Walking together

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #174

I am grateful for an afternoon spent on a long walk with a friend, safely keeping the security distance of 1,5 meters, among the trees.  We made our way through the Amsterdamse Bos as we chatted and relished in the gorgeous weather. As we caught up and speculated on how the next months will turn out, we roamed with no real direction, passing the goat farm, steering out of people’s way, watching a man on a beautiful black horse gallop back and forth along a long sandy path… More than just the surroundings, it felt good to be with a friend in-person and to share with the rhythm of our steps and talk without staring into a screen.

Human connection

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JOYFUL GRATITUDE #154

I want to savour this week, which was rich in interactions of all sorts, in person, on paper and online, big and small, that made me feel I belong and warmed my heart.  I’m privileged to be surrounded by such wonderful human beings.  With their humour, questions, intelligence, struggles, ideas and imperfections, they help me to be as true a version of myself as I can be.

A chat with a colleague by the coffee machine about hair-styling and therapy; talking with my Mum on the phone about a very interesting course she attended and ideas it gave her; a semi-spontaneous catch-up after work with a dear friend over cake and tea;  discussing work decisions at 3 a.m. under our duvet; celebrating the birth of a new baby and exchanging about sustainability with my boxing-class mates after our workout; connecting with my cousin with whats’app messages; taking a walk to do the plastic recycling from the office letting the cold air revitalise us for the afternoon; reading a long awaited letter all the way from Western Australia; chatting over naan bread and delicious vegetable korma before watching a great play…

What Google maps doesn’t teach you

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Over the years I’ve learnt from Paolo that the most interesting way to get directions when we are lost is to ask someone passing by if they know the way.  Most of the time it works and we are back on track in no time.  Even when it does not lead to the right indications, it beats looking on Google maps because it is the chance for a spontaneous exchange with people and those encounters often leave us with a smile on our face or a shared experience to remember.

Recently, as I was returning home from the Veluwe, I was cycling with my large backpack near the center of Arnhem, trying to figure out the way to the train station.  I saw a man who was walking towards me on the sidewalk, so I smiled to catch his attention and asked in Dutch how to get to the station.  He replied in English that he doesn’t speak Dutch, adding that he is from Syria, so I asked my question again in English and he kindly pointed me in the direction of the station.  I thanked him but before I could pedal off again, he indicated that I should wait and started rummaging around for something deep in his backpack.

After about thirty seconds, he pulled out a mini-snickers bar and held it out to me with a smile. My first reaction was to refuse, a sort of reflex from deep down, not wanting to take something he probably needed more than me, and then quickly I thought after all if he is handing it to me he probably wants me to have it.  So I took it, thanking him and feeling very touched. We smiled at each other, feeling the warmth of connection for a few seconds, the simplicity of giving and receiving this small gift, and then I cycled away to catch my train waving goodbye.

Now looking back, it seems that by asking for directions I received more than just a geographical location.  I’ll never see that man again but our shared moment has stayed with me.  Alongside the directions to the station, I also subtly received directions for life: a reminder of how generosity can be found in small gestures of human connection and how it lights us up.

Reaching out

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Last week went to recharge my batteries with my family in France.  It was the perfect occasion to have lots of long chats during sunny walks in the forest and the park. Over cups of tea and home-made cake or under the duvet with my sisters we talked and talked, trying to make sense of the many things tangled in our minds, armed with angel cards to guide us, laughing at our interpretations of the what the words we randomly picked might be trying to tell us.

I love the plant in the photo above, with its hundreds of feather-like arms reaching out confidently in all directions. It is my visual reminder to keep connecting with people even if it takes some effort, particularly at the moment, because by reaching out I’m reminded that we all have our struggles, big and small,  that there actually is no such thing as ‘having life figured out’, and that I am OK.

Though I didn’t come back to Amsterdam with anything like a solution or a plan on how to move forward, it was simply helpful to see that we love each other regardless of what’s going on because there is no right or wrong way to do things, these situations too shall pass once we’ve grappled with them and learned the precious life lessons they carry on their back.

Conversation around a sponge mushroom

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Recently on my trip in the Veluwe, I was walking in the forest, enjoying having time to observe the details of the mosses, plants and funghi of all sorts. A man of about 65 or so overtook me on the path and said hello in the polite way people do in the forest, I greeted him back before going on with taking a close-up picture of whatever moss I was busy with.

A while later, as I made my way up a small hill, surrounded by ferns, I saw the same man come back along the path towards me with a smile on his face making a gesture of success. He told me he was glad to have found me as he had spotted a big mushroom that I could photograph. I was a bit wary, but I followed him, and sure enough he pointed to a strange mushroom on the side of the path that looked like coral.  I asked what type it was and he told me it was a ‘sponszwam’ (a sponge mushroom) and explained they can grow much bigger than this one.

While I took some pictures we had a little chat, each question unravelling something new. He reminisced about his childhood spent in Australia, in a small miner’s town in the 60s. He told me about taking his elderly mother back to Australia years later to visit their town and friends.  He spoke about his family and about the grief at losing family members and we talked about the healing power of nature and how he loves the Veluwe and drives all the way from Amsterdam just to be able to hike there. He showed me pictures of other mushrooms on his phone and explained that because he had Parkinsons he had trouble taking photos and needed to consciously breathe and try to steady his hands.  After chatting for a while, he simply said goodbye and went off on his way.

I was left standing in the quiet forest, next to the sponge mushroom, feeling positively surprised and grateful that this stranger had come specially to get me to show me this peculiar mushroom and that it had led to him sharing parts of his story with me.  I was struck by the similarities with my own childhood in Australia and the incredible nature there, and the conversation reminded how fortunate I am to be in good health and to keep turning to nature for healing.