Mindful with Irene (31)

King’s Day as Coronation Day

Okay, this is a bit of a scary blog. Because I’m going to say something about when I am vulnerable, and therefore am setting myself up to be even more vulnerable. But hey, that’s the way it goes as, at Flow, we’re not really into all those “everything-in-my-life-is-always-peachy” stories that you constantly find on social media. And trying to live life in a mindful way also means being open to—and accepting—life’s ups and downs. And thus: a blog about loneliness and how it all still came out okay.

During my studies and first few years of living and working in Amsterdam, I never really got to know my neighbors. I had no idea who lived above or below me. I never saw them, never spoke to them, and never thought about them. When I moved to Haarlem with my partner and the children were born, there was a bit of contact with the neighbors, but I was still mainly busy with myself and my life.

But then, all of a sudden, I found myself divorced. And living in a different house. I was also sad and angry and alone and very tired, and I did everything I could not to have to actually feel any of these emotions. However, that didn’t always work. When the children were in bed, the evenings seemed so long and empty. And on the weekends that the kids were with their father, I sometimes stared out the window feeling jealous. I saw the neighbors “from the gate” (we share a gate that leads to all the gardens behind) sitting together in the garden, and I wanted to join them but didn’t dare to. You see, in one way or another, all those little things—like making contact with the neighbors, joining them for a drink, making small talk in the neighborhood—were much easier to do when I was still part of a couple. And I also didn’t feel that forlorn—I still had plenty of friends, but they weren’t exactly close by. I missed the security and intimacy of family life, and therefore decided to seek out this security in my daily life anew, which is how I came about making the effort to develop a relationship with my neighbors. I invited them to a birthday party. Made more time to have a chat with them in the mornings as opposed to hastily jumping in the car. Gave away a Flow gift here and there. Started a women’s neighborhood group chat on WhatsApp. Asked if anyone fancied going to the movies with me. And gradually, things turned out just fine. I am very lucky to have the neighbors I do (they are all so sweet) and the neighborly community we share (in which everyone is suddenly more open to neighborly contact).

Last King’s Day (a huge nationwide celebration in the Netherlands to celebrate King Willem-Alexander’s birthday) felt more like Coronation Day. The men of the neighborhood had organized covered market stalls for all the neighbors “from the gate” to use for the special King’s Day free market (in which everyone is allowed to set up stall and sell their wares), and there was a neighborhood theme (thanks to our Dutch weather!): Winter in Spring. We shared pea soup, biscuits, chocolate milk and stew with each other (okay, I admit: I had been too busy before the day to be able to make a culinary contribution, sorry!), and had great fun selling all our stuff. There was wine and mulled wine and plenty of fun to be had, and we even made such an impression on [public broadcasting station] RTV NH that they made a small piece about our neighborhood initiative. And while my kids were with ex, and New Love was in Brabant, I didn’t feel alone for a minute. Despite the temperature outside, King’s Day 2016 was really warm indeed.

For those of you who want a peek of our day, here’s a video made by my neighbor Niels:

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Irene, together with Astrid, is the founder and creative director of Flow Magazine. She lives with her children (10 and 13, co-parenting) in Haarlem, the Netherlands. Each Friday, she writes about how various Mindfulness lessons apply in her daily life.