It was a chance encounter yesterday on a crowded street that sent me back in time.
As I turned the corner onto our nearby shopping street affectionately known as ‘the Fred,’ I caught a snippet of conversation. The young woman was seated at one of the outside tables of a local restaurant, twirling her forefinger along the rim of her wineglass while speaking into her cell phone.
‘Char-lie…’ I heard her whine, the words dripping off the sulky pout of her lips and reaching through the phone line, landing squarely in some poor guy’s ear.
Nothing more, just his name, as by then I was already several feet past her table. But it was enough to put me in a reverie.
Suddenly I was thrust back in time, almost three years to be exact, thinking of our beloved family cat. She had been Son’s pet ever since he’d picked her out among the other strays at the pet adoption day many years before.
In spite of her female gender, then four-year-old Son had insisted on naming her Charley. They bonded immediately, and she’d slept on his bed nightly ever since.
Fast forward twelve years and we had just moved here to the Netherlands. Despite being fourteen at the time, Charley had made the tedious flight along with our dog Oli and other cat Ava, and was settling in. It was still two months before she would be struck by a fast-moving cancer and decline rapidly, dying peacefully as I stroked the soft fur on her emaciated body.
We’d arrived in late July, and a month later found me at home, in limbo. I say that because that’s precisely how it felt.
The majority of household goods were unpacked and put away; I’d found what would eventually become my beloved Albert Heijn grocery store, a small stand selling fresh fruits and vegetables, the hardware store, two cheese stores, a French patisserie, three drug stores and a number of places to buy various small household necessities.
I’d attended a three-day orientation program at my children’s international school the week before, met a few new faces, and was impatiently awaiting the start of weekly newcomer meetings to help give some shape to my schedule. I thought perhaps I’d enroll in an adult education class or two to meet new people, and was already signed up for a month-long, intensive Dutch class that wouldn’t begin for a few weeks.
We’d finally made it through the interminably long waiting period for internet and cable television connectivity, but still hadn’t cracked the code on arranging cell phone contracts.
After an intensive round of car-shopping, we’d finally finished handing in the necessary paperwork, but delivery was still six weeks off. I’d learned how to buy tickets and take the tram, bus and train, yet wasn’t quite sure where to go or with whom.
Meanwhile, the rest of the family headed off to work or school each morning, leaving me alone.
I was walking a tightrope, carefully placing one foot in front of the other and trying to maintain my balance, all the while fully aware that one slip and I’d hurtle to the ground.
I was rinsing off the lunch dishes, mulling over what to make for dinner and in which direction Oli and I would head off for a long midday walk when the door bell suddenly rang.
On my doorstep stood Marja, my elegant next door neighbor. A classically trained musician coming from an old Dutch family, the carefully turned out Marja carried herself with a regal air.
‘Good afternoon,’ she said in flawless English, her weak smile belying the perplexed look in her eyes. ‘Do you have a cat?’
‘Uh…yes,’ I stammered in confusion. ‘Yes, we have two cats. Why do you ask?’
‘Is one of them a small black cat?’ she continued.
Two minutes later I was standing in Marja’s entry hall while she brought Charley down the stairs. It seems that Charley had managed to crawl out of the third floor bedroom window Son had accidentally left ajar, across a rather narrow ledge and through the open window of Marja’s rijtjeshuis.
Unsure of where she was, unable to retrace her steps back out onto the ledge and finding room’s door to the hallway shut, Charley had made herself comfortable and taken a nap. Marja had just happened to go upstairs to get something out of a storage closet and was startled to find the cat fast asleep on the bed in her guest room.
It seems that I wasn’t the only one trying to find my way in a new place.
Chuckling to myself as I carried Charley back to our house, I realized that there were lessons for me in the cat’s actions.
When in limbo, take a chance.
Go for the adventure, walk the ledge.
Find the open window and dare to go through it.
And when you’re lost and can’t find your way, curl up and take a breather.
If you’re really lucky, you’ll eventually find your way back to what you were looking for all along. Home.
[Image credit: David Castillo Dominici, portfolio 3062 FreeDigitalPhotos.net]