Tuesday, May 4, 2010
What I Learned in the Land of Orange
For one night, and one day, the world turned orange. The people gathered in the small cobble-stoned streets of the city by the sea to hail the queen of the little land. And they all wore her color. The color of her passion, red, combined with the color of her lightness, yellow, to create the symbolic Dutch color of the Royal House of Orange.
And so, on this night, April 30th, as they do every year, the army of orange amassed in the streets of the Queen’s city, Den Haag, smiling and dancing, embracing their freedom.
And for what purpose did the people dance?
Well, in anticipation of the birthday of the Queen’s mother. For, in a time not too long ago, the former Queen Julianna (mother of the current Queen Beatrix) on her “verjaardag” gave her people a gift - she gave them the gift of celebration. And by sharing the celebration of her birthday with the people of her land, she broke the barrier between the Royals and the common man.
And now, as this holiday known as Queen’s Night and Day has become embedded in the vibrant tradition of the Dutch, it seems to have evolved – for there seems to be nothing to celebrate other than celebration itself.
And celebrate, the Dutch do. My own eyes have beheld their spectacular celebration as they swarm the small, cultured, historic streets of their nation with the wreckless, happy, abandon of people content to be alive.
I have seen how, in the backyard of Van Gogh, and before the steps of the Rijks treasure chest, the people cluster to hear the trumpeting beats of a modern day music master; not Bach or Beethoven, but DJ Tiesto. I saw how, as the bass boosted sounds vibrated the ground, the people of orange floated happily through the air.
It was as my body perceived the sensation of the celebration, as my ears trembled to the beat of the dance and as my hues of red and yellow melted into orange, that I realized the people of this little land by the North Sea have let me in on a secret.
The secret of life. The secret of pushing its boundaries by living freely for oneself while sharing the celebration of oneself with others.
For this world, turned orange, is the world that made me become myself.
It’s interesting that one of the most common mistakes Dutch people make when speaking English is in the use of the verbs “to learn” and “to teach.” For example, if I were to teach someone something, they may say, “Rachel learned me that,” instead of “Rachel taught me that.”
On one occasion, I asked the reason, and I was told that there is no equivalent in the Dutch language for the English verb “to teach.” At the time, I took this answer for what it was, and questioned no further.
Now though, as I reflect back on my two year experience in Holland, I find the absence of the verb, “to teach” very significant. For nothing can be taught that cannot be learned. The act of teaching is meaningless unless what is being taught is learned, and only the receiver of the teaching is empowered to learn the lesson of the teaching.
So essentially, teaching is futile unless the individual learns the information. So the word to teach could be deemed meaningless.
(Sorry, if I have confused you with this brief exploration into the philosophy and logic of language, but I found this concept incredibly relevant to my Dutch experience.)
You see, I had been taught many lessons through out my life - wise nuggets of valuable information about how best to live - but since I had never learned these lessons for myself, I had never been able to live by them.
But, learning is a journey and in the past two years I have pursued that journey, knowing that I will never be, as long as I am alive, fully-wise. But that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t travel the course of becoming so.
In two years, I have learned a little bit more about life, and the importance of embracing it and sharing it. I learned that I had to get to know myself, so that I could live for myself and ultimately, share myself with others.
When I left America for the first time in September of 2008, I didn’t really know myself. And in order to learn who I was I had to explore the limits of who I could be. And that took time, courage, mistakes, openminded-ness, and persistence.
At first, in Holland everyone was a foreigner to me, as I was even a foreigner to myself.
Now, now, though, something is different. I trace back through the last two years. I have danced with them on the streets celebrating their royalty; I have eaten with them in their homes; Shared laughs with them over drinks; Embraced them with American hugs; I have allowed them to see me, at my finest, and my worst.
Yes indeed. Now, something has changed. I realize, I realize that these people who once were just foreigners to me; now, now, they are my friends.
Their friendship has changed me. Because neither them, nor I, had to open up. We didn’t have to become friends. But we did. We shared our lives, our thoughts, and most of all our laughter. It is the friendship I found here, in this little land by the sea, that has enabled me to grow into myself.
And in knowing myself, I have learned that we are enhanced not by our similarities but by our differences. So we must accept who we are, share it, and celebrate it. Whether we wear Orange or not.
Posted by Rachel Dawson