In a city like Rotterdam, wind becomes a sneaky animal. Seems no matter what direction it starts from, once the wind begins winding through the Escher-esque buildings with cut away floors and balconies protruding from every available surface, it gains a slyness to it. It will buffet you this way and then that, hitting you square in the face from multiple directions. You never really know from what direction it will come. Only where the city gives way to water expanses do these air acrobatics cease. The edges of the ocean, the river, the lakes – that’s where you can find true wind, blasting its way across the flatness of Holland and the North Atlantic, bringing a sea salt tinge and wayward seagulls inland.
This true wind met me as I stepped off the metro yesterday. End stop: Nesselande. Down the walkway, to the left of towering buildings that competed for the eye’s attention with hue changes, filigree looking glass designs, and sheer overhang intimidation. Opposite, open park and nothingness. Where strange buildings ended and nothingness met, the beach began.
A few sailboats and windsurfers skimmed across the surface of the lake. They raced the clouds above, seeming to fly across the water as swift as their air borne competitors ran before the breath of the gods. A few groups of pre-teens passed me, their phones out and their eyes glued to the screen: Pokemon. Three women and their assorted children ignored the wind and the clouds, determined to soak up what sun there was on offer.
People were scattered on the boardwalk. A few walked dogs. A few joggers. A few like me, just meandering. I nodded, and smiled, and said hello. Far down the beach I saw a skeleton set up for a festival. That drew me on to the very last park bench along the boardwalk. There I sat for a moment, my arms thrown wide, my head back – a summer gesture. While I was genuinely happy to grasp this nostalgic moment of summers past despite the decidedly un-summery weather, my head was already asking: where is that person I need to help today? It was as if the wind had blown them all away to roost in dark corners I wasn’t seeing. I knew they were there; I just couldn’t find them.
A bit more walking to the very end. No trailing off of the city into suburbs. It is a clean cut, a butcher’s chop. The very last building and then – nothing. Nothing but the road paralleled by the bike path, a straight shot to the horizon. It was easy to imagine the road never ending yesterday. No hills, no curves: it carved through the land like a young river, too bold to be waylaid by any simple land obstruction.
I wondered where it would take me. Sometimes that urge to just go is very strong in me. But as I gazed at the horizon and wondered the clouds that earlier seemed so buoyant and playful became dark and menacing things, gathering at the precise point of road meets distance. The wind shooed me back, past the towering buildings and the women trying to tan, past more zombie children with eyes fixed on their mobiles, to the ghost metro station of Nesselande. My carriage awaited me, and in a few short moments I was home.
My spiritual malaise over not finding someone special to help caused me to take my helper’s eyes out. I was just me, heading home. No poetry, no epiphanies. I told myself I’d done well. Fresh air and exercise for an hour all topped off with a smile and a good attitude. But a lingering petulance still plagued me, a dissatisfaction at not accomplishing what I’d set out to do.
I swung the door to my building open with more force than necessary – an indication that all was not well in Beeps world. My aggression was met with a flash of annoyance: two young girls were running around the small lobby in some sort of game. Their pink bikes were mini obstructions to get around before I could access my post box. I grabbed the papers stuffed in the box and turned to see the girls waiting for the lift, still pushing each other playfully. Taking a breath, I prevented myself from rolling my eyes by shifting my attention to the handful of flyers and newspapers I held as I walked towards the lift. On top of the mess lay one half sheet: a color in picture for kids.
Wil je dit?
I didn’t think, didn’t bother to probe my mind to find out if what I was saying was proper Dutch. It was out of my mouth before any of that could occur. And the girls were nodding yes, they wanted it. Their heads bent together over the flyer, their eyes reading what I was much slower to realize: it was a contest. They left the lift on their floor, their horseplay over and done with. Excited whispers accompanied pointing at the flyer. Dag, they said to me with a smile.
It took five full steps out of the lift before I realized that I’d just done what I wanted to do. It wasn’t what I expected, and it certainly wasn’t what I was looking for – or where I was looking for it.
But that’s kindness. It’s a wind through the city type of thing, not a wind off the lake thing. It meanders, it shifts, it changes direction dramatically on you. You’ll never know where or when the opportunity will come at you. In that way, kindness is sly. It wears many guises. It sneaks up on you when you’re not looking, then stands at your feet at stares at you eye to eye, eyebrow raised in the perpetual question kindness always asks.