It has happened to us all. We have all met someone we won't ever forget but will never see again. We made a connection. They moved us. It could be a relationship that lasted 5 seconds. A smile. A helping hand. A person who asked you if everything is ok while you were visibly upset or noticeably lost. The memory becomes etched in our brains. When the memory is triggered by a current moment in our busy lives it slams us back to that experience. We are able to see the person in vivid colors. Maybe they are even back lit like a celestial being. The memory can activate other senses too. Maybe we remember the exact song that was playing when you met this person. Maybe it was that song playing that jarred this memory to the front of your consciousness. The smells of that moment, the feel of the weather on our skin or the ambient sounds can all be there. All in our head. We can lose ourselves in the memory. We can be so engrossed in the memory that we lose touch with the current reality. The memory of that person can bring up so many emotions. Nostalgia combined with goosebumps. Tears of joy. Tears of yearning. Or just a big smile. Our brains our powerful muscles that work 24/7. It can be a blessing or it can be overwhelming. All these moments stored in our brain always seem ready to be recalled and we don't know when or even why it can happen sometimes.
Thursday, June 26, 2014. Berlin, Germany was the start of one of those moments for me. I know this date because we were going to see Pearl Jam as a family that night in an outdoor amphitheater. We had planned a lot of our trip based on what each family member wanted to see during our time in Europe, but it was also planned around seeing Pearl Jam in Berlin.
Each morning my wife, Kiirsten and I would wake up before our kids and head out to find some coffee near our hotel. On this morning we headed back towards the train station because we had scoped out some coffee shops after arriving the day before. As we walked we would check out each coffee shop. We tended to want what appeared to be a non chain coffe shop. A cafe that had character or a coffee shop that looked family owned. We were struggling to find such a coffee shop in this part of town. We liked where our hotel was located because we were close to the concert venue but we were clearly located in the suburbs of Berlin and that meant chain restaurants. We settled on a coffee shop called Steinecke. It was more of a bakery than a coffee shop and clearly a franchise. We walked in and were greeted by the woman working behind the counter with the word 'Morgan'. After canvasing the curved glass display case we pointed at the pastries we wanted and ordered our coffee. I gave up on looking for almond or soy milk to create my iced lattes and just stuck with 2 shots of espresso. I had never done just shots of espresso and was really enjoying this change in beverage. We paid for our order and were handed our pastries. We found a table and figured they would bring our coffee out to us. Its amazing how well you can communicate with people sometimes without using language. You realize when traveling to foreign countries that you rely on standard customs of doing business in public.
Europe is no different than America when it comes to seeing a guy with a cane. People stare. People jump out of the way. People treat you like you are totally blind instead of visually impaired. It can be hard sometimes to receive that kind of attention but I normally try to roll with it. I know most people's reactions are out of love and compassion so I try and remind myself of that notion when I get tired of being treated as who has ebola. I had seen a woman in the back part of the bakery take notice of me when we walked in but she did not help us. Once we sat down and waited for our coffee I saw her move up to the front while the other ladies were working away. This woman was the classic German woman. She was probably 5'-7" and 5'-9" with a bleach blonde coif. . Her hair was big and feathered and wrapped around her head like she had a custom mold made to insert her head into each morning. You could tell she wasn't a woman who made a fuss about how she looked but she definitely took care of her hair every day. She had the build of a woman who worked at a bakery and liked what they sold. She was far from petite but she was not large either. She was solid and not a bit ashamed of it. She ended up bringing us our coffee and gave each of us a smile like we were distant cousins. I didn't think she had a phony bone in her body. Her mediterranean blue eyes seemed to welcome us to Berlin. Eyes can be an amazing tool. Eyes can tell you how special someone thinks you are or they can warn you of impending doom. This woman was warm and soft and genuine. We smiled back and thanked her and she left us alone. Our pastries were scrumptious and our coffee was hearty. I had noticed my tiny espresso cup and saucer had a little meringue treat on the side which I happily ate. We ended up being pleasantly surprised with our chain bakery experience and knew we would be back tomorrow for more yummy treats.
