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One Step at a Time

Text by: Christine Pethel

"The journey of a thousand miles must begin with a single step"
-Chinese Proverb
The beautiful country of Germany never ceases to amaze me. I have not once been disappointed by the decision my husband and I made to relocate our family here for a short while. One of the benefits of residing in Europe is the opportunity to travel to nearby lands, which is very similar to, and as easy as, it is to travel to a neighboring state within the United States. To our advantage, Germany is perfectly situated in the center of at least eight separate countries, countries with their own culture, character, and charm. Switzerland, Austria, France, Belgium, Holland, Czechoslovakia and Poland, just to name a few. Simply drive a few hours in any one direction and you will come upon new road signs in completely different languages, houses
with completely different roof-styles, and food with completely different tastes. Please do not think for one moment that we have not seized every opportunity we could find to visit many different lands, come rain or shine. In spite of this, we have not even begun to scratch the surface of the places we still want to discover. So, when the children had a week off from school for their spring break, there was no doubt in our minds that it was the perfect time to welcome my dear friend, Spring, in with a visit to the annual “Blooming of the Tulips” in Holland, a mere three hours drive away. My excitement for this trip was insurmountable, insomuch that I took it upon myself to do what I never do for our trip… the planning. I wanted it, no, needed it, to be as perfect as I was imagining. Detailed city maps, timed agendas, and restaurant eateries were all carefully planned and organized in a three-ring binder labeled with tabs and pictures. This trip was going to be perfect. In my mind, I saw fields and fields of
purple, pink, red, orange, and yellow tulips bending and blowing in the wind as far as the eye could see. My imagination ran wild as I pictured myself skipping through the fields in my wooden, Dutch clogs and my long, white, cotton skirt billowing behind me as I confidently sang, “Tiptoe Through the Tulips.” It was my undoing when a dear friend enhanced imagined fairytale by simply mentioning that we should bring our bicycles so we could take a family ride through the fields of flowers. My imagination ran away with me as I saw myself seated on my beautiful bike leading our twin eleven-year-old daughters, and my husband following carefully in the back carrying our one and a half-year-old son in a child’s seat on the front, all of us donning helmets, while balancing the handlebar, wicker baskets filled with food and drink for a beautiful picnic. What could be more perfect? Nothing, I thought. This was going to be perfect.
In Holland, there is a large open-air park, a vast area that boasts blooms of almost every species of tulip, hyacinth, and daffodil known to horticulturalists. Tourists, students, scientists, and enthusiasts from thousands of miles away journey there to catch a glimpse of the wonders Holland has to offer during the two short months the flowers are in bloom. There is a description I found in which it was described perfectly.
“The flower exhibition boasts displays that would easily take one’s breath away, and the short hours the park is open to explore is simply not enough. The professionals annually arrange massive amounts of tulips, hyacinths and daffodils into shapes, designs and artistic images. One can only imagine the rows and rows of bright purple hyacinth extending at least fifty yards long. Or flaming reddish orange parrot tulips grown into the shape of Russia’s St. Basil Cathedral. Travel to this park to become enlightened and inspired.”-Anonymous
I couldn’t wait. I was ready. Travel notebook, white billowing skirt and the desire to be “enlightened and inspired” were complete. Until we got there. I will admit, I was a bit disappointed at our first glimpse of the park. For as many people as there were who had told me about this vast wonder, as well as all the expectations I had dreamt of since my childhood about Holland being famous for its tulips, I’m sure you can imagine my letdown when the first flowers I beheld were a few tiny flower beds of unopened buds and rows of tall cherry blossom trees that hadn’t even began to bloom. Sparse and bare… I began feeling disenchanted. Where were the rows of bright purple hyacinths? Where were the Russian replicas? Where was the windmill?
And then I saw it… straight ahead of us… the LAKE. Well, it was more like an oversized pond, but to me… ahhh… it was a vast, sensuous, and picturesque body of water where, from the center, a misty display of water was bursting into flight, forming a magnificent fan-like shape, until it curled back over itself forming what looked like an ethereal drooping, white, willow tree. The mist from the fountain floated over to my face and as I closed my eyes I was transported to my imaginary place of roaming through the tulips and dancing with the hyacinths. I wanted more. And I really hoped that this place had what it took to offer me that feeling again.
As I opened my eyes, my mood was quickly lifted. From behind the fountain, two beautifully silkenwhite swans floated gracefully by and disappeared into the thicket of tall, brown, furry cattails bending with the wind. But there was something just beyond the cattails… just a little bit further. I took a few steps to the side and saw the most welcoming, enchanting surprise of my life. Stepping Stones! Huge stepping stones about five feet in diameter (well, they weren’t actually made of stone; they were made of dark wood platforms secured to the bottom of the lake). But to me, they were breathtaking… so close to the surface of the water that they actually gave the appearance they were floating on top of the water leading from one side of the lake to the next.
