By Greg Suffanti
QFWF March 2020
The summer of 2019 somehow fed my growing, restless state. It seemed that the record scorching heat had woken up an unwelcome, but not unknown visitor. I was feeling swept up in these familiar waters, and was surprised at the ferocity of it all.
It seemed I had no sooner decided that I was happy and content in my life, that that evil aspect of myself that I’ve fought so hard against, and so often lost to, reared its ugly head again…. Dissatisfaction. The unhappy mind of discontentment.
This time will be different I tell myself. I am older and wiser, I reassure myself like a doting mother doomed to repeat the mistakes of her past. I stew in the heat and somehow I know I must address my unwelcome visitor directly. Head on.
I analyze my life over and over again, but the only concrete answer I seem to get is that I need more stimulation in the way of work.
Also, with 2020 nearing, coinciding with my 20 year affiliation with a Buddhist center as both student and volunteer, I need something other than Buddhism in my life.
“I’m happy” I reassure myself, “because this feeling of wanting change and feeling capable of doing more is a sign of personal growth after the stroke in 2013.”
I tell myself this is logically true, but still basically just feel let down, as though I’ve missed some unknown opportunity that will never pass again.
This person is using me
In August I tell a friend I’d like to earn extra money tutoring someone in English. She has a Buddhist acquaintance that is Dutch and writing a book in English.
I meet this person, and there is talk about how good the connection is, and how much they are looking forward to working together.
I’ll be earning 20 Euros an hour, and happy to have anything coming in next to my monthly welfare check, which shrinks with each passing year. I could use the money, for sure, but I could also the feeling that I’m earning my keep as it were.
Work just feels different when you’re getting paid for it.
By October, I’ve had numerous telephone conversations, a surprise visit at the Buddhist center from this person… but I’ve never actually earned a cent. I conclude this person is using me. At the next phone call looking for advice and guidance, I inform this person I’m too busy to continue helping. I’m glad I was diplomatic, bad less happy that it took me months to confront the reality that I was being used. This makes me feel a bit stupid.
I need a change
I cancel my Thursday afternoons at the Buddhist center, and the guided meditations as well. A couple of people I know helpfully suggest that maybe I’d like to have something first, before canceling some of my volunteer work.
I’m determined, I explain. I need a change of scenery and I need to earn some money. And anyway, I still host visiting Tibetan lamas in my home. I also help with both the monthly recitation of the Golden Light Sutra and the bi-monthly performing of the Medicine Buddha puja. I inform my partner in both of these activities that I’m looking to do less in the new year.
There’s been a third person joining the recitations of the Golden Light Sutra, and I’m hoping this person will be willing to take over my monthly duties. I may drop my Medicine Buddha responsibilities completely. I can’t seem to make a decision.
By the end of the year, I’ve attended a volunteer conference and found the possibility of giving English lessons at a community center, or buurthuis. I’ll meet my contact at the beginning of the new year.
There’s the possibility of earning money as well. I’ve also contacted a center that works with migrants who’ve been rejected from the Dutch government. The position is as receptionist one to two days a week, and there is a volunteer ‘salary’ that comes with the function. Everything is falling easily into place.
My Christmas plans are simple: my boyfriend Robin will come to America for the first time to meet my mom and brother. Robin will do the sight-seer thing as he’s never been to Washington, D.C., and I’ll visit my 85 year old mom every day at the retirement home where she’s recently moved. I’ll see my childhood friend Donna a few times, and Robin, Donna and I will have fun in the evenings together, just like when Donna came to Amsterdam in 2018.
Robin and I both need ESTA visa waivers from America in order to travel there. I’ve been a Dutch citizen since 2008, the year I also relinquished my American citizenship.
Robin and I apply for our ESTA waivers months in advance as they’re valid for two years. Robin’s been saving 20 Euros a week since January, which is when we bought the tickets. Since my stroke, my years have been simple and consistent with the Buddhist center, and writing for the WW since 2017. Studying Buddhism and writing have nourished me for years. But now I hunger for new experiences. This year will be different, and I’m excited about all the changes I’ve got planned for 2020.
For some inexplicable reason, Robin’s ESTA paperwork had never been processed, and he is not allowed to check in for our flight to America.
I’m dumbstruck. By the time I board the plane alone, his seat had already been sold to someone else. It takes me almost the entire flight to calm down.
Yes, I have a dream as well
America is lovely however, and my mom is happy and healthy. Donna gives me some books on teaching English. She works for the JCC and they are updating their educational materials. I’m the lucky recipient of some very useful (and expensive) books. Again, things are falling into place.
I pass an art gallery each day, and am drawn to a colorful portrait of the abolitionist Harriet Tubman sitting in the window. With the Washington Monument in the background, and a few stars in the sky, I’m most drawn to the quote that appears as well: “Every Dream Begins with a Dreamer.”
I have a dream as well. I buy a small copy of the picture to hang in my study back in Amsterdam. Yes, I have a dream as well.
2020, a new year … I have plans
Due to scheduling issues, I’m scheduled to start giving English lessons once a week starting at the end of February. In order to proceed, I need to find six students. Six is the magic number. I put up little signs announcing the course that the community center made for me, scouring the neighborhood and it all feels very official.
I’m supposed to be starting soon, however, and only four people have signed up. Not looking too definite.
I feel rattled by the waiting game, and don’t look forward to having to call the four people who’ve signed up if there are no more people, telling them the course is cancelled…
At first I felt personally attacked, as though clubbed down by failure. The loser label I used on myself for years. No, I have grown. There will be other opportunities. For sure. I actually feel good about at least trying.
So much for earning extra money
I’ve started volunteering one day a week at the migrant center. I admire the work these people do, so much so that I didn’t have the heart to turn down the job when I learned that the compensation being offered was being stopped in January of 2020. Budget cuts.
Like my not getting a few Euros is anything compared to the suffering of having found your way to the Netherlands, only to be told years later that you are no longer welcome and have to leave?
By comparison, I have truly no problems at all. What was I thinking? I have a rich, interesting life, a lovely boyfriend and meaningful (volunteer) work. Not to mention a nice house. And health. The stupor of the last, dissatisfying months begins to dissipate.
The year didn’t start out so promising either at the Buddhist center. Both of the people who were involved with me at the Buddhist center suddenly stopped; one for health reasons, the other due to the birth of a second grandchild.
So much for leaving the Buddhist center.
And my new life?
Well, my new life has arrived! It looks a bit different than I might have imagined, but I’ve never laid any claim to clairvoyance. Life is filled with opportunities, and sometimes opportunities are in the form of taking a fresh perspective. Case in point.
Rather than being freaked out that my plans of radically changing my volunteer work at the Buddhist center didn’t work out, I actually realized I liked what I was doing, and didn’t mind doing it alone.
This felt a bit like a warm and welcome revelation, after months of only wanting to coldly push away and out of my life. I’ll find a place to teach English, even if it doesn’t work out at the community center. Besides, the only evening free at the community center is Wednesday, and I’m now at the migrant center on Wednesdays. Maybe I’ll even be glad if it doesn’t work out…. It will keep me from working a 12 hour day?! I enjoy meeting new people at the migrant center, and see each time I am there how far a smile and a bit of warmth go.
These people all have had dreams as well. Things may not have worked out as planned, but what in life does?
Sometimes all you need is the promise of a new dream and a little bit of gratitude for all the good things you already have.
Sometimes, a few small outside changes can help make some much needed room on the inside. Sometimes that’s all that’s needed.
This has been the case for me. Life is good.