movie shot on a handycam, the lighting was obscured and the picture slightly distorted, but I saw the events of another August 4 before my eyes.

A long car ride and a white summer dress. Jeans that fit too loosely, and a weight burning in my pocket. A helicopter and the skies above California’s wine country, a group of friends in an open field, and a tremendously large banner stretched across it. A question, a boy with a ring, a girl with an answer.

I forced myself to turn to a display detailing what was discovered of Anne’s fate in the concentration camp. How she first lost her mother, and then her sister. Already feeling as if her father already perished, the darkness expunged that little light.

A small sign above a framed piece of paper stated that Anne’s light went out in February 1945, two months before British troops liberated the camp. The paper was from the camp and listed both Anne and her sister among the deceased.

The rest of the tour was a slow decent into the aftermath of Anne’s life. Detailing the survival of her father, and how he was returned her journals by friends who found them in the aftermath of the raid. When Otto finally discover the fate of his family, he made it his life’s purpose to share Anne’s life, Anne’s story, with the world.

What a difference a life can make, but more importantly, what a legacy a life can leave. Beyond the extraordinary and terrible events that transpired around her, there was nothing extraordinary about Anne – or her life. She showed a particular talent for writing, so it might have been expected that she would have turned out to be a prolific writer, maybe even a famous one as well, should she have survived. Though if the Holocaust never happened, if Germany decided to attack Russia all out instead, if Hitler would have actually painted something worth a damn back in Vienna. If the circumstances weren’t what they were, would Anne Frank really be Anne Frank?

Be it opportunity, or insurmountable difficulties, we are defined not by our words, nor our thoughts, but only our actions. Which leads me to believe that none of us ever really know the weight of our words, or the impact they may make on the world.

Some time ago I watched a series of sermons, titled Elements, from National Capital Church. There was so much that I took away from each of the sermons, but one in particular, and of course I can’t remember which, said something I thought was very profound. I am the master of my words as long as they stay in my head, but when I open my mouth my words will master me. What will our words say about us, and our story? Will we build people up with them – or break them down?

That’s the thing about the stories we are all living, we don’t know the outcome of the story, or even the end of a chapter, and because of that we attribute very little meaning or worth to any of it. The things we do, or the things we say. At least that’s the way I feel sometimes… Most of the time.

Back on the streets of Amsterdam, the weather seemed to have taken a turn for the dramatic. Dark skies stretched to the horizon, and sharp cold winds beat the waterways until whitecaps peaked over the surface. It was genuinely cold, or cooler by a fair amount, and I was loving it, but just as quick as the cool air brought relief, breaks in the sky let the heat and light back in, though the rest of the afternoon did find a way to make itself more tolerable.

After snapping some photos of the front of the Anne Frank House, I had to make a judgment call on what the last sight of the day was going to be. I had spent so much time writing and recovering from Munich that my itinerary was now skewed, and now I was left torn between getting a decent dinner or going for a speed tour of the Van Gogh Museum – if it was even open. The wookiee-like roar that bellowed under my backpack’s waist belt decided for me – early dinner it will be!

While close neighbors, the Dutch had a distinct uniqueness apart from Germany. The menus as the local restaurants were different than the cosine I was used to seeing in Austria or Germany, with most places serving hamburgers and fries. I couldn’t be sure if it was correlated to the nationalities that most visit Amsterdam, or the popularity of the food, but I did know one thing – I didn’t come half way around the world to eat a damn hamburger.

Settling for a chicken dish that was surprisingly palatable, I sipped what ended up being the last beer-ish drink on this leg of the journey. I say beer-ish drink, because I’m pretty sure the recipe for it is two parts beer, one-part lemonade, and while it sounds outlandish – and some beer snobs would find it heresy –  it some how is helped alleviate the long day’s sun. Finding the Wi-Fi password for the cafe, I checked to see if my train was going to be on time – and then I searched for Anne Frank quotes.

It was then I found this:

“The best remedy for those who are afraid, lonely or unhappy is to go outside, somewhere where they can be quiet, alone with the heavens, nature and God. Because only then does one feel that all is as it should be and that God wishes to see people happy, amidst the simple beauty of nature. As long as this exists, and it certainly always will, I know that then there will always be comfort for every sorrow, whatever the circumstances may be. And I firmly believe that nature brings solace in all troubles.”

Between the sapphire blues and smoky greys of the burlap skies, rich amber rays made the water shimmer like emeralds and back-lit the tree canopy above the round little table I was seated at. With a clear view of whatever major road this was, adjacent to a large canal, bike after bike would speed by me – ringing their little bells. I could still hear the rap music and loud jeers of the all-too-obvious vacationing frat boys somewhere amongst the backdrop, still patrolling up and down the canals; aiming super soakers at any and all unsuspecting passersby. Girls, tall, thin, and strikingly beautiful, glided by in their summer dresses and lip gloss, men dressed as if they were pulled from the pages of a fashion magazine and cast into the early Amsterdam evening.

I sipped my beer-ish drink, sat back, and smiled. A little prayer crossed my mind; I thanked God.

What a truly interesting day indeed.

Song On My Mind:

Rogue Valley – The Wolves & The Ravens

and on Spotify:

2018-06-24T18:21:11+00:00

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