An American In Brussels

Trust me. I can say a few words about how this grey-haired man is exhausted from what is only the early days of his European Tour. I was there, every minute…waiting for the train in Bruges and sitting in the hot humid air of Brussels Midi station wondering whether he should jump into a taxi or sit at a spaghetti restaurant across from the train station.

The guy decided to go to the restaurant and share a beer with his wife. He was unnerved. He knew nothing about the geography of Brussels. They took a taxi to the B & B they had found on an online booking service. When they got there, it was three flights up to a room that was very artistic, but lacked a desk, chairs and a fan. It was humid in Brussels that afternoon.

They spent a night there. He sweated through most of the dark hours. They took a walk and found the Grand Place.

It was the night before his birthday.

They made an unusual choice to depart the B & B and take a room at the Marriott. Not something he had planned to do…he wanted small hotels, European-style. But, he didn’t want to sweat another night.

They booked a room at the Marriott. Once they were allowed into their room, this tired old man took a nap.

Now, a little history:

This man, after he passed his mid 60’s, began to feel that each birthday had to include something somewhat unusual.

On his 67th birthday, they were in Paris. They climbed the steps to Sacre Coeur in Montmartre. On the 67th step, they stopped and embraced.

On his 68th birthday, they were in Dorset, England. They went to Salisbury Cathedral. They walked 68 steps down the central aisle of the nave, stopped and embraced.

Some years passed. They didn’t find themselves in a foreign country on his birthday, so it was all low-key. Should we take 69 steps toward the local post office and stop and embrace?

That wasn’t going to do it for him. So, how did it all play out today in Brussels…a city he knew very little about. The answer was beneath their feet.

The cobblestones!

He chose a side street with a beautiful cobblestone pavement. They tiptoed 71 tiles (cobblestones?) and stopped and embraced.

Then it began to rain very hard. They ran to the restaurant that was enthusiastically recommend.

As he ate his cod dish, he was already thinking about number 72.

[All photos are mine]

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It Was 28 Years Ago Today: Changing Views

BrianB&WwithNancy

I saw him when he was born.  I watched and began to wonder…even back then.  I thought about what I had seen.  I went to the Delivery Room window, looked out over the parking lot… and wept.

Taken in the long view of human life, I had just witnessed something most men have been kept from seeing…an actual birth.  But, there he was, wet and gooey.  When he could focus, it was on his mom’s face…her eyes…her expressions.  Soon he discovered there was another person in his field of view, his father.

He would look at me, straight into my eyes.

Then as he got older his view still was on his mother and me, but he was seeing other things, other people come and go into his field of vision.

I had already raised a daughter, Erin, and I was fully aware of the passage of time.  As an old song goes: “Turn around, and she one…turn around and she’s two…turn around and she a young woman going out of the door…”

I was determined to have these early memories of him cling to me like pollen in May, like sap on a pine.  I wanted to have it all just slow down or stop or encase it like an insect in Miocene amber.

But there are rules of nature you cannot alter: The flow of time is Rule #1 Nothing to be done here…just enjoy the moment as it is.  You can’t stop the flow of a river by pushing your hands against the current.  You can’t stop the rain by pushing back at the raindrops.

Soon the moments became months and then the years began to add up.  Rites of passage occurred…he turned eighteen and began driving.  He turned twenty-one without major mishaps. (That I know of).

He wasn’t running to his daddy with a broken tail reflector from his bike anymore.  He was discussing fine wines with his girlfriend, Kristin.

BrianKristen

His view points were changing, not about politics but about how he chose to spend time and places he travelled.  I found out he was in Jacksonville, Florida about a year ago when I first saw a photo of him dancing on a table at the local Hooters!

“Dad, can I go to Hooter’s and dance on the table?” never once left his lips.

So, a young man slowly turns from the comfortable and familiar and begins to find his way in the strange and unknown world.  I would have not have it any other way.  This is life.  This is growth.  This is maturity.  This is growing up.

He joins Mariam and I for a brief trip to Ireland.  It’s his first European stamp on his passport.  We’re driving the Burren, a place of desolate and austere limestone landscapes in the west country.  We pause to take some pictures.  He wanders toward the cliff edge.

I snap a photo of him gazing out over Galway Bay.  I don’t know what he’s thinking about.

But he’s looking away from me and into a future that belongs only to him.

I would have it no other way.  I hope as he grows older, he stands by uncountable cliffs over unnamed bays and thinks of life from the viewpoint of his own eyes and ears and imagination.

BrianGalwayBay