I should have paid better attention in Spanish class. To me, Spanish class was always chore, and I only put in enough effort to get a decent grade, never taking the actual learning component too seriously. I would cram the night before a test, get that A or B (on an off day maybe a C), and go on my way. I hardly ever retained much of anything. It just never seemed that relevant in my life at the time; I was too busy worrying about the things that mattered in high school. Things like sports, weekends, and friends claimed most of my mental energy at the time. Spanish class was more or less an after thought. And it’s not that those things that I used to concern myself with aren’t important anymore, but I see the world a bit differently now than I did when I was 16, and it’s clear that I still have much to learn.
Almost everyone that I’ve met here that isn’t from the US is fluent in several languages. It makes you feel quite small to be the only person that can’t understand the language that is being spoken in a room full of friends. I’m always asking someone to fill me in, and it feels somewhat like sitting at the ‘little kids table’ but being too big for the chair. Truthfully, I was ignorant about being ignorant until I ventured outside of the U.S. I mean, really, what have I been doing for the last twenty years? Sure, I might be able to interpret a financial statement or have a relatively informed conversation about literature, but most of my European friends can speak FIVE different languages. I couldn’t even master one foreign language. So instead of wallowing in my self pity, I’ve resolved to improve my Spanish to at least a conversational level by the time that I come back to the States. This seems a bit daunting at the moment, but I think my high school Spanish teacher would be quite proud of me if I managed to do so.
On another note, my trip to Belgium and Amsterdam the other weekend was an enthralling adventure. Brussels doesn’t exactly offer an abundance of tourist attractions, but Amsterdam, obviously, has much to offer in way of experience. My friend and I had a little less than 24 hours to explore this fascinating city, and I did all that I could to immerse myself in the experience.
Our time in the Vincent Van Gogh Museum was particularly stirring. I am far from an art aficionado, but I do have a deep appreciation for true expression. Van Gogh was a brilliant painter and artist that focused less on the precision and the detail than he did on the emotion and the integrity of his works. Van Gogh produced the entire breadth of his works in only a decade, a catalog of exquisite paintings littered with masterpieces. I was struck by Van Gogh’s salient use of color in his paintings, which was accented by his characteristic dramatic brushstrokes. Many of Van Gogh’s works were still life paintings and landscape portraits that have the ability to evoke a sort-of visceral sentimentality.
As I walked through the museum, it became clear that this man was a humble servant to his remarkable gifts. Van Gogh received minimal accolades during his lifetime and was plagued by mental illness. At the age of 37, it is common belief that he took his own life by shooting himself in the chest. Yet, despite his painfully short and troubled life, he left incredible beauty for the world to rejoice in and to share. I am constantly puzzled by my place in the world and whether or not I am living in a way that matters. I did not find the answer to this lofty question in the Van Gogh Museum, but I left with a renewed spirit. I am not sure how exactly I can do it, but I am nearly sure that I have a responsibility, as a result of being given this wonderful gift of life, to add a little bit of beauty to the world. I will provide an update if the answer reveals itself any further.
“It is never too late to give up our prejudices. No way of thinking or doing, however ancient, can be trusted without proof.” (Excerpt from Walden by Henry David Thoreau)