So far, so good.

They were 40 and 47. Their sons were 18, 10 and 8 plus they left one in the ground at home. They fearlessly, on the words of someone they trusted, embarked on a journey that would change all of their lives forever. They set sail for a mysterious land, a land that produced such fine young men who liberated their country, in hopes of better things for their children. They set sail for a strange land in hopes of a better chance of their children living.

My Oma and Opa reached the shores of Canada in 1958. They had not had it easy up to that point. Opa lived through 2 World Wars, the death of a son during the Second World War, imprisonment by the Nazi’s in WWII and almost losing the love of his life to breast cancer in 1949. Oma was born during WWI, married and had her first child on the eve of WWII, lost a son during that war, had her husband taken from their home in the middle of the night, never knowing if she would see him again, and beat breast cancer in 1949. In 1949.

My father was 18 and eligible for the Navy, something he was eager to sign up for, which terrified my Oma. She already lost one son due to war and the Cold War was heating up. At the time, they saw no other option but to leave Holland, to leave Europe far, far away, for the peace of Canada.

Opa quit his very prestigious job (at that time) as a supervisor at a box factory. They packed up their precious belongings and boarded the ship from Rotterdam. It took two weeks to arrive at their first official Canadian address in Bowness, Alberta after landing in Montreal.

They didn’t speak a word of English. Not a single, solitary word. There was no welfare, no safety nets, and no free English-speaking classes. Sink or swim, baby. Promised work, upon arrival, had dissipated into thin air and suddenly Opa had no idea whatsoever how he was going to support his young family. (The consequence of surgery to cure Oma’s breast cancer she was unable to ever work again.) Opa finally found work cleaning offices at night. He did such a great job (no English needed – cleaning is universal and there was no one to talk to anyways) before he knew it he had a second job and then a third cleaning at a bank. (He was always so proud that he was trusted enough to clean at the bank.) He was lucky to catch 4 or 5 hours of sleep a day. He never considered it work beneath him, any work is honorable and you do your best, no matter what you may think. My father helped him with cleaning and the boys went to school to bring home the English lessons. As my father’s English improved, he was able to secure a job at Eaton’s which income also helped support the family.

I am in awe of the brazenness of it all. I am in awe of the sacrifices they made for their children. They started their second lives, from scratch, at an age where most are enjoying their middle years, and they did it with young children in tow. On the days I complain the internet isn’t as good as it was back home, I think of Oma who didn’t find out her sister died until two months after the fact because of the communication hurdles back in the time. (Remember Europe was still rebuilding from the devastation from WWII and telephones and telephone lines were beyond reach of ordinary citizens.) I can talk to my sister every day, free. I have the internet, cell phones and cheap long distance. A letter can travel the world in a week.

I can complain I long for the Canadian foods I am familiar with and fire up the internet and have them delivered pronto.  Some days I feel silly I kvetching about myself imposed situation when I think of her isolation and how homesick she must have been. There were no Dutch Import food stores back then and only a handful of Dutch people to commiserate with. Not only did she study a brand new language, she also had to learn to cook all over again with most foods she never saw before and without her favorite ingredients. (Corn was pig food in Europe back in the day. Opa never could bring himself to eat it in the 92 years he lived.)

You know, I never remember them complaining. I never remember them awfulizing how bad it is or what a wrong decision they made. I’m sure there were tears of some sort but I never saw them. I was only shown the joy of how happy they were to have me and my sister in their lives. Sure, they terribly pined for their family and culture back in Holland but the new life that was blossoming in front of them at some point became all worth the sacrifice. They moved on from missing what they had to looking forward to what was coming.

Sadly, Oma passed away from cancer after only living in Canada for eleven years. She was only 51 but realistically lived two full lives. After Oma died, Opa was somewhat encouraged to maybe move back to Holland to retire. It was at this lonesome period in his life I did sense some despair of wondering what would have been had they stayed in Holland but as the grief of losing his partner in this journey eased, these thoughts dissipated.  (In his later years he wouldn’t even leave the Calgary area in fear he would die while gone and we wouldn’t bury him next to her. )

So, on those days I feel sorry for myself that I miss a Timmy’s, or a dryer or my friends and family, I remember what Oma and Opa went through to make sure their family and future family had safer lives. And I am thankful that I have such powerful and deeply rooted examples of perseverance and bravery. It truly puts everything immediately into perspective. I keep thinking of the Buddhist saying, “I complained I had no shoes until I met a man with no feet.”

