Sunday afternoon Existential Musings
It’s 4:30 on a Sunday afternoon, and the sun has set. Dusk is darkening the room as I type, although I’m sitting smack under our skylights. I hate the short days of winter, but as someone reminded me last night: in Iceland, Finland, Norway and Sweden, it’s much worse. I’m not sure that helps, but I do feel sorry for the Scandinavians.
As usual, it’s hard to decide what to do. Theo and I just got back from an hour walk. The sun was shining and so we wrapped up warmly to combat the 3 degrees celcius (but no wind!) and walked a new route this time through the ‘polder’ (Dutch flat countryside scattered with irrigation canals and migrating geese) just minutes from our house.
My to-do list for this afternoon includes:
- Spend some time writing, (obviously I’m sneaking this in while deciding what else to do!)
- Help Theo fix the house WIFI situation, so that I don’t get kicked out of my own online lesson while teaching next week. (It was my bright idea to troubleshoot this, but now I’ve sort of delegated the job to him while pretending to be ever-so-helpful.
- Call my mom and maybe even do a workout with her. This involves a phone call, an email with the zoom link, and the energy to workout, which is not very high since I’ve just come back from a walk in the freezing cold.
Those are the main things that I ‘should’ or need to do. Things that I promised myself (write three times a week and I’ve written twice so far!). Obligations. Another part of me wants to sit on the couch and watch TV. We’re watching a fun French series called … shit I hate it when I can’t remember the name and need to look it up on Netflix. Why won’t my brain remember the simplest things? And yet remembers others so well? It’s not only frustrating, it’s frightening. My grandmother had Alzheimer’s and both my sister and I wonder how long our minds will remain functional. I feel sometimes like a ticking time bomb. There’s a lot to do before it’s too late to do anything at all.
Especially my writing. Just don’t disappear on me, dearest mind, until I finish at least one book and maybe one or two more. Yes, there is the first one, it’s already written, in the editing stages already for 5 years. Off and on. My perfectionism getting in the way, and laziness, distraction, other projects, life, etc.
Then I want to write the boat story. Still searching for the right angle for that one. Is it a coming of age story while living on a boat? An Angela’s Ashes type psychological journey of a family that manages to just about almost survive while confined to very close quarters for four years? Or a cheerful Under the Tuscan Sky sort of book – of our adventures through the South Pacific – how amazing were we?
Then there’s all the people who have died this year, and not just from the Corona virus. Luckily, that particular issue hasn’t killed anyone in our family so far, although my daughter did contract it, and is still pretty tired. The deaths of Petra, Theo’s sister in law and Helle, Samira’s brother-in-law (both of them just 46 when they died!), and our nextdoor neighbor’s mother’s death all seem much too close to home. Then we have Theo’s very good friend , Pytha, who called us up a few weeks ago to tell us that she was dying of cancer. The way that she is doing this – meeting as many people as she can, and sharing wisdom with all her many friends around the world in a cheerful Whatsapp group called “Pytha’s Pearls” is so inspiring. She’s a shining light in the darkening winter months.
Every morning, I wake up to more than 90 messages that Pytha has written through the night. I scroll through her posts, listen to the beautiful songs she has put on the app, from Lou Reed, ‘It’s such a perfect day’, to Spanish singers in sunny Curaçao, where she spent quite a few years of her life. Pytha shares the beautiful lights in her room, ‘No more candles now, she writes, due to the danger of using oxygen…” She doesn’t dwell on how she’s feeling. “Weird coughing spell but the music and images of this song fixed me up,” or “Yay, Nico, you’re a star, I’m so grateful you’re here with me.” Then, “I’m awake and he’s still sleeping,” she writes at 5 a.m. Pytha posts some of the cards and flowers people have sent, nature pics from friends who are traveling in Columbia and many many family and friend pictures from her albums from earlier days and from more recent times. She shares a picture of a book for children and how to deal with their anger issues. I forward that one to a few friends and consider reading it myself.
Then she sends us her 180-page family history, dating back, amazingly, to the mid 16th century when the first recorded Jessurun family member left Portugal and came to Hamburg. In the 18th century much of the family relocated to Surinam but some did stay in Germany and later moved to in Amsterdam. Going through the names, as a Jew with little knowledge of my forefathers, I can’t help longing to know where my family all came from, but even more so, I am extremely curious to know the life stories that Pytha’s relatives had between the ‘born on this date in this country’ and ‘died in that country.’
* * *
And now it’s 7 pm. What have I accomplished? I ended up writing for a bit, then helping Theo try to fix the WIFI. In between, Naomi called me and we had a little chat while she took a bus and then a train to go from her boyfriend’s house in Zaandam to her dad’s house for dinner next to the Amstel Station in Amsterdam.
In the meantime, the WIFI recalibration seemed to fail miserably, so much so that Theo asked me, “is it me?” but I assured him he’d done all he could. We’re no experts, sadly. Tomorrow we can call the helpdesk and get a technician to walk us through a solution. It worked before, so I believe it will work again.
Then I sent my mom, who hadn’t been online all day, an email – telling her that I’d call soon. Sometimes, you have to be inventive about how to contact your parents when they aren’t consistently on Whatsapp, and you live in another country and need to use the internet to connect. In the meantime, I started dinner – a Moroccan spicy stew with chicken and chickpeas – and when it was all in the pot and simmering, I called up my mom via Whatsapp. We had a short chat and scheduled a workout for tomorrow which is much better for my aching thighs, and for her too, since she just had dinner. Then a quick check-in with my sister Margot, via whatsapp video and a hello to my almost six-year-old nephew.
And now to finish my blog. Yay, I did manage my three things. Writing, calling mom and helping with the WIFI. And oh yeah, in the middle of talking to my sister, I remembered the name of the fun French Netflix series we’re watching: Family Business. So, my brain is still working. It just needed a little time to process the information and retrieve it. Working, but slow. A bit like my WIFI.
Sunday afternoon – a time to muse – and think about life. Now that this blog is done, I can go back to wondering how Pytha is doing and how much time she has left. I know she doesn’t want us to be sad, but it’s hard to be overjoyed these days, no matter how much of my to-do list I can get done.