Innocence Abroad: Chapter 11



Navigating between disgrace and disaster

en route to Lille, France: June 21, 1991...




ther than my foul mood and the weather that matched, I recall little else of that Friday afternoon train ride through northern France. I was preoccupied with a deeper aggravation than the pique triggered by that trainfare incident: the haste of my journey. I could easily have spent a week longer in Paris and still felt short-changed. But circumstances had crowded me out of it. Even heading for Lille, the most direct route to Belgium, was a compromise with an earlier intent to go by way of the coast.

If there had been an overriding journey image when I set out on this European summer, it was the carefree, footloose wanderer with no claim on his time or direction. I had, for two weeks, preserved the illusion . . . lingering in Brittany, hitch-hiking to Paris - part of the way, at least - but then the overwhelming profusion of Parisian attractions had caught up with me, a richness of possibilities that words can't even contain. Time vanished and the carefree image along with it, and here I was: the typical agenda-bound tourist racing heedlessly to his next destination.

There was no way out of it, however. Not for the next few weeks, at any rate. The news of an Earthstewards Gathering in The Netherlands had pretty well settled it. That, and my need to reach Berlin by early July if I wanted to connect with old friends there. It meant a rush through the Lowlands and a fragmentary experience of places like Amsterdam and Ghent, locales worthy of whole weeks in their own right. Quite likely, as well, a derby dash across all of northern Germany. Carefree travel, indeed!

I shouldn't have really been surprised, though. Summer has its way of speeding up all of life, and it makes no difference how we would choose to have it. The imperative is as much beyond our will as the emotionally unstable torpor of wintertime and the sudden, predictably compelling sprouts that follow, a month or so into each new year. That we are creatures of self-motivation with reasoning capabilities has no great bearing at all on the equally sure proposition that we live our lives in the fundamental flow of natural cycle. How could it be otherwise? Every life form on the planet has evolved within the same natural order.

I would have had to abandon any sense of order at all, in my travels, if I were to evade the press of developing events. And even then, how is one to avoid the effect of 'what is happening' in the very moment? If the world in its entire ambience intensifies as summer progresses, there is simply no way to escape the push and pull of it. The only salvation, as I learned long ago, is to let go and roll with it, through all its craziness, like a downstream whitewater run on a raft.

I couldn't possibly pass up the Earthstewards Gathering, anyway. The timing and locale of it were impossibly provident - made to my order. I had been at the very first Earthstewards Gathering in California, in 1985. My affiliation, in fact, went back years before that . . . before the organization had even found its formal identity in 1983. This opportunity to see it taking root in Europe, was a privileged gift, certainly worth the price of a fragmented journey. Even if I must do it as a gate-crashing outsider - for no one had invited me, and I wasn't at all sure I could manage to afford it.

The five-day Gathering was already underway, even as I hurtled along beneath overcast skies toward one last French host in the small border city of Lille. I intended to slice it both ways: to squeeze as much of Belgium into the weekend as I could, and try to reach Tegelen, Holland, by Monday afternoon.

It was raining when the train pulled into Lille, and I immediately called my host-intended, Eric, at the furniture store where he worked as a buyer. It would be an hour before he could pick me up. We arranged it for a bistro across from the station, where I could use the time to update my journal. The place was almost empty, allowing me a choice of tables - wet or dry. I picked a spot just inside the wide open front where I could be seen, a purchase of tea and croissant the price of my wait, along with an hour's worth of drafty wind. Right on schedule, a sedan double-parked and an energetic, clean-cut young fellow greeted me with that standardized affability of white-collar people everywhere. He grabbed my pack before I could, to heft it easily into the back seat.

Eric lived with his girlfriend, Marie, in a movie-modern apartment furnished in somewhat sterile up-scale taste, graced with the inevitable balcony - whose charm, however, was compromised by a view of the industrial side of town. In all, not a very relaxing environment and it was just as well that I could stay only a single night. But two things made the evening more memorable than it might otherwise have been: I happened to be Eric's very first GN houseguest; and I had arrived on the evening of the Summer-day Music Festival, a national observance only a few years established but already on its way to becoming a tradition. Everywhere in France, that evening, musicians of every kind were performing at free venues, in solo and in concert.

