There is nothing more soul crushing than purgatory, and for me, it was the exhaustingly long morning of July 22nd, 2014. Having lived in Vancouver for 16 years, I was about to leave it all behind that afternoon to start something new. My girlfriend and I were leaving behind friends, family, and at least a half dozen things that people often resign themselves to believing are reasons to trudge on despite a continued desire for change. We were leaving them all behind to go on vacation and never come back.
And when it was finally time to go, we locked the door and walked out of our Yaletown apartment one last time, never to return. It was a beautiful summer day, with the sun peeking through the tall buildings across the street to create jagged warm shapes and the usual activity of the street somehow seeming a little more significant than normal — it was like a pastiche which in its imitation allows one to reconsider the original days of our lives which we took for granted for so long.
A temporal, finite ending to something as mundane as a person’s current routine is truly the greatest way to find its meaning — it’s almost like our minds are not able to process something that has not yet finished because we are unable to separate ourselves enough to see it clearly. The everyday becomes a state of being, a card carrying right, that through its immediate availability is not worthy of consideration.
So when we got into my parents’ car to make our way to the airport, I couldn’t help but take stock of that which has now ended and can thus be appreciated. I thought I was happy, but now, as I look back at my old life a year removed from it, I know I was merely content.
21 years ago, my parents immigrated from Ukraine to the United States, and after moving around all over the continent, the years I spent in Vancouver were the longest I had ever been in a single place. Perhaps it wasn’t their intention, but that kind of life influenced me quite a bit — I had attended eight different schools from grade one to twelve, and what I learned essentially was how to be transient. When I was eight and we were leaving Ukraine, I cried at the airport as I said goodbye to my grandparents. Never again would I have that same reaction upon moving — call it a coping mechanism, perhaps, but it served me well as I said goodbye year after year after making new friends in city after city after city. And now I am an adult, and those experiences have coloured me a person that would never consider inaction just because of emotional bonds.
That afternoon as I said goodbye to my parents, my mother cried. I was sad to leave her and my father too, who were the one rock in my life all along through our moves, and whose sheer will held our family together through being poor immigrants with two children struggling to survive in a place that will always be at least a little foreign.
And at that, we passed through security and were off on our flight. The plan was six weeks of travelling and then to settle in Amsterdam. We started in Iceland, and after asking my girlfriend to marry me in a sleepy little town called Grindavik, we dropped our four suitcases off in Amsterdam before flying to Tel Aviv. Our trip was incredible, including seeing as much of Israel and Palestine as one can in less than two weeks, going to Jordan, and travelling from Istanbul down the coast of Turkey. I read One Hundred Years of Solitude, Gabriel Garcia Marquez’s masterpiece that my friend Art had given to me as a going away gift — his note on the inside cover wishing me well with my “Ursula” seemed to tie the whole book into my own experiences.
Like the life we left behind, the vacation also ended, and as we touched down in Schiphol Airport, we began to think about our new life. We were unsure of how it was going to shape up, and it was time to start to build again. For some reason, there seems to be a shortage of web developers in this world at the moment, so for me, finding work was not a problem. In fact, my first interview happened while we were still in Turkey, on a rooftop terrace in Celcuk overlooking an old Crusader castle, and within a month, I had a job. We found an apartment through my girlfriend’s brother in law, and just like that, we were settled again.
One never truly experiences a place until they live a mundane life in it, and we were doing just that. Perhaps I am learning to process experiences that haven’t reached their finish yet, because when I take stock of life here, I know I am truly happy. I can’t explain Amsterdam to another person because it is not just a city. It is the good and the bad, and especially the normal, which is the perfectly inert atom of everyday life. Amsterdam is biking home at four o’clock in the morning after a night out with your friends through peaceful empty streets. Amsterdam is the mountain of papers the bureaucracy of The Netherlands and the city sends to your mailbox. Amsterdam is stopping to wait as the drawbridge opens to let a boat pass under it on a canal. Amsterdam is thousands of cafes, restaurants and bars one could go to on any day or night and never need to repeat it because of the sheer amount of choices. Amsterdam is, as some Amsterdammers refer to it, “a living building museum”. And Amsterdam is every little moment that cannot be captured in words once it passes forever, leaving behind a vague feeling that you can’t hope to explain but you feel warmly radiating from your chest.
If there was one all-encapsulating statement to finish this train of thought it is that this has been the greatest year of my life.