What a strange time we’re living in. The year 2020 has a rather apocalyptic sound to it, don’t you think? I imagine H.G. Wells’ time machine whizzing to the year 2020 where the time traveller learns that a quarter of the world’s population is living in some form of lockdown because a newly mutated virus is threatening people’s health. Would he be scared? I think so. Many people are scared today. They fear for their jobs and their loved ones’ health and how the pandemic will change the way they live. What struck me the most during the last couple of days is how fragile our plans are. Holidays, weddings, job applications, family visits… Most things are on hold or cancelled. People across the world are waiting, indefinitely, for this storm to blow over. There’s a cliché saying: the only certainty is change. People don’t like change, especially not this wild out-of-our-control change threatening our perfect plans. It leaves us anxious and uncertain but it’s exactly this period of waiting and wondering that calls for bravery. Maybe not the obvious bravery a time traveller needs to visit the future but to face our uncertain future with a brave mind and heart.
I must work hard at being brave. I like planning. I like certainty. I don’t like out-of-control situations but if the past year has taught me anything, it’s that things are constantly in flux. Exactly a year ago Henry and I were in Amsterdam celebrating my 30th birthday. I have many happy memories of this trip. Alfresco lunches, museums, tulips, and carefree hours exploring the city. But one of the most memorable experiences was also one that forced me out of my comfort zone. Since Henry had agreed to spend a day walking through a botanical garden with me, I suggested that we do something fun for him and rent bicycles and cycle from Amsterdam to Volendam. To understand the full significance of this event, you should know that I’m terrified of cycling in front of people. It sounds ridiculous, but there you have it. I can cycle but it’s not something I often do, and I lack confidence. Henry loves to cycle, and he took me cycling several times, excited for me to share in the joys his hobby. This is how each of those cycling trips went: I (naively) imagine a gently winding gravel road through a serene forest, but instead I have to climb up a mountain. Apparently, this is part of the fun. I huff and puff and swear most of the way up, alternating between paddling and pushing my bike. Then, on the way down, I have to dodge trees and rocks on muddy tracks which inevitably leads to more swearing.
‘To be brave, by definition, one has first to be afraid.’ – Robert Harris, Pompeii.
I reckoned if I could make it down a mountain alive, surely, I would be okay to cycle on the flat countryside roads around Amsterdam. I prepared for our outing as well as I could. The route was planned, we had snacks, water and sunscreen and we checked the weather forecast. The day was meant to be sunny and mild, perfect for cycling in the countryside. We left early on the Sunday morning when the streets were quiet, and made it out of Amsterdam without any drama, but on the road to Volendam, things did not go according to plan. Although the day was clear, it was extremely windy and the route we chose didn’t offer any shelter. We had to face the wind head-on. I peddled as hard as I could and there were times when I thought I’d rather climb up a mountain again! It took us much longer to reach our destination than Google Maps promised. As the hours stretched on past lunchtime, we ran out of snacks. I was exhausted and hungry. Even when the town came into view, I very nearly gave up but with some encouragement from Henry, we made it. Thankfully, the cycle back to Amsterdam was much easier, but I did manage to hurt my finger quite badly when it got stuck in the kickstand. That’s a different story. We also took the wrong route into the city and ended up in central Amsterdam with streams of local commuters. Navigating the busy roads was tricky and I was extremely aware that I was a tourist on a rented bike surrounded by busy and impatient locals who just wanted to get on with their day.
Despite the challenges and detours, we made it home without any major incidents. I was sore and tired but absolutely thrilled. Not only did I cycle more than 60km in one day, but everything turned out fine even though things didn’t go according to plan. I realised that day that bravery could be as simple as stepping out of your comfort zone and being flexible.
I turned thirty the next day. We spent a relaxing day in Keukenhof, admiring the spring bulbs and recovering from the Volendam adventure, unaware of how much our lives would change in the year to come. We didn’t know then we would be living in Dublin in a few months and that we would have a beautiful baby girl by December. How could we have known how lonely and overwhelmed we would feel in the months to come? And how our gratitude for the support and love of friends and family would grow? We had no idea we would come face to face with new challenges and old fears, and that we would get through it all only to find that things keep changing.
The past days of isolation have been a time for us to slow down and to reflect on the crazy couple of months we’ve had. A silver lining to the Covid-19 pandemic is that it puts a lot of things into perspective. It’s reminded me how futile it is to place so much importance on fixed ideas and plans when it can all change in an instant. Currently, we all feel like time travellers who are living outside our comfort zones, and it’s in this changing, tumbling world that we must stay brave. Brave enough to remain flexible. Brave enough to keep an open mind. Brave enough to stay positive.
Thanks for reading the Wild Library blog. Have you ever rented a house or apartment? If you have, you’ll know all about the weird and wonderful things renters leave behind. I wrote about these fascinating fragments of people’s lives in The Ghosts of Rental Houses. You can subscribe to the blog by clicking Follow Wild Library below. Or you can follow me on Instagram for more stories and book inspiration.