The rain was a bit of a damper on the event in Lille, but Eric took me to the town's recently refurbished opera house. It was opulence in miniature! There could not have been twenty rows of seats on the main floor, but the interior was decorated with the extravagance of a big city Met. Four banks of balconies, loges and box seats, and a magnificently ornate chandelier floating in dignity beneath a gathering of pastel cherubs. It was far more impressive than the evening's music, a performance of classics by an amateur group with more to be said for their energy than their style. We abandoned them, midway, for a drive through the town's older section and my first view of Flemish architecture with its step-like roof lines.

Back at the inglorious apartment, Marie had already prepared a four-course dinner but we had to wait the arrival of some friends driving out from Paris, who did not get there until an hour before midnight. And then we dined until one o'clock in the morning! Eric was the only one of the group who spoke any English at all, and I occupied myself, for the most part, with a recurrent fantasy that they were all talking gibberish and only pretending to understand each other. After all, wasn't I smiling along with them, and maintaining an attitude of interest?

I slept on a living room couch . . . slept well into Saturday morning, but it made no difference since I couldn't use my rail pass before noon. Eric told me where I could find some cheap cassettes of French song - only $1.60 apiece - on my way to the station, and I shipped them home with the happy thought that long later I'd have the refreshing surprise of discovering what I actually bought, on that last day in France.

Saturday's train took me into Belgium toward a host I had called from Eric's, the previous evening. Being entirely on my own, on Europe's rail system, was still somewhat intimidating and I tried to hedge my risks. I figured I could define my route with a hop-scotch chain of hosts not too far apart. I'd go for those on a direct rail line and trust the fates to see me safely across the hops. Before the week was done, however, any illusions that I could maneuver myself clear of railroad chaos would be washed out.

A train change at Ghent gave me a three-hour layover - not time enough to see much, but I wasn't about to spend it sitting in the station . . . not in this city whose charm is he stuff of legend. The scene outside the station, however, held no appeal - a drab section of closely-packed, uninspired structures. I wandered down a cross street, seeing nothing any different. But here were tracks, and up the street came a thing out of my past . . . a trolley car! Shades of old San Francisco, where they used to rumble right past my home on McAllister Street.

It was worth riding just for old memories and so I hopped aboard, having no idea of where I was going, and let the conductor take what amounted to ninety-five cents from my open handful of coins. As if I'd said the magic word, I was taken to the colorful heart of Ghent - to a lovely canal bordered by a picturesque assortment of those step-facade buildings (see next page) and a nearby market mall where I could taste the city's vitality. Its edibles, too. A street vendor's genuine Belgian waffle followed by marinated herring from a deli counter - not the proper epicure's combination, I suppose, but they were cheap and I could order by pointing. I also picked up a fine looking loaf of bread for my next host. The streetcar got me back in good time, and I was soon in Tielt, my host town, still savoring the taste of herring.

A phone call brought Kristien, a cheerful, vibrant woman driving an oversized blue van. She, and husband Geert, both of whom spoke excellent English, lived near enough for me to have walked, had I known where to go. Like Evelyne, these were hosts I had earlier contacted from London - of particular interest to me because the list told me that Geert shared my passion for the I Ching, that ancient oracle that had kept my journey alive when I fell sick, back in Scotland. He even had Dutch versions of several commentary texts that were favorites of mine.

Finding a companionate soul in this regard meant finding someone who also shared my sense of a rhythm, consciously acknowledged, by which life is most easily lived. For this is what the I Ching is essentially based on. We all ordinarily live in harmony with a daily rhythm and think nothing about it; and many of us are at least aware of some annual rhythmicity. But its elements are so commonplace that we give no thought to their deeper implications. One would hardly plant flowers in autumn, any more than start a project at midnight or go to bed with the rising sun (save those who foolishly work to such a schedule) - yet we never consider the pointlessness of other undertakings outside of their proper cyclic moment, or take advantage of the incredible boost of natural energy available to endeavors properly timed.

Geert had been a social worker until they started a business distributing health products, now eight years old and thriving. They lived and worked in a brand new house, and the room they put me in was stocked with herbals, cosmetics and homeopathic remedies - safely shelved, there, from the probing curiosity of three small children. Dinner that night was a simple but filling vegetable loaf, along with cheeses and breads, and we talked late into the night about the world and its many inner fascinations.

I wanted, also, to sample the old city of Bruges, and took a side-trip on Sunday. But aside from a museum with the craft of a local artist named Brangwyn, who had worked beautifully with design and natural materials, it didn't have the same impact on me as Ghent. It could also, however, have been a first touch of continental overload, for I was once again moving too fast and trying to see too much.

