There’s a place that I return to, inside De Drieklimatenkas at Amsterdam’s Hortus, where I am taken back to my earliest years living in the jungle along the banks of the Amazon. I returned again this morning, having booked an entry slot online late last night – a prerequisite feature in Corona time for visits to nearly every restaurant, café, museum and cultural venue in the city. On the way, riding the Metro, I texted Renata to let her know where I was going.
‘Enjoy. Breathe, just be. I love you!’ she texted back.
I could see only a handful of people in the park when I arrived, another evidence of these unusual times. The last of the rain clouds were departing overhead and so, white gravel pathways crunching softly beneath my feet, I found my way to De Palmenkas with its constant temperature and inviting benches. The nib of my fountain pen was dry and I sucked on it briefly until I tasted the ink, turning my tongue an indigo blue. After a short entry in my journal, the sun now tipping into the high glass roof above, I headed out for a stroll, knowing that all pathways here inevitably lead me to my past.
If I stand in the right spot along the trail at the back of the tropics room, my vision limited by the heavy foliage around me, I can ignore the few remaining evidences of humanity and enter again into that moment when, as a small boy wandering alone along an Amazonian trail, I first sensed the Presence with me.
‘Breathe, just be.’
Suddenly I was crying, for no reason at all, overwhelmed by the perfection of all that surrounded me, longing to go right back to my own beginnings and start over, to undo the mistakes I have made, mend the injuries I have done, take the chances I have squandered, and well, just be a better person.
Alone, and yet somehow embarrassed, I dabbed my eyes with the corner of my shirt and said a gentle ‘Sorry’.
Much of my religion has been lost along the way and I don’t particularly want it back. But to occasionally feel the Presence with me, and to know I’m okay no matter how often I have failed, that I will hold onto.
Before leaving the park I stopped by to see an old friend. The California redwood, my compatriot, was planted in Amsterdam in the same year as I. For thirty-five years we’ve been seeing each other from time to time, weathering the ups and downs of our lives rooted in foreign soil. A hug, a pat against his shaggy coat; excessive greetings in Corona time.