An Easter To Remember

Lovely Gnomys from Annekebouke

Lovely gifts: Gnomys by Annekebouke

Today I remember an unusual Easter, 21 years ago, in a Dutch village far away.

We were young and living the grad student family life in Lawrence, Kansas, with a 2-year-old daughter and another baby on the way.  My husband’s studies were nearing an end and he accepted a job offer – in the Netherlands.  I had traveled out of the country only once, and the thought of an international move was daunting.

We were heading to the unknown and this was pre-internet, so my resources consisted of a few books about Holland at the local library.  A Dutch acquaintance offered to introduce me to a “relative of a relative” who happened to live near the town where my husband’s office was located.  I wrote a letter introducing myself and asked questions about midwives, housing and a few other concerns and sent it air mail to Holland.

A few weeks later, the phone rang.

It was Els.

She had located a midwife and made an appointment, found all of the information I needed regarding housing and answered my other questions.  “I noticed that you arrive the day before Easter.  I always have a brunch and will come by to pick you up at 9:00.  Ok?”

At 9:00 on Easter morning, Els arrived in her van and transported us to her home.  The entire day was a bit of a blur, with an Easter egg hunt in the garden, a wonderful breakfast with extended family (and very welcome strong Dutch coffee) followed in the afternoon by a boat tour around the canals of Leiden.  We didn’t leave until bed time and by the end of the day, we were exhausted.  But Els understood jet lag and although I could barely keep my eyes open I thanked her later!

She also understood moving to another country, and we discovered that we lived not so far away from each other in the U.S. for a few years.  She understood raising a family with lots of creativity and limited means and donated furniture when she realized we had left almost everything behind.  Els adopted us like her own family from the moment we met.

This morning we had a quiet brunch with just the three of us at home.  Els had a houseful of visitors, decorating with her usual creative flair and hiding the eggs carefully in the garden for the little ones to discover.  We’re far apart but I was there in spirit, remembering a wonderful Easter so long ago.

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40 Days in the Desert (or “Why I Gave Up Blogging for Lent”)

desertLent is a solemn time of prayer, preparation, penance and self-denial and commemorates the 40 days that Jesus spent fasting in the desert.  It’s a time of quiet reflection and renewal.  And this Lent, one lonely blogger retreated from WordPress, practiced silence and abstained from reading or posting.

Why did I do it, and what on earth did I hope to accomplish?

Retreat.  For 6 weeks I went into hibernation.  Sometimes it’s good to experience what my friend calls “the neutral zone,” where you surrender to nothingness.  Last week I read an interview in The Guardian in which Ryan Gosling revealed that he is taking a break from acting.  “I’ve lost perspective on what I’m doing.  I think it’s good for me to take a break and reassess why I’m doing it and how I’m doing it… I need a break from myself as much as I imagine the audience does.”  I’m no Ryan, but I understood what he was saying.  Retreat and reassess.

Self-Denial.  Sometimes blogging feels more self-indulgent than dark chocolate or champagne.  Taking time out let me feel deprivation and longing, which is unusual in a culture of excess and overwhelming access.

Quiet.  As Sting said, “Great music as much about the space in between the notes as it is about the notes themselves.”  The same is true of writing.  Taking the time to experience, observe and quietly reflect can make writing less frequent and more meaningful.

Renewal.  The end of Lent coincides with the beginning of spring and renewal is in the air.  In the quiet isolation of this figurative desert, fresh thoughts stand out more sharply against the arid landscape and ideas appear in the void.  I’m ready to re-join the world and contribute with renewed energy.

Decision.  Others decide to give up meat or chocolate.  I chose to give up writing, a harmless vice that doesn’t lead to obesity, intoxication or any other state of ill health.  But just the sense of intention gives it purpose and meaning.

I’m back to writing and will enjoy catching up with the recent posts of all my blogging companions.  Happy Spring!