The Pearl Jam concert was an epic experience with the kids. It was their first real rock concert and Pearl Jam did not disappoint. Eddie and the boys played for 3 hours and it was a warm night with happy Germans all around us. We again rose the next morning before the kids and headed to our coffee shop. It was another sunny day in Berlin and we were excited to get some java in us. We walked through the open front door with Kiirsten leading me while my cane clicked from side to side. Our lady from the day before quickly spotted us and moved up past the other women to make sure she waited on us. After many smiles and finger pointing at the pastries we paid for our order and made our way to our seats. We felt very welcome to be back and we eagerly awaited our coffee. Our new friend brought out our coffee and this time my coffee looked different. Today my espresso saucer had three meringue treats along with two shortbread cookies. This woman apparently liked us. This is the moment where it can feel great to have someone take a liking to you and also feel awkward. I can cringe in these moments. I think the awkwardness comes from not feeling worthy of her nice gesture. The diametrically opposed feelings seem to fight one another. Soak in the feeling that someone likes you or believe that you are not worthy. Oh, the human condition. It is rarely boring. After eating all our pastries and all of the treats on our plate, our new favorite bakery woman quickly brought out more treats. This woman was on it. She knew the second our plates were clear. After finishing the second round of treats I got up to bus our table and our friend all but jumped over the bakery counter to make sure I did not hit any chairs or tables while I navigated myself back to the bus bins. Ah, ok, So now I got it. I'm getting blind sympathy. I have not reconciled how to handle this type of situation. I want to be liked for who I am, not for what people perceive as a disability. My visual impairment is a part of me but it does not define me. I don't want to be a charity case. I certainly don't want people to feel sorry for me. I hope people can see more of me than my cane and lack of vision. In situations like this I will normally choose the story that the person likes me beyond my visual impairment. I make that choice because it makes me happy and for the fact that I will most likely never know what they really think. I've learned as an adult we constantly get to choose how we interpret how life unfolds before us and so I like to choose the story that makes me feel good.
Our adventures continued through Berlin with the kids. Many miles walked and many trains ridden. The weather was great and so were the sites. The long rich and sometimes tragic history of Berlin was fascinating to all of us. This was the point of the trip where I had reached my limit on walking on cobblestones with my cane. Cobblestones were wonderful to look at but I was having a very difficult time avoiding my cane from getting stuck in the uneven stones. My cane would get pinned in a cobblestone crevice and the handle of my cane would get jammed into my abdomen. The type of cobblestones I was walking on would determine how many times I was stopped in my tracks. Sometimes it could be every other step. I had wounds all over my mid section and I was ready to break my cane into a million tiny pieces. Kiirsten was struggling on how to help me and I felt her helplessness. I knew she felt pain in witnessing my frustration. I didn't want to bring down my family with my problems and that only added to the mess because how I felt was impossible to mask. It was a hard spot in our trip. Our emotions were close to the surface but we kept our composure in hopes we wouldn't negatively effect our kids European adventure. We did our best to muscle through the day but we were far from relaxed and happy.
Kiirsten woke up before me on our last full day in Berlin and she headed out for coffee. I was slow moving that morning and hoped to get out of my funk. I showed up at our coffee shop and Kiirsten was well into her first cup of coffee. Our favorite lady was there and ready to serve up some pastries and coffee. Kiirsten and I did our best to put on a happy public face but it was tough. I broke down over coffee. I was so tired of navigating with my cane on cobblestones, tired of people staring at me and tired of making my way in unfamiliar cities. It was good to get it out. I had a good cry. Kiirsten did too. We aired it all out. There is nothing like a good release from the tear ducts. We started to wrap up and bus our table when our blonde bakery friend came over. Kiirsten was still sitting and our friend smiled, tilted her head, grabbed Kiirsten's hand and leaned in for a kiss on the cheek. This woman was much more than a bakery employee. She cared. She cared about people. She knew Kiirsten was struggling. She probably knew it the second Kiirsten entered the bakery that morning. There are many people you can fool with a smile even though you are hurting inside and there are people who can always see inside of you. Those kind of people can't be fooled. This woman was one of them. I bused our table and headed back to get Kiirsten. The woman saw me and gave me a hug and a kiss. She knew what was up and it felt good. I smiled through puffy red eyes and thanked her as we shuffled out to greet the sunny day.
We went on to enjoy the last day in Berlin even though we both still felt raw. We weren't totally over it but we had expressed how we felt and now we could try and move on. I starting relying on more help getting around from my daughters and Kiirsten to ease my adverse relationship with cobblestones. I also felt Kiirsten and I getting back to being vulnerable with one another which felt wonderful. Its easy to put up walls to keep our hearts safe but its not a fun way to live.
Before we checked out of our hotel I wrote a letter to our bakery friend in English while the kids got ready. I thanked her for all that she did and what she meant to me during our time in Berlin. I popped into the bakery on our way to the train station to find her. She was in the back of the bakery but I was able to catch her attention and she moved up to the front to meet me. I handed her the note and thanked her. She gave me a big smile, a hug and kiss. She seemed very moved by my gesture even though she couldn't read a word of it. I thanked her again and headed out. I walked away with a smile on my face and a warmth inside my body. Berlin was an amazing city with great history, the concert rocked, and our bakery friend provided a special little moment in life.
Our German Bakery women is someone who will pop into my mind every now and again. I will get a smile on my face when I think of the affection she gave us when we were both struggling. I will probably never see her again and that's fine. Its comforting to know there are people in this big world who care. People who want to help ease the way for others. I'm thankful for what that woman gave us and I'm thankful to all of the wonderful people I have met during my travels through life. In the end I want connection. I want to know there are people who want to be loved and to give love. To know this world has people on it that are more concerned about others than making more money or getting home faster in their car makes me happy. The feeling of connection to others is unreplaceable for me. To feel understood. To know someone is looking out for you. I know that's how I want to be remembered.