On Wandelen, Robert Frost, & getting lost in the forest in the rain: A personal reflection
“Two paths diverged in the woods, and I, I took the one less taken”
After multiple reruns of Eat, Pray, Love (yes, I know). 8 months ago, in one of the darkest places I have been, I decided to learn a new language. There have been many Dutch (and no, it is nothing like Afrikaans) words that I have fallen in love with: ananas (pineapple), sinaasappelsap (orange juice), and most recently wandelen (to walk). This little word has meant so much to me. For some reason, this word sounds like wondering to me, and every time I hear it, I think of wondering aimlessly through the world. With limited expectations and only the desire to be (te zijn). So, with a week until the first of four exams to get my Dutch license to practice, I decided to wandel into The Netherlands to practice the language and clear my head.
Just a few meters from my hotel, in Spier (aka. The middle of nowhere) there is a beautiful forest; rich with the colours of autumn that have stollen my heart. The plan for today was simple, to sit in the restaurant, order a cup of coffee and study, something I have done a hundred times before… but the forest was calling… and I decided to answer. Not knowing the lesson, it was about to teach me.
I allocated 20 minuets and found a route that looked doable in a wee bit of time away from the books. As a South African, I am unfortunately accustomed to crime and always carry a small paranoia that something bad is going to happen. Unfortunately, in this scenario, my bag containing my laptop, my passport, my I-pad, and all my study material was just too heavy to carry. So, against my better instinct, I asked to leave it at reception. Not in some lock away room, just on the floor behind the desk. My instincts around safety were screaming, but I did it anyway.
Stepping into the woods I was blown away by the beauty that is autum in Europe; the beautify colours; the leaves falling like parachutes for tiny fairies carried on the breath of the wind; the toad stools that could make anyone believe in the magic of the Far Away Tree… and so, I began to wandel. An hour later, not realizing the time, I noticed I was lost. Not too worried I decided to walk until I found a path, after all in forests as in life going back the same way gets you to the same place. The fall leaves had covered all the paths and, in my eagerness, to explore new places, I was unable to see the main tract anywhere near me. Then… it began to rain, not tiny little droplets, a flash torrent of water leaking from the sky and drenching the earth in its nurturance and sustenance. However, for me, in that moment, a cold reminder that I had no idea where I was going and that this was going to get uncomfortable. There was a small voice starting in my head, you’re not safe, you need to get back to safety. I passed a few people on my path but instead of asking for help; I asked, in Dutch, if could pet their dogs. Now not only was I cold and wet; I had muddy dog prints all over my jersey. At some point a beautiful chocolate labradoodle joined me for a part of my journey. I did not need him to say a word, only to walk beside me. When he left my heart was sad, but it was my task to find my way home. As someone with anxiety in a foreign country, and a forest where there was no Google maps. I had to have faith my ability, and the path ahead of me. I had to trust that if I took the next step, even though I couldn’t see the path I would find my way to something wonderful.
Somewhere along the walk my mind started to wander (wandel). Strangely, my mind returned to something I hadn’t remembered for years. An old short film by Rob Bell called Rain. The words rang true “It’s okay Buddy, I got you, everything is going to be okay, I got you.”
You see, this was the lesson I had been missing for so long. I needed to wandel through life again, approaching with curiosity, exploration, and wander. I needed to allow myself to get lost; but trust my ability and the path ahead of me; to take the next tiny step, even if it scared me and I had no idea where it was going; to stop and play with dogs; to actually ask for help, instead of pretending I need nothing and no one; to notice the beauty and danger in the world; to trust that the things that matter the most to me can be safe in someone else’s hands; to trust that the storm will pass and the sun will find a way; to realise that nothing goes to plan, and that no matter how much you want to, you can’t control the world; that the people that you meet upon your path are more valuable than you may realise; but most of all to realise that that it’s okay, that everything is going to be okay; that we exist in a network, a community, that we have had no idea how much they love and support us; that it’s okay not to know the destination… to allow yourself the freedom to go wandelen.
“Two paths diverged in the woods, and I, I took the one less taken… and that has made all the difference” Robert Frost.