Have we made the correct decision to pack up and live an adventure half way around the world? To strange lands and countries we have only heard of or seen in documentaries? We are very similar in age to Oma and Opa when they began their second lives.  (Both situations were choices to change things up, although we do not have young children in tow and our income is secure. Also, for the most part, we can find our own language just about anywhere in the world.)  Nevertheless, are we putting our future retirement in perilous conditions?

I am approaching the age my Oma passed away. Although difficult, I’m sure if she had a choice she would have never reneged on her last 11 years of life living in Canada. I sincerely hope they were her most peaceful and fulfilling. Besides, how do I know I don’t have only 11 years left myself? Do I really want to spend them in fear of the known and unknown? Playing it safe but somewhat (to me) boring? Or do I want to create my legacy of being brave enough to shake it up and live my (and our) dreams, even though I have and will continue to have moments of aloneness, misgivings and worries.  (But never regrets.)

In the words of my beloved Opa, “I woke up breathing today. Another bonus day. So far, so good.”

Red at night, flyers delight

I was on my way from Calpe to Rotterdam, a sunset flight. As I normally do when I get frustrated with life, I throw on ‘Desert Rose’ by Sting on replay in the iPod until I get the message that ‘nothing is at it seems’.

Looking out the window assisted in my mood transformation by allowing the nothingness to permeate my mind, thus erasing the troubles of the day. Engaged in books, electronic devices and napping, the other passengers were all missing it. Was I the only one peering out the window, enthralled in the magical show of the sun disappearing into the horizon, leaving only intense red, pink, and then orange to hold away the darkness? The colours of the sun-trail literally holding up and away the blackness as best it can – supporting and squeezing out one more moment of this day.

Now I know where neon colours come from. If you‘ve never been on a sunset flight, may I suggest you put it on your to do list. The colours are spectacular; the navy is darker, the purples richer, the red-hot intensity, the bright pink neon and the royal blue heavenly. With nothing to block the view, the sunset, along with the colours, seems to last forever, especially if you are chasing the sun south to north. Wisps of purple lace-like clouds dance among the band of colours, uniting them into one collage.

Try as it might, the blue on top of the ribbon band starts to give way to the heavy navy, then purple, which in turn gives way to the night. Compressed by the enormity of the night sky, the colours magically grow richer and deeper.

Glowing red, orange, yellow, green (yes, green where the golden yellow kisses the blue sky) blue, indigo and violet. These are the colours of transformation. These colours transform day to night, brightness to darkness. And these are the colours of our chakras, the energy centers in our body whose significance can transform us from cave dwellers to angels.

On the other side of the sunset, a sunrise emerges. Now, the night is dissolving as the golden rays of the sun fights to lift the veil of night by illuminating the sky. A gentle reminder that night does not always win this epic battle steeped in eternity and light will prevail.

The land turns dark first, lights on the ground start to sparkle, one here or there and it’s not long before full villages are illuminated. Soon, a star appears. And then another. As you look up, full constellations are in view. The universe and man, in a beautiful demonstration of ‘as above, so below’, with only a thin band of visible spectrum of colours separating the two. European villages twinkle like the dew in the morning on the spider’s web. Each little village with their spoke like roads and alleys connect to each other with a fine silk line. Only the football pitches brightly lit are discernable, randomly scattered, like the bugs caught in the webs.

My analytical mind wonders what all of this means. Why am I obsessed with all of this? Why has this enthralled me for over an hour? And am I not weary of Desert Rose yet? Is this a metaphor that darkness compresses the light, intensifying it not unlike negative issues should only make the positives brighter? The darkness overtakes the light but the light never gives up and also pushes the darkness to back from which it came.

As we approached nearer to the ground, more people took notice of the happenings outside of the cabin. Some to simply point out their house, some to just wonder in the miniature landscape of it all. In the end, I realized it didn’t mean anything at all. It wasn’t a deeply hidden metaphor. That’s my previous life (BA – before adventure) chatting to me that everything needs meaning, everything needs to be analyzed and anything that grabs your attention and fills your time needs to have value. How many of us make an excuse to take time to sit and read a book? How many of us find the occasion to sit watch a whole sunset – without doing anything else? How many of us purely do just one thing at a time?

Unexpectedly, I was aware I was simply observing the beauty of the world without all the day to day distraction and noises that most people cope with. Without all the details of living in a modern world, my life is becoming less stressful and more meaningful. Without possessions to worry and fret about, other parts of my experience are able to shine through, and most importantly, without self judgment.

