When the plane landed in Brussels, I started thinking about the opening scene from the movie “Love Actually”. I opened my eyes as I approached the Arrivals Gate to see if Hugh Grant right was “love is actually all around“.
Last year at my friend’s New Year’s Eve party, each person had to burn one word that they didn’t want to bring with them into the next year, and one word to follow them into the new year. My word was love. The scene playing in my head was no accident. Being a lone traveler, the intention of my journey was no accident. Was love really all around?
By traveling in solitude, you are alone with the internal fears that fill your head. The ones that cause you to get stuck, or move forward with faith. Sometimes, it’s a combination of both.
I had reservations to a B&B for the night, and realized that I had eight (8) hours of solitude before I could check-in. With my backpack and a cellphone, that was dead, I had to find a cafe where I could recharge my body and phone. I had to call my mom and let her know I made it. As I wandered around, I kept my eyes facing a set of stairs that were straight ahead. When I approached the stairs, I looked around at the stillness of Brussels before the work day started, and saw a cafe. Making my way up the stairs, in bold orange spray paint was the word Liberté… Freedom. It was calling me to look around and embrace the freedom that had led me to an early adventure in Brussels. In that moment, I found love for myself in orange graffiti. A love that allowed me to open my mind, heart, and soul to what would come my way. I will spend most of this trip in solitude, however, I am never alone. I have the love of God and guides to help me along the journey. Liberté = Love.
With my phone fully charged and a proper latte, I wandered upon a Belgian chocolate shop. I opened the door and the smells of chocolate filled the air, but it was the music of Erykah Badu that welcomed me like an old friend. The woman behind the counter perked up when I commented on my love of “Mama’s Gun” and Erykah Badu. She pointed me in the direction of the Bozar Museum. This connection over Ms. Badu was a sign of love.
Wandering throughout the day, I felt connection from the greeter at the museum, the man who ran the Belgian waffle stand, the art gallery owner, the manager of the B&B, and the couple that took my photo under the angel halo were all displays of the power of human connection. Human connection reminds us that we all desire the same things, to matter and to be loved. Among strangers that is expressed through a handshake, which has the power to diminish fear. It has the power to make the stranger a friend, even if for a brief moment. Connection = Love.
On Thanksgiving morning, I headed to Berlin to spend the holidays with my friend Dominick. Dominick and I went to graduate school together, and have a multi-comma friendship that found its way to a hug in the lobby of Bayer Healthcare in Berlin. We have come a long way, baby. With the keys and directions, the traveler found a home base for the continued journey. Across the street from his flat is one of Germany’s famous Christmas markets. Walking along the aisles at the market, you could see and feel the joy that filled the air. It wasn’t the kind of joy that seemed to come in waves during Christmas time, and with my phone dead again, I was forced to be all in to what was surrounding me. Notice a pattern here. It was a clue to totally immerse myself into the joy and any surprises that awaited. With a warm Bratwurst in hand, I made to the music stage to listen to a jazz band comprised of a group of men in their 70s. The lead singer introduced their next song, Frank Sinatra’s “My Way”. Of all the songs by Mr. Sinatra, of all the holiday songs he had sung, the band played my song. A song that spoke to about the type of woman I was chasing. The tears rolled down my cheek realizing that I was doing it my way…standing in a Christmas market in Berlin for Thanksgiving. I looked over and saw a woman with tears rolling down her cheeks, and extending my hand to show her the same tears rolling down my cheeks. What was behind her tears? I don’t know, but we smiled at each other. We built a community of people that had the same emotional reaction from the song.
We headed out for Thanksgiving Dinner at Rosa Caleta to have dinner with his two friends. Dominick’s friend was having his first Thanksgiving away from family in Mississippi, and it was his girlfriend’s first Thanksgiving dinner ever. As we approached the cozy restaurant, the sounds, smells, and feeling welcomes of community you as the owners greeted us with hugs. Kirk and Troy, the owners, were the uncles in every family that warmly welcomed the stranger and made them family. Stevie Wonder filled the air for the meal that was being served like many Thanksgiving meals across America, and Jill Scott was the crescendo with full bellies from the love infused into every bite, and laughter filled the room. I thought maybe this feeling of love from community was due to Thanksgiving, but it wasn’t.
That Friday evening, I was introduced a German tradition called Kaffee und Kuchen. It’s a time to sit down with friends and family to catch up, share in germütlichkeit which means friendliness, geniality. Across the KaDaWe cafe, I saw people doing what matters the most in this life being in community with our friends and family. The feeling I felt at Rosa Caleta was also in KaDaWe over a piece of chocolate cake and a cup of coffee.
Despite Germany’s dark history of World War II and the Berlin Wall that almost conquered the spirit of the German people, togetherness prevailed and in turn, love prevailed. My trip was symbolic of the Arrivals Gate of life. I felt love from the hugs of new and old friends, in the handshakes, the smiles, the kindness of strangers, the guides for the wandering traveler, the blues band from DC, Furst handbags, and awakenings on the Ubahnoff.
Hugh Grant was right. “If you look around, love actually is all around.” Wake up and make your life one big Arrivals Gate.