DURING SATURDAY'S LAYOVER at Ghent, I had asked about the rail routing from there to Tegelen, and I had only to get the 9:30 Monday morning train from Tielt in order to reach the Earthstewards Gathering that afternoon. Kristien fed me a great breakfast and I was at the station a good twenty minutes before train time, everything smoothly in place for an easy, uncomplicated departure. Until I had the bright idea - with "Murphy" written all over it, had I paused to think about it - of buying the ticket for the full journey right here instead of getting it in Ghent, where the details had been laid out for me.

Tegelen, Holland, is situated north of Maastricht, above that toe of The Netherlands that sticks down into Belgium like a woodworker's joint, locking the pair of them together against the close-by border of Germany. The routing I had been given at Ghent went all the way east through Belgium before swinging up, at Liege, toward Maastricht.

But now, the ticket man in Tielt had to figure it all out for himself, and he took an entirely different approach, attempting to route me north before heading east. That, at least, was his intent; what he actually did was confuse himself, fumbling through one book and then another, while people on both sides of the counter were distracting him with other concerns, so that he continually lost track of where he was.

Train time edged closer, and I could see he was getting nowhere. I tried to urge him back to my original routing, but he wouldn't let go of his own.

Five minutes to go, and he was still flipping pages. He turned to ask someone else, then, and feverishly began all over - calculating, now, the route I had asked for to begin with.

People were crowding the counter, now, for passage on the arriving train . . . and suddenly it was pulling up to the platform, the bell tolling its urgency to get underway again - but he was still calculating! The fellow assisting him assured me the train wouldn't leave without me, though nobody made any effort to hold it. I had an all but irresistible urge to bolt for the train and take my chances with the conductor.

Finally, with as much ticket in hand as I could get - he couldn't book me, he said, beyond Maastricht - I went racing out the station door (as fast as one can race, with twenty-five pounds on his back), only to see the train door shutting in my face! Casting innocence and dignity to the wind, I sent up a frantic holler, with all the vocal energy I could raise . . . and the door yawned open again.

In Ghent, my composure somewhat regained, I had time to change coinage and lay in some food for the journey. At a sandwich bar, a sign said "English spoken," so I asked for a cheese and tomato sandwich with mustard only. When I opened it on the train, I discovered I had cheese, ham, and hard-boiled egg with pickle and onion - no mustard. But there were more important concerns, by then, than my taste buds.

The train was a half-hour late leaving Ghent, and I was worried that I might miss the connection I had to make at Maastricht. But we never even made it to Maastricht. At Liege, as I sat in the coach with my food and half my gear spread out, I suddenly realized I was the only one left on the train. And it wasn't going anywhere. Horrified, I hastily packed everything up, just about the time a conductor came through and tried to tell me something. His efforts became antic and then frantic, before he finally burst through the language barrier with, "End. End. Ozzer train come."

It was a full hour, however, before another train came along on the northbound track. I boarded without bothering to discover that it was an express, which I only learned when we roared right on through Maastricht - my intended transfer point. What now? I could hardly expect it to make a stop at the small town of Tegelen. Not to mention the fact that my ticket didn't even cover me any longer. But the real question was how far I'd have to ride this highball.

We rolled on through the flat countryside past one station after another, until finally, by some sweet grace, we were slowing for a stop. It was the junction town of Roermond, at the top of Holland's great toe and still south of my destination. I lost no time in getting off. Another train was loading passengers on the adjoining track, and a platform sign said Tegelen. Aware that I might lose it if I took the time to purchase a ticket, I threw propriety to the wind and just went on board. Nobody ever did ask to check my fare.

Finally at Tegelen, I wasn't sure of my next move. I was looking for a place called "de Voorde," but I didn't know if it was a village, an estate, a retreat center, or what. The stationmaster didn't speak a word of English. Some likely looking fellows just off the train spoke English, but they knew nothing. As I stood there wondering what next, along came a postal truck. The driver spoke no English, but he finally got what I was asking and motioned me into his truck and we took off. After no great distance at all, he pointed out a big old monastery structure, recently remodeled and gleaming in the late afternoon sun like a freshly washed babe. I told him he was an angel, knowing he couldn't understand, and headed up the front stairs.

It appeared, from the food being carted into a dining room, that I was just in time for dinner. But this Gathering was already two days underway, and I was not yet a part of it. I had to take care of whatever preliminaries were called for - very likely, some money to pay. I had worried about this, and had no idea what it would set me back. Similar events in the U.S. could go as high as $50 per day. I had usually gotten some concession, often by sleeping out in the open if there were camping areas, or sometimes just by pleading hardship and relying on the goodwill of a community that knew my contribution as newsletter editor. But that was in the States, where I was known to everyone. We'd had five years of Gatherings on the west coast and I was practically an original fixture.

