The dog days of August have hit. It’s the kind of heat you swim through. Walking becomes a strange activity, full of pulling at your shorts as they ride up your thighs or fluffing out your shirt to try and force cooler air down against your wet skin. Even children have slowed down in their play, the heat dragging at their limbs and making them move like old people long before their time.
My day begins before the sun is up, when a touch of coolness still lives in the air. Before the city wakes up I am out the door for a walk. A few other early morning walkers join me on the paths in the parks, but I quickly lose them as I head off the beaten track and into the woods. My feet grow damp as I stalk through the grassy lane. It’s easy to forget how wet the morning dew can make things. As a child, I always knew this. As an adult, that simple fact of nature slips my mind. I laugh at myself as I slide in my sandals, picking up gravel and mud and generally making a mess of myself. It is a childlike activity, walking without care like this. Getting wet and reveling in it. Getting dirty and enjoying it. In this, I am very different from the Dutch. Even the children prefer mown lawns to wild growth, but I – I am different. That differences takes me on paths little travelled, to see marvels just sitting there waiting to be noticed yet overlooked by so many: a tiny wooden bridge over a canal with weeping willows hanging in the languid water, the perfection of filtered sunlight under the canopies of a hundred trees, a pair of miniature ponies munching lazily on the grass.
And I know, deep inside, how lucky I am to be here right now.
The apartment remains as cool as possible on a day like today. I live on the fourth floor (fifth, if you’re from the US). Down on the ground things bake, but up here breezes continue to flow through the massive east-west windows in the living room. Even with this advantage, it’s a shorts kind of day and any exertion will result in sweat. Despite this, I’m determined to get on the floor and do my sit-ups. I remind myself I have all day to do the 40 lifts I’ve set as my routine. That thought keeps me going through that half way point, when the elation of being able to do the work is overtaken by the work itself. Push my back down, exhale, lift my legs, breathe in while I count to ten. The tension I feel running across my stomach is wonderful and horrible, and even as I pray to be able to hold it to a full count of ten I know I will, and I will do more. My stretches are another deeply wonderful and horrible pull, as I splay my legs and take my head down towards the ground. I have lost much of my flexibility, but as soon as the thought crosses my mind it exits; I am too into the stretch to think of anything else. Stand, for arm movement. Over the head, out to the front, side to side. My shoulders ache and an odd feeling of numbness steals over my arms as I move them; this particular exercise is difficult for me. Roll the shoulders, then the neck. Deep breath and reach, reach, then collapse down. My hands touch the floor and I hear my back pop-pop-pop as the vertebrae move.
Now, I think, to work. 🙂
Three replies to three messages I sent out in Dutch appear in my mailbox. Once again I receive a shot of sheer elation over simply being understood. I have volunteered to help at a local festival coming up the first weekend of September, and they are happy to have my help. I will meet people who live in the neighborhood. Maybe I will find a friend. The thought makes me feel warm in a way the temperature outside my apartment never could. I have the answer I sought about my language lessons: they begin at 9:30, half an hour earlier than my previous lessons began. Where trepidation once lived, eagerness now resides: I can’t wait to start. Perhaps most poignant of all, my hesitant message to my previous teacher has elicited a warm response. The fantasy of learning to speak, write, and read well enough to join his discussion group remains fixed in my head despite me telling myself it probably won’t happen for a dozen reasons. In the meantime, I am happy to have an occasional online correspondence with him.
Even in the midst of this focused and happy time, I’m aware of things that could cause me future anxiety. My brother talks of taxes and forms, immigration and rules all the time. Our reapplication with IND is coming due, and as usual we’re both concerned – probably too concerned – over the entire process. To know one’s future is entirely in the hands of other people is very unnerving. I dislike the process immensely. At least this time I’ll have more language. Never before have I encountered a place where trying is so important. Using the few words I have to get through a conversation in Dutch scores high in the eyes of the locals.
So keep at it. Computer language lessons, then read a bit. Focus on learning the language and rehabilitating my body. I’m two years behind, in my opinion. Should have hit the floor running with this when we moved here. But I was reminded this morning of how bad I was two years ago: off meds, the RA taking over, the depression from abruptly stopping my anti-depressants. And kicking myself over ‘losing time’ isn’t going to help me. I did what I could at the time, which is what I always do. Right now my ‘could’ is a lot more than it was.
Somehow, I am more.