The Quiet and the Chaos

I walked for an hour with no destination in mind. I stood atop the grassy dam that holds the sea back from flooding the small town of Den Helder, Holland. I was nearing the end of a two-month solo backpacking trip around Europe in 2010. I decided to go as far north as I could on the train and the train brought me to Den Helder.

It was me alone up there, battling it out with the wind for my place on top of the ridge. I was at the wind’s mercy. If it blew too hard to the left, I would fall into the sea; too much to the right, I would tumble down the hill into the cow pastures. The wind was biting cold, slicing through my clothes like an icy knife, making my eyes go dry and my nose run wet. My long hair became hostile, whipping around my eyes, knotting itself a million times over and stinging every bit of bare skin on my face and neck.

Through all of this I couldn’t stop smiling because, to me, this is thrill and the feel of freedom. I was hundreds of miles from anyone who knew my name and I was conquering my fears. The sun finally came out and that welcomed warmth held me fast. I was anchored between sea and sky by rays of sunlight. 

I tumbled back to my tiny bed and breakfast and clamored in the door. I’m sure I horrifed the elderly woman who ran the inn. I could tell by the disapproving tone of her dutch mumbling that she could not understand why I would travel alone, much less show up again at her door with wind-crazed hair and an incessantly dripping nose.

I made tea while the wind still howled outside, slowly allowing my over-sized sweater and down blanket to swallow me, remaining perfectly motionless while the chaos exploded right outside my window. It didn’t conquer me. 

The lopsided attic window was like a moving picture frame; massive white clouds sailing by like old ships, heaving and lurching on the sea blue sky. I watched the birds as they struggled to fly from the right pane of my window to the left, but the wind was too strong. They fought and flapped then finally give in to the air stream and rocketed upwards on some hidden air flow.

Everything was moving and I was swaddled and still. Chaos was right outside my window but amidst in all, it could not conquer me and now I was safe and warm. I felt my heart beat below my chapped and shivering hands and watched my chest rise and fall as my lungs filled with air. I was miraculously alive. 

My journey across Europe was such a whirlwind around me but, yet again, I felt as if I was anchored by a great Light which kept me safe and in tact. This is something I can never forget no matter where I am in life. It is a wonder to find peace in the storm, to be still while everything explodes around you. Sometimes I feel that it is the storm which keeps me alive, yet it’s really only a reminder, a byproduct of life. It’s the Light which keeps me alive. I’m still here and I’m still breathing. 

-Kate Gazaway