I took a walk around Leiden this morning, a regular practice especially helpful on days when writing is on the agenda. As I pondered possibilities for a Sidecar Story, I paused on a bridge stretching over one of Leiden’s many canals. Looking over the side, I saw a ‘floatland,’ a sort of floating island made of eco-friendly materials that the ingenious Dutch have created for a variety of possible uses; food, shelter and a breeding place for local water fowl; a life raft for cats whose curiosity has landed them in a canal; mobile flower boxes that attract bees and butterflies in spring and summer. Sure enough, a mother duck was nestling a couple of ducklings on the floatland below while what I presume was their father stood sentinel nearby. A sight I would have missed but for the pause I took.
I wandered on and, inspired by the floatland sighting, paused down the canal a piece and looked around. My gaze landed on what appeared to be a ‘pop-up garden’ in front of a row house. A cluster of multi-colored pots sprouting daffodils, violets and – of course – tulips, which are ubiquitous here in April. A couple of makeshift chairs made of overturned paint tubs. A perfect spot to enjoy a cup of coffee in the morning or a glass of wine in the late afternoon. I would have walked right past it without a glance on other mornings, preoccupied as I often am with my ‘to do’ list for the day.
Ambling on, more slowly and deliberately now, I glanced upward and noticed one of the ‘wall poems’ for which Leiden has become famous (more than 100 poems in many different languages can be found on walls around town, a result of an ongoing civic project started in 1992). This one, by Dutch poet Jan Hanlo, was called De Mus (The Sparrow), and consists of one word – ‘tjielp’ (cheep) – repeated 19 times. The birds in the tree just below the poem seemed to be practicing their pronunciation of the verse.
Nearing home, I paused for a coffee at one of my favorite spots, Borgman Borgman, on the north side of the Rijn river. This stretch of town is generally a hustling place during spring and summer, packed with people enjoying drinks and one another’s company on the terraces overlooking the river. COVID restrictions have left an unnaturally quiet city center. Yet as I enjoyed my cappuccino, I noticed a strangely familiar sound: the scraping of table and chair legs as optimistic proprietors begin to re-assemble those terrace set-ups. Restrictions are scheduled to be eased next week. That scraping sound? The sound of hope.
So now I’m back home, looking out onto a beautiful sunny spring day, reliving those moments of pause during my walk and wondering: what does this have to do with international school leadership? Well – nothing. And – everything.
If we don’t take those moments of pause, and allow what’s around to affect us and remind us what it’s all about, then – what’s it all about?
Yours in pondering pause-abilities,