Yesterday I went down the shopping street near my place. The simple pleasure of a Saturday morning in the gloriously pleasant weather of the summer in Europe. I saw this cozy local bookstore next to a few cute coffee houses. I walked in, for an emotional treat.
As I passed through the door, I briefly thought, “maybe I can find a bilingual children’s book here to help with my studies of the Dutch language.” And yes, I finally started learning the language seriously earlier this month, after 3 years living in the Netherlands. It’s huge – not the decision to learn a language but the decision to commit to a place – for someone who finds the concept of commitment a bit scary like me. Then, I thought, “hm maybe it’s better if I get something I am actually curious about, so that I would be more interested in the book and pick up a more usable vocabulary as well.”
The arrangement of the shelves worked nicely in my favor – I soon stumbled on what I was looking for. Not far from the entrance door, there are a few books about the city of Amsterdam. I took a look at one. “It’s a walk through the city with facts about the history of different neighborhoods. Sounds just like what I may have fun reading.
So I brought to book to the counter. Now was the time to play pretend. I resolved to pretend to know proper Dutch – I would do all the little conversations in this language this whole morning. Actually, I was probably the level of a 2 year old kid or even younger. But hey, the fastest way to learn something is to just do it. So here I went.
I handed over the book to the lady. I wanted to say, “this one for me, please” but then I realized that I did not know the equivalent in Dutch. So I just smiled politely instead and saved this for another time. She asked me something, which of course I did not understand. Hah. But I knew enough to understand that it was a yes – no question, and it’s probably something about whether I wanted the book to be in something something or not. I just said, “ja” or yes.
That triggered a sequence of highly fluently coordinated motions from her. She grabbed some gift wrapping paper and finished wrapping the book in less than 1 minute. Maybe only even 30 seconds? Anyway, the point was, I didn’t have to guess much until I knew what she asked me about.
I said thank you as I received back from her this beautifully wrapped book, which I bought for myself and for my studies of Dutch. I suddenly felt a sudden surge of joy in my heart. “Oh I got a gift for myself!” If I had understood her, maybe I would have said, “no”. But was I glad that I did not! I did the payment, said goodbye, and all those little sayings you do when you leave a shop – all in Dutch, yes!
I walked home, feeling pleasantly surprisingly happy about my new gift. Just a simple something I bought for myself became a gift from Hai to Hai. A means for my studies became some support from Hai to Hai for Hai’s new endeavor. I felt touched of the simple gesture Hai made for me. And I felt it so real, this warm, sweet feeling of joy when feeling loved and loving someone, truly and kindly.
I was grateful, so very grateful that I went through that therapy program, that I started the journey of learning to love myself and being my own best friend. I could still recall the day when I stared frustrating into an empty screen for 15 minutes, not being able to write one single thing that I genuinely appreciated myself for, which was the homework my psychologist assigned to me. Now those are just memories. The reality and the present is love, acceptance, and peace.
As I arrived home, I put the book on my table in the home office. “What’s a gift without a sticker on it?” I thought. So I grabbed my sticker book, chose one – I knew it was exactly the one the moment I saw it. And I stuck it there on the wrapping paper of the book, a sticker with only two simple words, “love you”.