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Between 4:30 and 5:30 (5)

Updated: Feb 16, 2020

I’m having a dream but it isn’t like Martin Luther King’s.

I think I’m in a gym taking an exam with hundreds of other students. My head is down dealing with all the questions, but my peripheral view is internalizing the stress around me.

Folks are already handing in completed tests. I can’t see them but I hear the commotion and my anxiety rises. I just can’t get myself to write any faster, like running in four feet of water.

The questions on this WWII exam never end. Like the tulips in the Keukenhof, the pages go on as far as the eye can see. Questions about beef sandwiches, shoes sizes, hidden closets, brown bricks, how large machineries are, Jews, the amount of planes in the air, water in canals, the colour of helmets, guns, troops, more bricks, movement, marching onward, onward.

I can’t connect any of it. Yet, everything depends on this. I don’t question why.

Around me the professor keeps collecting papers and of the six million questions, I have completed all of 17. I’m not sure of the answers, largely because I can’t really figure out the questions.

Surrounded, lost in rows and rows, fields and fields of daffodils, hyacinths, chrysanthemums and bromeliads. Yes, these flowers are nice enough but after 30 seconds of gazing, what more is there to do? Restless.

The movement around my desk “it’s like these little tables you’d find in Grade Two” is nerve-wracking and, now, having to go to the washroom is becoming a major distraction. The implications of the activities around me are that I have to present my exam immediately to the hovering presence of this teacher. Then her hovering suddenly vanishes, leaving me to deal with the next array of endless questions, battle plans, people eating Juliana-tulip-bulbs, tour boats, escape routes, old brick farmhouses, battle plans, chickens, tanks, bricks, trees, colours, Van Gogh, mills, water, more water, torture, hunger, anxiety, anxiety, bitterness, sadness.

My examination is snatched from my desk and I don’t know who has it.

I’m trying to take deep breaths. But there’s no time. Not enough. Let me leave. I’m not finished. There is no finish. Fog. There is no finish. Less fog . . .


I drag myself out of this dream, bewildered . . . it is 4:30 in the morning. Room is dark grey. Where am I? I’m in Rotterdam. Michelle is beside me and I have three children in adjacent rooms. Everything’s ok. I’m released from . . . what was that?!

The dream is ancient history now . . . how could something so silly surreal feel so dog-gone real, only minutes ago?

We are at the 8-week mark on our 16-week sojourn. Halfway. We’ve been observing from breakneck speed, seeing what is offered. Yet, we’ve experience .0001 of what behoves this European place. I’m exaggerating, considering less than .0001. Trying to connect at 120 kilometers an hour. From our superficial Canadian context we understand little though we’re standing right beside. The traffic keeps moving. Where is this anxiety coming from?

I guess I could panic, seeing a faction of what I had intended on seeing, or . . . maybe be content with what we have seen. The latter is probably a good option. But it would be like saying it’s better to drink from a glass .0001 full than from a glass completely empty. Better to have a drop. Better to be grateful.

(I wonder if one might feel that way towards the end of a long life. So much left on the table. At the end of a game you sometimes hear an athlete say he “left it all out there”.)

The clock just chimed once — 5:30 . . . and it’s getting lighter out there, less grey. Today’s a full day . . . we have plans to see Utrecht, where Michelle’s cousin is a project engineer for the country’s complicated railway infrastructure system. He’s promised to take us around to see his stomping grounds . . . to take a paddleboat through the 16th century canals that meander through the old city, its bricks assembled during the time of the Roman conquests.

The place has seen a 1,000 battles, skirmishes and exchanges since then but I imagine it’ll look pretty peaceful for our visit.

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