11 August 2012

A visit to the second-hand bookstore (guest post by Matthijs)

One of the great things about living in central Amsterdam is the proximity of numerous good bookstores. My favourite is the huge second-hand bookstore “de Slegte”, which often lives up to its name – ‘the bad’, presumably the founder’s name – by costing me money. The other day, though, it brought some other surprises besides only books: I ran, separately, into two men I’d studied Theology with in the 1990s. One, a priest for at least ten years, I met in the Theology section, treasuring a volume by Swiss theologian Hans Urs von Balthasar about Origen of Alexandria (3rd century). The other would probably not even want to go near the Theology section, since he broke off his studies after far too many years of it, threw himself into the gay scene and became a Buddhist. Although we had been close friends, we both had gone separate ways and had lost touch for a long time. 

I was very happy to meet my friend and we’ll be sure to get together in the future. It’s amazing how easily one picks up a familiar tone in conversation with an old friend. Nevertheless, I also found out how separate our trajectories were when he asked about my marriage. Was I married to a man or to a woman?

[Editorial note – at this moment my delightful wife inserted herself between myself and the computer and glanced with a critical eye over the creative process, while beguiling me with her feminine charms, as Calvin’s friend Hobbes once eloquently put it.] 

They were strange meetings, one after the other. Two old friends, two very different trajectories, with myself in the middle. I have never seriously considered either the Catholic priesthood or a homosexual lifestyle. Obviously, when I was single the priesthood was always a possible life choice, with some attractions, practical and spiritual. Conversely, the gay life never had any appeal to me (Brenda and I usually flee the city during the Gay Pride festival), but I suppose I could theoretically have become ‘secular’ as so many people have.

I used to feel a bit sad to be excluded from more or less developed career and/or lifestyle paths, be they in the Church or elsewhere. Even now, as a married couple, our lifestyle and convictions are still uncommon. But it is clear that this life is where I belong – and, thankfully, it still allows for visits to second-hand bookstores and unexpected encounters. Under the guidance of God whose designs we cannot see, but only feel along the way, step by step.

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