One cannot even begin to describe the joy I felt next as my eyes followed the steps across to the other side. Beyond the edge of the lake lay the most amazing floral displays I could have ever imagined. There were massive amounts of tulips, hyacinths, and daffodils grown into, just as they said, “shapes, designs and artistic images.” AND 50-yard long rows of bright purple hyacinths. AND flaming parrot tulips apparently shaped into Russia’s St. Basil’s Cathedral. But, there was more! My heart leapt a beat as I stared across to the Chess Park… a larger-than-life game board where you could spar with your opponent using three-foot high chess pieces. I also saw what looked like an eight-foot hedge maze near a row of tiny buildings replicating a small Dutch town. And were those really modern art sculptures hanging in the tall trees and floating in the middle of the small ponds? Ahhh, and beyond that? There was my windmill.
Of course, I NEEDED to see the windmill.
It was all so breathtaking…until I realized the inevitable…how did one get across? The only way, of course… to cross the stepping stones. My heart sank as I realized that in order to fulfill my dream, I had to literally walk across the floating, swirling, suspended-in-air stepping stones. My mind started to reel, and I almost couldn’t get control of myself or my fear of heights. “Are they REALLY secured? What if they wobble just a little and I fall off? What if I just miss it by a fraction of inch? What if I overshoot it and sink into the deep waters? Will people laugh at me? Will I be able to get out? Is it cold? Will I freeze?” And it’s one thing to lug myself alone, but to try to do it with a 32-pound toddler in tow who would love nothing more than to squirm out of my arms and jump straight into the water, definitely added to my anxiety. My heart was racing and my breathing became rapid, but it was not out of my excitement for being there. But I knew had to go across. I NEEDED to. I needed to try on the big, yellow wooden shoes, and to ride the zip line! I needed to crawl across the spider web rope and eat Dutch pancakes. And especially, oh especially, to lie on the bright, green grass inside a multi-colored tulip bed while gazing up at the beautiful, blue sky… while the tulips bent in the wind and wafted the scent of hyacinth across my path, pleasing all my senses. It was because of all of these imageries that I knew I needed to cross the stepping stones. It was much better on the other side, I knew that. And I knew that making it to the other side would fulfill all my expectations of Holland and all I made the journey for. And I also knew that if I chose to stay on this side, I would have only been left disappointed. Then, out of nowhere, a tiny, petite voice broke through the loudness of my thoughts, and I felt a small, familiar body move just a little closer to me, offering me as much comfort as this little one could give.
It was then that I looked down at one of my blonde-haired, imaginatively intelligent twin daughters and saw her big, blue doe-eyes staring right back up at me.
“Mom? What’s wrong? Are you scared?” Knowing my historical meltdowns for a fear of heights I retain, she could see by the look in my eyes the apprehension I was feeling, and started working fervently in her own mind to find some way to help. She must have come up with something quickly, because it was then that she turned to me with the most endearing expression on her face while exclaiming, “Mom, it’s really quite easy! Just focus on one step at a time. Don’t start worrying about the next one ‘til you’ve made it across to the first. If just keep going, you’ll get to the other side without even knowing it. But,” she yelled back to me as I saw her lightweight, little body take off hopping merrily from one stone to the next, “you can’t just stand there!” What wise words from a child. Focus on one step at a time. So simple of a concept, yet one that is all too often forgotten. Wearily, I stepped across and onto the first stepping stone. I didn’t fall in! I was alive and I was safe! “It wasn’t as bad as I thought.” So, I stepped to the next… and then the next. I was still very fearful at first, and yes my mind kept trying to wander back to those crazy thoughts, but I still kept going. Then, before I knew it I was stepping onto the dry ground of the actual side I wanted to be on. I made it! One step at a time and I did it, eventhough I was fearful throughout. Oh, and the flowers. The wooden shoes. The maze. And the windmill. They didn’t even come close to all I had dreamed them to be… they were far superior
than I could have ever imagined.
I was reminded of a very important lesson that day, thankfully to the credit of my sharp and quick-witted daughter. She reminded me that when I’m faced with a choice of where to go, standing still is never an option. Getting to the other side, to the end of the path, or to the finish line is always so much better than staying where you are. And as fearful as the unknowns of the journey may be, try to only focus on the first step ahead of you instead of the whole pond at once… “But don’t just stand there!”