Here, it was an entirely different ballgame. The Earthstewards, now more than two thousand members strong, had finally a large enough European contingent to begin doing Gatherings of its own: this was the first of what would probably become annual celebrations, parallel to those held in the States.

Earthstewards originated as a vehicle for self-empowerment in international citizen diplomacy. It was one of the earliest groups to establish home-to-home visits with Soviet citizens; and it pioneered the realization of a link between our Vietnam vets and those Soviets who had fought in Afghanistan. Rooting itself, now, directly in European soil was like coming into a birthright - a natural evolvement for the Earthstewards. But over here, I was simply a name in the staff box of a newsletter - and not even that, anymore, for I had vacated the post a full year before. So I didn't know what I'd have to face, as to cost. I only knew I had to be here.

At the registration desk I told them I had come for just the final two days and wanted the cheapest accommodation. And I asked if Danaan was anywhere around. Danaan Parry is the man who started Earthstewards, a big red-haired Irishman whose wonderful heart is even larger than his massive chest. Danaan and I went a long way back, and while I would hesitate to ask directly for his charitable interference in these dealings, I knew that any such hope would have to start from our connection.

They didn't know exactly where he was at the moment, but I could talk with Henke, who was handling the administration of the Gathering. Henke, as I already knew, was a prime mover of the European Earthstewards, and I had actually written to her long before I knew of the Gathering, to say I might eventually get to Holland, and wanted to meet her if I did - with the unspoken agenda of possibly finding a place of shelter for a night or two in Amsterdam. But her response had been a bit equivocal and I didn't look for any special favors from her now, so I passed by the suggestion and said I'd talk with her later.

At that juncture, one of the two at the desk suggested to the other that they get me settled somewhere so that I could eat dinner, and take care of the details later. They assigned me a space in a dorm room on the third floor, and on the way up I ran into Henke - who didn't know me, of course, but I recognized her from a picture that had been used in the newsletter - coming down the stairs with someone I instantly knew: Diane Gilman, one of the editors of the magazine, In Context, who whooped in surprise at seeing me and clasped me in a hug. She had been at my farewell party in Seattle, the prior summer. I introduced myself to Henke, then, and after a moment she remembered the letter and made the whole train of association with who I was and what I was doing in Europe. Her greeting nevertheless felt a bit cool. Henke is an imposing, energetic woman, but there is a Germanic reserve about her - or possibly it was my unexpected and somewhat unorthodox appearance.

Awhile later, after getting my gear off my back and cleaning up a bit for dinner, I passed by the registration desk on my way to the dining room and one of the heads there bobbed up to say, "Don't worry about the registration arrangements, Henke said she'd take care of it."

I nodded agreeably, not having the foggiest idea what was meant by that.

THUS DID I ENTER another world for a span of very close to forty-eight hours. A kind of half-world that seemed to be taken out of time, for it was a world of sheltered seclusion, partly in the pattern of a return to Stateside times, partly in the very real ambience of a reconstructed monastery, partly relaxing, partly exciting, partly agonizing - but definitely removed from the world of the traveler. I was fed, lodged, occupied and preoccupied in the assortment of small and large group activities that take place at such functions. Hardly the least of my preoccupations was what this was all going to finally cost me. And close upon it, whether I might find some easy way of getting from here to Amsterdam. Indeed, as the time grew progressively shorter, my feelers went out for whatever solution to that puzzle should present itself. But meanwhile, I was taking my pleasures - and my lumps - as I found them.

At dinner, I quickly spotted the few other Americans I knew: Robert and Diane, who jointly published In Context; Danaan, of course, who welcomed me with a great bear hug; and a California Earthsteward named Nancy, whom I recalled from earlier Gatherings. Seated near her was a rather attractive blond woman from the Seattle area named Roberta, a recent Earthstewards recruit with perpetually smiling eyes, whom I hadn't met before. The rest, perhaps thirty or forty others, were from various parts of Europe, mainly Scandinavia and this west-central region. Most of them spoke English fairly well and I was very easily at home among them, sharing tales of my journey.

