The bike cart has kittens on it and a little head popping out.
All eyes and furrowed brow, the furry head is observing a sobbing human who runs after used tissues the wind keeps blowing away.
In one split second, my fresh mint tea goes from being the most delicious beverage to ever grace my tastebuds to, well, hot water with dead green bits in it. The vibrant, technicolor human tableau of passengers coming in and out of the station that fascinated me a moment earlier now makes my head spin.
All this unstoppable motion and all those people going places near and far and all I want to do is stop time. Despite what the clock says, despite what’s printed on my ticket, I’m not ready but I must go. My brain will fight me every step of the way between the café and the platform, holding on to hope until the train pulls out of the station and heads south to Rotterdam, Antwerp, Brussels, and then Paris.
I briefly look up and female students in matching Belgian university sweaters walk past; the group leader catches my gaze and smiles warmly.
Gentleness doesn’t recoil from humanness, no matter what it looks like.
There’s an ocean coming out of my eyes. By the time I get to the platform, I have to shake the tears off my hands like you do when you’ve just washed them and the dryer is on the fritz. I can’t even see my smartphone screen anymore so I end up taking a picture of someone’s backside instead of the funny travel still life I had in mind. Because I’m still going for the joy, even when I trip and end up falling head first to into the sadness pit.
Hide as many nuggets of joy as you can into ordinariness and turn your daily reality into a treasure hunt full of laughter and levity.
The day had been thoroughly thought through in advance to be as gentle as possible.
There would be enough time to pack, enough time to tidy up, enough time to leave a few words behind. And enough time to sit outside one of the cafés on the river side below Amsterdam Centraal station and gather my thoughts.
And of course there would be enough time for one last hug, the kind that supercharges your heart and mind with the strength to face anything that comes your way.
For the last however many months, those hugs have been instrumental in holding me together. The difference between falling apart and keeping going when you feel you’ve got nothing left to give is not a productivity hack.
The difference is always other people who care.
No human being is a tank. No matter how resilient, how determined, how scrappy we are, we all have limits, we reach them, and then we get stuck until someone offers us a hand to hold. There’s no quantifying compassion, empathy, human warmth, or love — they’re like air and water, we need them to live and we wither without.
Under the yoke of major depressive disorder, I somehow survived for years without them and now there can never be too many hugs. There can never be too much love either and there can never be too much life even though the version I’m currently running is nothing short of challenging. My operating system is still askew and this tentative life of mine is all bugs and Easter eggs, altogether probably not all that different from yours. But I was lost in my head for so long I managed to forget what being alive felt like; confused is now my default mode, ranging from mild surprise to disbelief. I still haven’t got much of a clue about life but at least now I’m aware of the fact.
Hugs, human benevolence, and homemade soup now make up my happiness, a word I’m still trying on for size and which feels like a cosmic joke. My brain is always lagging behind, still conditioned by years of distress, still pushing back against what it perceives as an anomaly. It’s awkward.
As awkward as waiting for someone and realizing you need to run to the bathroom because the mint tea you’ve been drinking wants out.
No prize for guessing what didn’t happen next.
The hug turned up without cell phone when I was relieving my bladder, which took a while as there’s never not a long line outside the station bathroom. The message I had sent to say I was relocating for a few minutes wasn’t seen until much later, by which time the hug would forever remain a good idea foiled by terrible execution.
Now imagine turning up, the person you’re looking for isn’t there, and you can’t understand why because it makes no sense at all. Had it been me, my heart would have exploded on the spot and my brain wouldn’t have been able to pick up the pieces. But I was so blinded by sadness I failed to see this side of the story until my train was leaving the station. This hurt more than the realization there would be no hug.
Going from feeling nothing for years to feeling everything all at once makes for silly situations. And it leads to frequent communication glitches when I forget I know humans who don’t relate to technology the way I do and prefer to keep it at arm’s length. In 2019, not living the bulk of your life through pixels and data packets is an act of rebellion, one that sets you apart from the unquestioning crowds.
If you don’t watch out for it, solipsism will get you when you least expect it, even and especially when you think you’re immune to it. I have my bladder to thank for this most infelicitous of reality checks. I have the hug that didn’t happen to thank for reminding me that not everything that goes wrong is the result of ill intent, rejection, or abandonment. Humans are fallible, aren’t we?
The difference between falling apart and keeping going when you feel you’ve got nothing left to give is not a productivity hack.
The difference is always other people who care.
As the mail carrier cycles away with his canine companion inside the kitten cart, I can’t help but smile at such an unlikely jolt of joy. Imagine building delight into your work routine so you automatically lift the spirits of everyone you meet…
Hide as many nuggets of joy as you can into ordinariness and turn your daily reality into a treasure hunt complete with frequent fits of laughter.
I’m a French-American writer, journalist, and editor living out of a suitcase in transit between North America and Europe. To continue the conversation, follow the bird. For email and everything else, deets in bio.