Graduation goggles

They say a picture is worth a thousand words but there is a picture that’s worth a thousand memories too. It’s a selfie of me (I know; selfies are old school) taken on 22 August 2017 at the airport in Frankfurt, Germany. I had entered mainland Europe for the first time and I was only one flight away from the Netherlands – the place I would call home for the following four and half years. The picture is worth a thousand memories because not only did it capture the excitement and thrill of a boy moving to a new country, it also highlighted the uncertainty and challenges that lay ahead. It captured someone eager for adventure and making new connections while encapsulating the feelings of one who been torn away from friends and family yet again. It embodied the joy of another life’s journey while clearing expressing the tiredness from two prior flights and limited sleep. The face was full of hope but also confusion – why does the EU use different electrical adapters from the UK, Zambia and probably the rest of the world? Looking back that that picture now, I do not only recall memories from that day. Rather, it is inclusive of memories since then because what I felt on that day only signalled the start of a new journey.

Now, as that journey enters its twilight days, it is impossible not to get graduation goggles – the nostalgic feeling one has about a time or someone in their life when it is about to end, even if the time was completely miserable. Four and half years is a long time to live in one city. After such a time, there is a memory left on each corner of every street in the city.

“Familiarity breed contempt,” they say. However, familiarity also breeds enjoyment because familiar things like food, music and surroundings make us feel more comfortable. A place of comfort, although not always, can be a source of enjoyment. It is this familiarity that I will miss. The familiarity I have with the route from my home to Utrecht Centraal. I know where that small pothole is, where the road is smoothest, where it’s bumpy and which set of traffic lights I can safely ignore (yes, I do that sometimes). This familiarity has permeated in other aspects of my life: I can walk into the local snack bar and the guy behind the counter knows exactly what I want. It is about having a favourite café in town, a bench to go to for the best sunbathing session, a church community to call home and a preferred route for a run or evening walk. I will miss this familiarity.

Leaving a place let alone a country strips one of this familiarity. It is what is making me look at strange places with fondness because all of a sudden, I remember sitting at that bench while eating spicy Indonesia food that we bought from the store across the street. I remember how much I regretted forgetting my gloves that evening and how I had to go past every red traffic light because I had to get myself inside before my fingers got frozen. Or the afternoon I went out to get groceries, got drenched by the rain on my way there but by the time I was coming back home, the rain was gone and the sun was out. The only thing I could say was, “Dutch weather, eh?”

These memories flood my head and many more will come as this journey draws to a close. Suffice to say, more writing will be in order to get those thoughts out. As I face this reality, I am trying to force myself to live in the present. I hope I can go out and enjoy the beauty of spring despite wearing these graduation goggles. I want to smell the flowers, taste ice-cream, hear the kids play at the park and see the ducks swim peacefully in the canals. I hope these graduation goggles will not stop me from doing this.

There is another reality though. The reality that the end of this journey is only the beginning of another. And for that, I have only one prayer. One plea. One thought.

And I said to the man who stood at the gate of the year:
“Give me a light that I may tread safely into the unknown”.
And he replied:
“Go out into the darkness and put your hand into the Hand of God.
That shall be to you better than light and safer than a known way”.
So I went forth, and finding the Hand of God, trod gladly into the night.
And He led me towards the hills and the breaking of day in the lone East.

There are many parallels between August 2017 and March 2022. One of them is that like always, the future is unknown and taking a step forward seems like stepping in the dark. Lord, when I feel like this, remind me to “Go out into the darkness and put [my] hand into the Hand of God.”

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