On Tuesday, the accumulated tensions of two-and-a-half road weeks since my departure from England transformed into total physical exhaustion. I felt as useless that morning as a popped balloon. Sometimes when this happens, I become acutely, irrationally sensitive to my social environment, picking up slights where they never were, indulging in random bits of paranoia. I couldn't figure out, this day, why Roberta was avoiding me after seeming so responsive the evening before. Then there was Henke. I told her I wanted to find a ride to Amsterdam after the Gathering, knowing that she'd be driving there, herself. I made no headway at all, even seemed to put her off by my approach, and I assumed she was displeased with me for some reason.

After lunch I abandoned the group activity and went to cultivate my worms out by the wall bordering the west side of the grounds, where I could be quietly alone with the placid Maas River, a few hundred yards away, watching the small open-deck boat that ferried three or four vehicles at a time, along with foot traffic, back and forth, back and forth . . . At least there were no new threats to my well-being there, and nobody to blame anything on. From the shallow rise on which de Voorde stood, the Lowland plain stretched endless across Holland toward the dipping sun, and it was as peaceful a spot for regeneration as one could ask.

Maybe I drifted off to sleep there. At any rate, I was suddenly aware that dinner was already underway, and then I felt cheated because no more salmon steak was left when I reached the table. I accepted my fate like gritty dirt, appropriate to the sort of the day I was having. But then someone else came in even later than I, after the food had been removed, and it catalyzed my anger. I strode righteously into the kitchen and filled a plate for her - asking permission of no one. The release felt good.

By evening-time I was beginning to pull out of my funk and the world around me lightened up. A fellow named Heeren, from Amsterdam, said that if nothing else should develop for me he'd be driving as far as Utrecht, which was most of the way. Then I joined a full-group exercise in which we each put our name into a passing hat. The hat went around again, and everyone pulled one name from it. We were informed, now, that each of us was an 'angel' for the 'mortal' whose name we held. Nothing was required of us, except that for the remainder of the Gathering time we send that person good energy. But we were not to reveal ourselves. Naturally, each of us immediately scanned the circle to find our 'mortal' - and, as instantly, tried to avoid being trapped by the gaze. The circle broke up in laughter.

Despite the lift in spirits, I was half-decided on an early Wednesday departure as I turned in that night, instead of remaining for the rest of the activities and the mid-afternoon closure that was scheduled. Whether legitimate or not, when my rejection buttons get pushed a streak of defensive independence rises in me. I could easily walk to the rail station and take care of my own journey to Amsterdam. I might even get by the front desk before anyone was on duty there . . . and avoid the other Big Question!

But I awakened to the patter of dripping rain in the morning, and my rebellious ardor was somewhat dampened. I decided to hang in for awhile - through breakfast, at least - and pulled the blankets over my head to avoid the day awhile longer.

At breakfast, Danaan, making the closing-day announcements, plugged my quest for a ride to Amsterdam. That might help, I thought. He also had another personal note: a sweet old white-bearded gent with dancing eyes wanted to announce his engagement to a young woman hardly half his age who had come to the Gathering with him. I thought that was just lovely, and after breakfast was done I made a point of presenting my congratulations - and envy. His name was Hans, and he told me that he had been wanting to know more about me, too. So we spent a half-hour talking with each other. He was from a suburb of Amsterdam - and of course, I asked The Question, but he told me he had a packed car or he'd have already offered to take me.

Bit by bit, I whiled the morning away, finding one or another reason to stay a little longer, until it was already lunchtime. Roberta was congenial once more. Rides were being offered - though none to Amsterdam. I had Danaan to thank for that. He had ended his plug for me with, ". . . or anywhere else. Irv goes where the rides go." Other pleasant bits of conversation were cropping up, here and there, as folks came by for some closure with me. I made sure that Heeren was still in the vicinity, realizing I'd probably end up riding with him after all, to Utrecht. And periodically, I wondered whether I could somehow escape the final reckoning, which was sure to be the ruin of my budget. Strange that no one had approached me about it. Was it possible - that cryptic remark about Henke "taking care of it" - that she had actually covered me?

It was worth the wait, I realized in the end, just to be in the Gathering's closing exercise: we formed a single long line that doubled back on itself, so that each one of us could face everyone else, pausing for a moment to gaze directly into each pair of eyes passing, one-on-one (or is that two on two?), and share a blessing . . . the line moving slowly, slowly along. For all its simplicity, I think it is one of the most powerful exercises ever devised.

So here I am, down to the crux of it. The day has arrived at four o'clock, the Gathering's final hour. Danaan has already left to catch a flight. Time only for one more round of tea and cake, and the very-last-minute stuff to be said, before we scatter to the compass points.

