The two cards I mailed today

A few hours ago, I dropped two cards in the Post NL box.

One was sent to friends of ours who live about 50 kilometers away. They are new-ish friends who we met about two years ago. We clicked immediately and since then, we’ve had one crazy adventure and a few of those fun, lazy afternoons of laughter and good conversation that stretch into dinner and drinks, and before you know it you’re running for the last bus back to the train station. Yesterday they welcomed their first child, a little boy, and my congratulations-via-whatsapp felt sort of lame and insufficient.  So…a cheerful blue card celebrating Hugo is making its way to their home – a home which, in the coming days, will be filled with family and visitors and new sounds and smells, thanks to the arrival of their son.

The second card has to make a much longer journey, and it carries no celebration. It is traveling to Seattle, to a friend and former colleague who I have known for at least eight years, maybe longer. We worked together in a challenging, fast-paced international health organization, and we got through a lot of difficult days thanks to her humor and perspective. Yesterday I learned that her sister, a vibrant and beautiful young woman, passed away from cancer. She had been diagnosed years ago and was living with the disease, seeking alternative treatments and continuing to travel and run and do yoga and work as a nurse. I met her only once, briefly, a few months ago, at brunch when she and my friend came through Amsterdam. Meg was full of life and light – you would never have known she was sick at all. Even from that quick interaction, it was clear that she was one of those special people who can both soak in and radiate love and energy to those around them. She lit up the room. It seems unspeakably unfair that her life has ended.

It is hard to know what to say to someone in the early days of their grief. No one knows what to say, really, but often the words matter less than the act of trying. So…with that in mind, there is a card making its way to my friend in Seattle, offering whatever comfort I could manage in a few words, reminding her that she is held in the circle of her sister’s love, and the love of many others.

I’m thinking a lot tonight about the gatherings of these two families, one celebrating a birth and the other grieving a loss, and how their respective gatherings may have more in common than one might think: tears, memories, laughter, fear, sadness, regret, anxiety.  As my small wishes and small wisdom make their journeys, I’ll be right here, holding my friends in my thoughts and in my heart.

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Catching up

Some days go by in a blur, and before I know it, weeks have passed without my having marked them at all. And it’s not as if there haven’t been things worth noting. Just this month, we’ve welcomed family, said goodbye to friends, accomplished some goals and had one very unexpected victory.

I spent some time complaining recently about the Dutch weather, which is probably the least productive activity in all of the Netherlands. Happily, not long after my whining and moaning, the winds changed and the storms blew out.  And our visitors – my brother, sister in law, and a bunch of their friends – were rewarded with a lovely weekend, cool but sunny, perfect for boating. It was a great visit, my brother’s first to Europe, and filled with just the right balance of relaxation and activity. It’s always nice to host guests who just want to sit in the sun and drink a beer canal-side.

The day before my brother’s arrival, I said goodbye to my American friend and biking buddy, Kim. We met last summer, shortly after she arrived in Amsterdam. By chance, we sat next to each other on a warm night at a favorite Portuguese restaurant, and she introduced herself after overhearing us speak English. I later learned that she “never does stuff like that”. Even though she had spent almost every summer in Amsterdam with her Dutch husband and their kids, this was her summer to push herself, to try new things. Talking to us that night was the first in a long series of brave, bold things that she did for herself. With her husband’s sabbatical at an end, she and her family are heading back to their life in Ohio. I will miss our cycling adventures, exploring the back roads and the knooppuntenroute, stopping for tea and sweets along the way. I will miss our conversations, some of the most honest and open I’ve had.

Kim and I were good at cheering each other on, and she has been so encouraging as I  did my own brave, bold thing this spring, and returned to running. Over 2 years ago a painful injury ended my never-very-impressive running career, and I’ve been hesitant and fearful to start up again. But some months ago, I was challenged by my coworkers to sign up for a  race in Amsterdam in September. Sixteen kilometers. Ten English miles. No small thing for someone who has never run more than a 10k. But slowly, I’ve been getting back into it, building up my endurance. I’m running with a fun and supportive group every Saturday (hooray for House of Running!) and my weekend long runs are now in the 9-12k range. It’s been so surprising and rewarding to see my slow but steady work pay off, and to see my performance improve. I may even end up signing up for another race later this year…

And finally, those same influential coworkers convinced me to join in the Euro pool, even though I know nothing about European football. But I paid my entrance fee, set up my account (username: Clueless ‘Murican), made my picks, and selected 4 top scorers – even though I can only name 2 or 3 professional footballers. As luck and the sports gods would have it, halfway through the first round I climbed into first place. And there I stayed.  I didn’t predict the final winner,  but I earned enough points to hold onto the top spot. Tomorrow I’ll be presented with my prize and I will do my best to be a gracious and humble winner. But of course, as an American and a sports fan, in my head I’ll be running a victory lap, or doing an end-zone dance…a proper American celebration of a win.

 

 

Bouquets, pandemonium, romp and mischief

No, the title of today’s post is not a summary of the past few days, although it’s not far off!

Those are the words for groupings of, respectively: pheasants (though only at take-off), parrots, otters and mice. I’m not sure if other languages have such a richness of vocabulary to describe pluralities of animals. It’s one of the things I love best about English, though. It seems excessive to have such colorful and poetic ways to describe a grouping of animals. Still, I can’t help but think my life would be a little bit sadder if I didn’t know that gnus traveled in “implausibilities”.

So why am I thinking of animal groups at all? I am recovering from a weekend so filled with love and friendship that I feel hard-pressed to describe it adequately. As I was biking home today, I was reflecting on the fact that my weekend was book-ended by old friends and newer ones. I spent time with people who have known me for half my life, and others who have known me for a year, or just a month. I witnessed and shared in  interactions between people who are secure in their affections and share deep bonds.  Then I joined in the struggle of a friend who is far from those he loves, and who is hungry for the connection that comes from being seen and known.

These experiences left me feeling that “friendship” may be too limited a word for the richness and variety of our human relationships, no matter if the bonds are battle-tested or just newly forged. Maybe instead I’ll steal a few outrageous words from the animal kingdom to modify the insufficient “friendship”. Who couldn’t use a congregation or a charm or even a flamboyance of friendship from time to time?

As for this past weekend and all that it brought me – laughter and memories, connection and re-connection, tears of joy and expressions of frustration – well, that’s an easy one. It was an exaltation of friendship.