Let’s start with the present moment, which is always a fine place to begin. I’ve just awakened from a 13-hour sleep, and Tylenol Decongestant has emerged as my new best friend. I’m wrapped up in a cozy chair in Lydia and Jo’s living room in Nukerke, Belgium. Either the chair or the world is spinning – I’m not sure which. The family is off to work or school (Lore and Baziel both have exams this morning).
Who is in the house is Lydia’s mom Marie-Paule, their aunt/sister and the weekly housekeeper. I’m sad but accepting that I can’t remember these last two women’s names. “You’re not Superman, Bruce.”
Another relevant fact is that all of these folks are French-speaking. Marie-Paule has a few words of English but I suspect the other two are unilingual. Then there’s the reality that I haven’t studied French in 2019 to prep for my return to Senegal. I summed up my current situation to Marie-Paule with “Je suis trop fatigué pour parler.” (I’m too tired to talk.) Sad again … since I love talking.
My two flights yesterday, to Dublin and Brussels, probably totalled seven hours. In Dublin Airport, I met a lovely young woman who insisted on serving me coffee, as long as I insisted on paying her. She spoke like a song, reminding me of all the Irish commercials I’ve seen in my time. I was tempted to ask her to marry me but demurred, aware of the fifty years between us. I loved her until she mentioned that I should be drinking Guinness. That bitter beer isn’t for me but the young lass and I are still good friends.
I thoroughly enjoyed my conversation with Lorraine and Sean on the way to Brussels. They’re off on a three-day getaway to the Christmas markets of the big city. For the second time yesterday, I visualized marriage but then concluded that Sean would disapprove of the idea. Lorraine spoke with great animation of spirit and I felt at home with them both.
Lydia and her best friend Liesbet picked me up at Brussels Airport. Truly a blessed reunion with my comrade of heart. After dropping Liesbet off, Lydia and I rendezvoused with son Baziel, whom I had hosted for two weeks in Canada last summer. Such a hug between two intergenerational friends.
We got home around 11:00 am, and so began my jetlag ritual. It’s simple, really: stay awake till bedtime in the new place. My goal was 8 or 9 … many hours away. It’s fascinating to see my mind gradually fade away. Clarity of thought goes off to visit someone else. Just for comfiness, I lay down on the couch that I’m currently staring at. Big mistake! Eyelids closing, body sinking towards sleep, unable to process the reality that sleeping daytime Tuesday means not much of the soft stuff Wednesday and Thursday. Wake up, Bruce! Move around. Ahh … go for a walk.
I turned left on Lydia’s road and stumbled towards the small city of Ronse, only a few kilometres away. Ancient row houses greeted me down the hill into town. I came upon a few people enroute but chickened out when it came to say hi. I rationalized that I don’t speak Flemish and they probably don’t speak English. Plus I was so dreary in the head. Still, way down deep I knew that I had fallen short of what the world needs.
Above the red slate rooves, I glimpsed a steeple. It was a magnet. I wanted to sit down somewhere out of the cold and I urged the church door to be open. It was. St. Hermes Basilica was completed in 1526 and welcomed me inside its expanse. Throughout my sojourn within the holy walls, I was alone. Statues, paintings and tapestries hung above me. A winding staircase in the middle of the sanctuary led to a platform from which the priest gives his homily. All was still.
I sat in a padded chair and felt my eyes closing. I teetered to my right and brought myself back. And then some being must have given me a quiet energy. For half an hour, I gazed at the majesty of it all. Soon I realized that complete silence wrapped me in its bosom. No pitter patter of feet. No ringing bells. No sounds of cars outside. It was totally quiet, and I bathed in it. The small voice inside expected interruptions to come but there were none.
Perhaps Sara Teasdale said it best:
From what undreamed of depth within your heart
Have you sent forth the hush that mqkes us free
To hear an instant, high above the earth’s stress
The silent music of infinity?