Roberta wants me to be sure and write when I get settled in Greece. She'd like to travel again, one of these days.

"You mean . . . a visit?" I regard her with a wish-I-could-believe-it look.

"Oh, who knows," her eyes still registering that vague smile.

Hans winks at me from across the room.

A charming woman whose name I never did get is suddenly there asking how I can just "let whatever happens" decide my course for me. Danaan's exaggeration, again. Just as I begin to explain it, Heeren pushes in to say that he's awfully sorry, but he's staying for another night - there is no ride to Utrecht!

In my first flush of reaction (after an idiotic burst of laughter, at the irony of Heeren's timing), I wildly start looking around for whoever, at this late moment, I might yet ask for a ride - and then I get the full impact of the message: GIVE IT UP. Just let go of it.

The reality of the moment was that it was quite late, and I knew I had to leave immediately. I popped up from my cushion like a piece of burnt toast, said goodbye to nobody, and headed for the hallway where I'd left my shoes and baggage. I dragged it all toward the front porch, boldly past the registration desk, suddenly resolved that I was going to get out of there without hassling the question of money still due. In the splash of Heeren's cold water, I had been thrown back on my survival instincts.

As I sat outside pulling my shoes on, Hans came by to say that he was leaving - and right away caught the drift, in my attitude I suppose, that I had no ride at all. His question about it seemed academic, since he'd already told me he had no room for me. But seeing, now, that I was about to set out on foot, he started figuring how he could make room for me!

It was accomplished in a few minutes, by shifting some baggage to a second car in the party and squeezing his three passengers all into the rear seat, so that I could ride with him in the front.

Meanwhile, in the very midst of these arrangements, Henke had come out to sit on the front porch and watch the whole business in progress. She just sat there, quietly watching as we shifted baggage and people, with no discernable expression on her face. But I, of course,knew. In my mind's guilt, she was sitting there wondering whether, or how, to brace me about my unpaid debt. I couldn't look at her directly; I was in a miserable state of ambivalence about what to do.

We were down to the very end of delay, Hans at the wheel ready to leave, and I could hardly avoid some sort of goodbye to Henke, a gesture of appreciation - but for exactly what? And in what terms? How could I omit some expression of gratitude, if she had somehow covered me for the cost? But how could I reveal that assumption if she hadn't?

In cowardly confusion, I hugged her in a silent farewell. As I pulled back from it, she had an odd half-smile that gave me no clear meaning at all. The Mona Lisa was an open book, by contrast! It was a completely agonizing moment - and I lost it . . . I broke. Out came a stupid, all-purpose remark that really said nothing at all.

"Let me know," I mumbled weakly, "if you need anything from me."

She looked at me in genuine puzzlement, and I fumbled some further words about money perhaps still due, at which she shook her head in complete dismissal of the whole thing. "Oh, I don't handle that. They take care of all those matters inside, at the desk."

No clearer on anything, now, than I was before, but having lodged my foot in the doorway to disaster, I realized I had to follow through . . . and go inside again. I yelled to Hans, waiting patiently in the car, that I'd just be another moment.

Inside, I tried to register a casual air as I asked the freighted question. The reply came back with a cheerful smile. "Nope, you're all clear, Irv . . . unless you know of anything still unpaid."

Well, I really didn't. I only knew that I hadn't paid anything myself. And in this crucial moment, with Henke still out on the porch and Hans waiting in the car, I decided it was better to leave this small detail out of the discussion.

When I finally got comfortable inside the car, though still dizzy from all that had transpired in the hardly twenty minutes since Heeren had tossed his bomb, I saw that Hans had apparently emptied a shirt pocket on the ledge above the dashboard. Sticking out from among the few cards was a small slip of paper with my name on it . . . in my own handwriting. I pulled it out and looked inquisitively at Hans while he idled the motor at a red light.

He gave me a sly smile. "That's right," he said, his blue eyes doing their dance above that lovely white beard, "I'm your angel. Gotta take good care of my mortal."

I don't know, to this day, the whole story of what took place, there at de Voorde, and maybe I never will. All I can really be sure of is that my budget was out of the red, with a super-low figure of $51.50 for the week's costs, giving me a three-week average of $89.26. Where angelwork is concerned, it's often better to keep things just a little out of focus: the fewer things you can explain, the more you can regard with wonder.



"each of us was an 'angel'..." It was this introduction to angels, and what ultimately came of it, that began to alert me to all the angels who took care of me on my journey.



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