Monday, September 15, 2014

Practicing Gratitude

A few weeks ago two of my very closest friends left Amsterdam for their next adventure in Sydney. I had known this was coming for a long time, but it took up until their very last Saturday morning in town for me to fully comprehend the stark reality that they would no longer be a short run or bike ride away.

I know it shouldn't take such significant change to notice and appreciate our friends and family, but for whatever reason it sometimes does. While their leaving hit me pretty hard, I'm thankful that it finally afforded me the time and space to not only consider, but articulate what their friendship has taught me over the years. 
For much of the past 4-5 years, I've only written sporadically. I tend to grapple with the idea of a blog being too self-centered and in the past I haven't always allowed myself to write about my personal relationships. While I don't want to start an online diary, or over share... I do want to use my blog to practice gratitude a bit more regularly. I want it to be a space for me to reflect on my own experiences, observations and life insights, but more than anything I want to use it as a space to celebrate the people I love. So in honour of HendOrla's big move, today I'm celebrating them. 

I first met Chris and Orla on craigslist. They posted the most epic "roommates wanted" listing and I knew instantly that we would be friends - whether they wanted to live with me or not. With me still living in Oregon, we had to meet on Skype and even though I was pretty confident in their trustworthiness, sending cool strangers money for first month's rent and a deposit is still sending money to strangers. Upon arriving in Amsterdam with five suitcases, you can imagine how overjoyed I was when a real, live, actual, tiny, Irish Orla greeted me at the door. 

I couldn't have known it then, but Orla would teach me to see the world differently. For starters, she taught me that eggplants are really aubergines, that zucchinis are actually courgettes, that when I have a cut I'm looking for a plaster, and that you can put cilantro on anything so long as you call it koriander. 

Orla is a master of her own time. She's utterly content spending a Friday evening in and she's in her element sitting on her own with her paper and a cup of tea. It took time for my loud, constantly talking self to get used to this kind of solitude, but after two years of living together, Orla has taught me how to sit quietly and enjoy my own thoughts. 

Being Irish, she automatically has a sense of humour. But she's also got the unique gift of making me laugh even when I don't want to, or when it's not actually funny at all (...Father Ted). And not to go unrecognized, she's also got a Simpson's quote on hand for any and every occasion. 

Laughter is important and Orla knows this. Unlike so many of our friends taking marketing and advertising too seriously, Orla is actually working to improve the world. Since knowing her, she's finished her masters in conflict, security and development, and so far she's dedicated her career to sustainability and most recently to counter-terrorism. She's one of the smartest ladies I know and she is committed to not only understanding serious, complex problems, but to solving them as well.

Orla has taught me many things, but above all, she's shown me how to see joy in life's simplicity and find beauty in its complexity and for that and her friendship, I am forever grateful. 

Chris, also known as "Hendo" is equally generous with gifts. And just as his names suggest, his personality comes with a duality all its own. Where Chris has taught me to pay attention to detail and to fully focus, Hendo has taught me to lighten up and be carefree. 

Since knowing Hendo (for the sake of this post, from here on out, let's just stick to one name) I can definitely say that nearly all aspects of my life have improved. After spending a lot of time in the kitchen with Hendo, probably one of the greatest results of our friendship is that I'm no longer burning my meals anymore. This is all thanks to three amazing little words he taught me: Patience, love and care. 

Not at all surprising, I hear myself echoing these words as a daily reminder both in and out of the kitchen. And it's these kind of lessons that made Hendo feel like the brother I always wanted. He has this incredible talent of making you feel completely at ease, while simultaneously challenging you. He knows just when to give advice, when to pay a compliment, and exactly how to get the best of me. 

He's taught me to be humble, to apologize first and in his jedi-like silence, he's also taught me how to listen. 

When I first arrived in Amsterdam, I thought I would stay for maybe one or two years, but after knowing these two, this place quickly felt like home. Our friendship has taught me so many things, but the most special lesson of all is that in this life, we really do get to choose our family. And so I will close by saying, HendOrla... I chooo chooo choooooooose you. Thank you for everything, and I can't wait to see you again. 


Rob said...

This is lovely. Super lovely. They're lucky to have you and vice versa.

Ashly Stewart said...

Thanks, Rob. Nice to have a reader :)

None I Want To Admit Too said...

Reader and stalker.