SaMantha Shields (2nd place. Fiction. Spring 2011 Writing Contest)
I’m sitting on a bench between the reflection pool and the Rothko chapel, reading Conversations with God 2, reflecting on love and truth when a couple from the Netherlands sits next to me, the husband on the left and the wife on my right. The husband kids, “You’re in the middle. Don’t worry, we’re from the Netherlands and people from the Netherlands don’t bite.” I laugh and continue reading. I start to tell her that I’ll move and she can sit next to him so their conversation (though in Dutch and I don’t understand one word of it) is not impeded by my physical barrier. And even though they are separated by me, there is an obvious closeness. I don’t understand what they are saying, but I’m sure it’s normal husband and wife stuff. “Did you get the picture?” “How much battery do we have left?” “Remind me to get Cousin Sue a gift before we leave here.”
They get quiet for a second and we sit silently underneath the aromatic pecan tree watching the bamboo blow in the slight breeze. I ask eventually, “Have you been to the Menil?” as I see that he is fumbling with a map of the Museum District. “Yes, yes, we are going. See Rothko at 10 and Menil at 11.” I nod in understanding. Then he shows me the map more closely and we discuss the best route to see the Rothko Chapel, Menil Gallery, Houston Center of Photography, and the Byzantine Fresco Chapel in one day. I ask them why they are in Houston. “Our daughter has lived here for two years and she just had a baby.” I clap and tell them congratulations. The wife adds, “It’s our first grandchild.” She beams, of course. “It’s a boy.” Again I smile widely, clap, and say my congratulations. The husband chimes in, “Well, we had nothing to do with it.” He is a joker I see. A lot like myself. The wife is much more reserved, but doesn’t “endure” him. She actually “regards” his silliness. You can tell by her reactions, however, that she is more concerned I may not get it, but I do, all too well. She talks to me about the black birds flying by. I tell her those are ravens/crows. I have learned that ravens in Holland are maybe five times the size of the ones we have.
The inevitable questions follow about how do I stand this weather, especially the heat. “Oh, I’m used to it. I’ve been here my whole life and believe me, this isn’t that hot.” They shake their heads as if that is unimaginable. The hottest it gets in Holland is 28 Celsius, which, from my years in science, I learned is approximately 80 Fahrenheit. I’m amazed by the information I’ve retained from school. We discuss the snow this winter which was abnormal for Texas and the Netherlands. They ask me if I’m out of school for the summer. I tell them I am, but I know they assume I’m a St. Thomas student. I offer clarification. I learn that the husband and I are both educators. He teaches painting and I teach communications. The wife walks around in the chapel while husband and I sit and talk some more and he tells me his insights on the Holocaust.
When the wife returns she sees us engrossed in conversation and she tells him to stop and let me speak. He obviously debates with people about this often. The way she does it, however, doesn’t squash his passion on the topic, but encourages him to be open to others. Just from spending a mere 30 minutes with them I understand they are each other’s balance. Their dynamic is another beautiful thing I’ve experienced this Sunday morning, along with the weather, great iced toffee crunch from Dirk’s, and meditating surrounded by beauty. Their love is definitely tangible and very real to me, a stranger sitting in between them on a bench.
As we say our goodbyes and they make their way to the Menil Gallery, I realize God is not only speaking to me through my own reflections, but is demonstrating the possible reality. “It’s here, Sam. It’s a real thing and the truth is, you too can have it.”