Have you ever convinced yourself that because something went wrong in the past, history is doomed to repeat itself?
The train wasn't scheduled to depart from the Basel train station for several minutes. I saw the green on the bathroom door handle and knew it was an opportunity worth seizing. Once inside, I moved quickly. The stench of urine from the toilet was so caustic my nose hairs stood on end. The air was hot and sticky. I began to sweat. I remember thinking the bathroom was unusually small, even by train standards, and noticeably older than the others I'd used. None of that mattered until I went to unlatch the door. It was stuck. I tried again. And again. There were several more failed attempts.
That's when I heard a man on the other side of the door shouting in Swiss German. His voice was frantic. I had no idea what he was saying. "The door is stuck!" I shouted back. He continued yelling in Swiss German, his voice growing more agitated. "I can't get it open." We carried on, shouting at each other, though neither one of us knew what the other was saying. I cursed myself for not learning the Swiss German word for "Help!" Oh my God, what if they can't get me out for hours? That's when a feeling of claustrophobia took hold. My chest tightened and my pulse raced.
The man grew silent. Even through a locked door and across a language barrier I knew he had gone to get help. Several more minutes passed as I fumbled with the lock, resisting the urge to bang on the door and scream. I felt the lock come loose, opening the door just as a short elderly man wearing a vest and ascot cap came around the corner. Behind him was a train conductor. The elderly man smiled and shouted in relief. We joined in a kind of jubilant celebration that transcends language.
I stayed clear of train bathrooms for the remainder of the trip.
Two years passed, when recently, I found myself on a Dutch train needing to use the restroom and afraid. Fear, like pain and disappointment, have a way of convincing us that what has been will be now and forever more. A painful memory conditions us to believe in heartache, to expect it. One wounding relationship will inevitably lead to another. A past traumatic illness haunts both our present and future. The scarring job we left behind lingers into a new one. It takes a tremendous amount of courage to see beyond the past.
The Netherlands were free of train trauma. Instead, there were tulips. Rows and rows of vibrant petals flanked by canals and grazing sheep. In Persian culture the tulip is a symbol for abundance and indulgence. She appears each spring, after a barren winter, as a sign of hope. In her beauty we are reminded that we too are blossoming. Yesterday there was pain and heartache. But today, today we believe in abundance and expect indulgence.