My ambition now is to pay attention to not only the moment but the full exquisiteness of the moment, whether I am observing or doing. Basically, I have removed the muddle we call details to reveal that some things are spectacular just as they are – even uncomplicated things like colours and sparkling lights in the air.

It was a dark and stormy night.

I know the month of February has Valentine’s Day and that gives a certain aura of lovey-dovey-ness to it and I know this probably sounds corny, but it was the month of February that I fell head over heels in love – with the south of France. The Languedoc-Roussillon area, to be exact. I never planned it that way, though true love is never planned. IMG_2871

I was mostly prepared for a 2000km journey, via car by myself, from Calpe, Spain to Schiedam, Netherlands. Assuming I would drive only during daylight hours, I had intended to complete the trip in approximately 3 days. No reservations were ready; I was simply going to stop at a highway hotel when the sun started to set. Well, the best laid plans, as they say, set me off onto something I will never forget. 

It was a dark and stormy night and I found myself on the top of a mountain, in the rain, in the blackness that can only be found on a mountain with no human induced lighting. The massive rock on the sides of the road seemed to jumpIMG_2881 out at me as I was twisting and turning along the road. Evidently, I was the only one silly enough to drive up there in the pitch dark; not one car had passed me or come the other way. Even with my bright lights on, I was getting spooked as it felt like the mountain was swallowing me up. Heart racing, I saw the proverbial light at the end of the tunnel – and they were manmade. Pulling in, I had no idea where I was – even the name of the hotel didn’t reflect the little village I had found refuge. I knew I was north of Montpellier and Beziers and that was about it. IMG_2839

Thankfully, they had a room at the Inn for me. Dropped the bags in the room and set off downstairs to find a glass of wine. Feeling quite silly, I found the nerve to ask the clerk where I was. She pointed on a map the name of the town I was spending the night – Le Caylar, Hérault, Languedoc, France, population 445. 

IMG_2845The wine was most welcomed as I relived my harrowing journey up the dark mountain. After some email replies and Facebooking (Facebook is a verb?) I hit the pillow as I knew I had another long day of driving ahead of me in a few short hours.

Awaking early, I gobbled down my breakfast as I was anxious to see where I was in the whole scheme of things. Unfortunately the weather was utterly not cooperating and I was to drive in fog and rain. Packed and full, I drove off knowing somehow I will eventually get off this mountain.  

IMG_2846Have you ever had one of those days where you get busy and before you know it, the day has disappeared on you? This was one of those days. I’m sure my angels put my car on auto-pilot and kept me safe as my eyes were definitely not on the road; I couldn’t take my eyes off of the beauty of the countryside. Every little valley was another picture perfect village. Every little village had picture perfect houses and shops. I wanted to stop and explore each and every little storybook town.

I left my heart in that part of the world. I don’t know how to pinpoint it but it felt like home. It felt so comfortable. This was definitely some sort of remembrance. It felt like this is what I’ve been missing my whole life. It felt like this place was drawing me in to somehow complete me. I honestly can’t explain it except that I was mesmerized like I’ve never been mesmerized before. It was honestly ethereal and joyful and I didn’t want it to end. I was stunned to find myself in Paris 8 hours later, with 700 km under my belt. If I would have had to guess, I would have put my advancement in the 300 km, maybe driving for a couple of hour’s but not much more than that. I was in certainly in the zone. The day is still with me permeating my dreams and coloring my moments. IMG_2891

I have decided that our next block of time needs to be spent in this area so I can merely examine this longing and urging that’s drawing me in. Is there something there I need to do? Is it where my heart will sing? Will I find my calling or what some call a life purpose? Or is it simply a beautiful place to live life and my subconscious realized wanted to get my attention to this fact?

Coincidently, when I was in Holland I purchased a book (sealed in plastic so I had no way of knowing) simply named Labyrinth by Kate Mosse. I only bought it because it was in English (which, by the way, are very hard to come by). Imagine my surprise when I removed the plastic only to find the book is based in the Languedoc! Surely, that must be a sign, don’t you think?

IMG_2848I simply must journey back to this area and discover. An exploration, if you will, on many different levels. Ironically, on this adventure of mine, I have been taking photos of old doors in the various locations we have traveled. I had no idea that they would foreshadow a decision I would have to make. For but now I have no choice now but to open that door.