Encore les escaliers

In life, there seem to be an endless number of obstacles to overcome. When one is resolved, there is always another lurking right around the corner, just waiting to pounce.


This morning, I called across the house to my husband, When Ganesh removes one obstacle, he immediately replaces it with a new one.


That is the point of life, my husband responded. We couldn’t reach enlightenment without them. The obstacles give us motivation to practice.


I think I am enlightened enough, I called back. I am done with obstacles.


Perhaps you could outsource your enlightment? my husband suggested.


I don’t even know what that means.


It means you could pay someone else to do the work for you.


Doesn’t that defeat the purpose?




On a weekend adventure to the city of Namur in the French speaking region of Wallonia, my husband and I explored an ancient fort atop a hill, overlooking the city. There were many trails and flights of stairs that wound up to the top.


One our way down, we passed a family with a little girl who had decided that she had had enough with the climbing.


Encore, les escaliers, she bemoaned. (More stairs). She finished with an enormous sigh. It was adorable, and my husband and I laughed for ages. It stuck with us to the point where we have taken to repeating her phrase, followed by the same dramatic sigh.


Encore les escaliers pretty much sums up how I feel about life right now.


October 28 one year ago, I woke up to my first full day in Brussels (Boitsfort, to be exact). I was exhausted, and my spirit had not yet caught up with my physical body, but I was relieved to have finally been reunited with my husband after nearly two months apart. My husband had left for Belgium the second week of September to begin a doctoral program at a Flemish/English university in Brussels. I stayed behind and spent several weeks living in the basement of my mother-in-law’s house, where I packed and repacked my belongings and various accoutrements into different sized bags and my cats hid from my mother-in-law’s large dogs. I took long walks each day, listening to narrated books as I explored the many corners of Edmonds on foot. I dove into the stories of Dracula from The Historian while walking beneath enormous Douglas fir and western red cedar in the park near my mother-in-law’s home. I lay in bed late into the night, reading the Outlander series until I could no longer keep my eyes open.


Not realizing the extent of the ridiculousness that is the visa application process for living in Belgium, my husband and I had thought it reasonable to purchase a ticket for me to join him in Belgium about six weeks after his original departure. Surely, it would not take more time than this to complete my visa.


Oh, the naiveté.


Having worked for the United State government, I should have known better than to presume anything having to do with government would take a reasonable amount of time and require a reasonable number of steps to complete.


Not only did it take an unreasonable amount of American dollars for each of us to even apply for a visa, but it also required more back and forth than I can even begin to remember to accurately recount and far longer than my husband or I could have imagined at the outset of the my husband’s wild idea to study for his PhD in a foreign country.


Just a few days after setting foot on European soil, I received an email from the Belgian consulate in Los Angeles that my own visa was ready but that I would need to return to the United States in order to receive it. I would need proof of entry by ways of stamps in my passport or a notarized letter, confirming my present in my home country, and no, the consulate could not send the visa to the Boston consulate, which was right near my parents’ home in Massachusetts.


To say I was less than thrilled would be a major understatement. In fact, I think most of my communications with my husband for at least the first six months of our time in Belgium was to complain about his choice to ruin our lives by dragging us to this damp, moldy, bureaucratic nightmare of a place.


I was sick for most of those sick months, and I barely slept thanks to the regular late night parties held by our downstairs neighbor. Anyone who has gone on very little or fitful sleep for a period of time can attest to the madness that ensues, so I plead insanity.


It was with a huge relief that we finally moved into a blessedly quiet, mold-free house just a few steps from an enormous forest (and fingers crossed, knock on wood, and all the superstitions that it continues). I can vividly recall walking up the stairs to the second floor (in Europe, it’s the first) and thinking, Maybe now I can finally settle into a joyful existence.


The bliss was short-lived as my ties to Alaska, which I had been desperately trying to sever for some time, came at me in a full force attack that sent me spiraling once more back into madness. I spent the entire month of August and most of September working for hours each day with what became a kind of obsession to clear out all of the plants, garbage, and rebuild the wall between our neighbor’s yard and our own. Gardening was my therapy. I listened to narrated books and tore thorny blackberry bushes from the earth.


When my husband went to the Netherlands for a course at a university in Utrecht, my psychological and spiritual dissolved to the point where I began weeping uncontrollably over a Skype session where my husband expressed (for the millionth time) that we should not get a dog. I think the meltdown was the result of a combination of hormones from a recently resurging ticking of my biological clock and the pressure of waiting for the legal portion of one of my ties to Alaska to finally arrive. Regardless of the reason, it was a low moment for my heart and spirit.


The next day, my husband told me he no longer wanted to be the bad guy and that I could choose any dog I wanted. So I chose a big white husky a member of a husky rescue group had shared with me. After six weeks of back and forth, husky arrived. When I first saw him, I will admit that a healthy dose of fear surged through my body. He was huge and a stranger. Would he bite me if I got to close to his face? My husband was in Oregon with family, so it was just me and the being, who I began referring to as the BWD (Big, white dog).


For the next several days, I questioned my sanity in thinking it was a good idea to bring a dog into our lives. What was thinking inviting yet more chaos into our already tumultuous life?


My cats were certainly questioning my sanity and had taken up residence on the second floor of the house, where they were safe from the dog who had not yet figured out how to get up the narrow stairs.


Perhaps, if left to my own devices, my natural modus operandi is to seek opportunities for personal and spiritual growth. I would like to think this is the case. Otherwise, it means that I intentionally seek chaos, which seems akin to madness. However, this may just be the work I have set as my intention for this life.


The obstacles continue now in the renewing of our visas and the continued fiasco that has been my attempt to sell my house in Alaska and finally sever ties with the 49th state of the union.


With every new obstacle lies an opportunity for practice. Sometimes, I respond calmly, but often my hackles go straight up when my husband and I have gone yet again to the commune in Boitsfort with all of the documents we were told we needed on the previous visit, only to find there is yet another document we need or the document we had needed a stamp from the Belgian consulate in Los Angeles, or the change of address form was not sufficient and we need our new lease with proof of official registration, and so on and so forth.


The beat goes on, and so do I. At least, there is no dearth of chances to move ever closer toward the final goal. If my goal is enlightenment, then life as a human being offers endless practice.


Les escaliers will continue, but I am ready to climb.

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