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Fire Engine

In honor of Queen’s Day, April 30th, we hung the Dutch flag along with an orange banner on the flag pole outside the church. But instead of flapping gently in the breeze in honor of Queen Beatrix and the former Queen Juliana, the flag entangled itself in a large branch of an adjacent tree. Clearly the branch needed to be trimmed before May 4th and 5th; May 4th the Dutch flag is raised at half mast across the nation in what seems to be the equivalent of U.S. Veteran’s day, and on May 5th, the flag flies at full mast to celebrate the end of the WWII German occupation of Holland.

Arie Jan was particularly annoyed to see the flag entangled. I have to admit, it looked pretty lame in comparison to all of the unencumbered flags dancing in the breeze throughout the neighborhood. Clearly, the flag wrapped around the branch was an old problem, as when we asked the church managers about it, they all nodded their heads. The tree belonged to the church and not the city, so it was up to the church to take care of it, and so far, no one had taken action.

So, bright and early one morning, Arie Jan told me he was going to trim the offending branch. I knew there was a long maintenance ladder on the side of the church and that he was handy with a saw. I didn’t feel worried. But, after I checked some emails and finished watching president Obama’s speech to the nation about the death of Osama Bin Laden, I became aware of the passage of time. Where WAS Arie Jan? What was taking him so long? So, I wandered outside. And there he was. Hanging from a tree.

Well, not exactly hanging. He was still standing on the ladder, but his hands firmly gripped the remainder of the branch, a branch that had risen further into the air when he trimmed off the heavy part of the branch that had dared to touch the Dutch flag. Instead of safely leaning well above the tree branch, now only the tip of the ladder rested just a few inches above the branch. Arie Jan was not only holding on, he was pulling down. If he stopped pulling down on the branch, there was a  chance that both he and the ladder would come crashing down.

Luckily, I wasn’t the first on the scene. After calling for me to no avail, he had called to a cyclist, who just happened to be a bicycle cop. Arie Jan thought it would be simple; the police officer could firmly hold the ladder while he climbed down. But the police officer didn’t think this was a safe option, and I have to agree. So he called the fire department. Instead of being stricken by fear, Arie Jan had a slight smirk on his face. Not quite embarrassment, but more of an acknowledgment that this was a ridiculous situation. I ran down to the street and talked to the officer while we waited for the fire department. The ladder looked a bit precarious. I debated over what I could do. If I stayed there, I wouldn’t be of any help. So, I decided to do what any modern citizen would do; I went upstairs and grabbed my flip video, positioning myself on the balcony to take in the show.

I started filming just at the fire department arrived. Needless to say, sometimes a movie is better than words.

Police Car

The following day, our friends Lauren and Nico arrived (see previous post). That evening, after hanging the flag at half mast, we got ready to go out to dinner. But before we made it to the street, we encountered a young woman running through the parking lot of the church. She wore the casual uniform of a teenager who should be hanging out in her bedroom—stretch pants, patterned t-shirt, socks, no shoes–not running down the street in the early evening. As I got closer, I realized she was much younger than she appeared, and by the tears on her face, clearly in distress.

The story that unfolded was cruel and painful. She and her mother had gotten into a fight, and her stepfather had physically pushed her out the front door, causing her to fall down the stairs. She ran away as fast as she could, too afraid to go back for even her shoes, let alone a purse or other personal belongings. Arie Jan and I took her into the church, where she logged on to email friends in search of a place to spend the night. Arie Jan gently, but firmly convinced her it was best for all if we called the children’s protection agency. But apparently child protection is put on hold for Dutch Memorial Day, as the office was closed.

Next, we called the police. The 13 year old swallowed. She wasn’t afraid of the police, but afraid that the police would take her back home. We assured her that if she felt physically threatened, that there was an agency that would protect her. As the police car arrived in front of the church, we could see relief on the young girl’s face, who had been peering out the blinds afraid her mother or stepfather would get there first, even though they had no idea where she had gone. Two young officers, male and female, came as a team and gently talked to the girl. They would take her to the station, where she would meet with a child specialist and we were assured she would have a safe place to stay that evening.

Fire engine yesterday, police car today. What next, we joked, an ambulance? As the words left our mouths, we instantly tried to recall them, but it was too late. They had been spilled into the universe.

Ambulance

The following day passed without incident, and thus, as we were getting ready for bed, we had forgotten all about our inappropriate joke. Arie Jan headed to bed first and I read just one more chapter of a book on raising boys. It mentioned that raising a boy into a man can be a difficult venture, as if they don’t have proper mentoring from their father and other male role models outside the family from age 14 to adult (mid twenties), there is a chance they will seek out negative ways to express their manhood and independence; fighting, stealing, turning to drugs and alcohol and doing dangerous things. I felt a bit overwhelmed by the idea and wanted to read on, but soon I started to read the same lines over and over, a sure sign that it was time to go to bed.

It was then that I heard the sirens. An ambulance pulled up on the street right in front of our window followed by a police car. I looked out as if that albatross from that Ancient Mariner’s rhyme had just perched itself on the rails of my balcony. Arie Jan came downstairs and his words said it all. “This is just too weird.” And it was.

I couldn’t help but watch the whole thing unfold in front of me, as if the world outside were a TV channel, and I a bit too tired to turn the off switch, or in this case, close the curtains. I watched as the paramedics wheeled a gurney up the path where Ezra and I crossed to his school every day. A young Asian woman lay unconscious at the tram stop, surrounded by a group of young men who moved about animatedly and a single female friend, who sat still on the bench. It seemed the group had been partying, as the women were dressed up and the men appeared to be drunk.  The paramedics lifted the young woman and laid her flat on the stretcher, a lifeless, bare leg dangling down, exposing strappy heels.

Instead of following her friend to the ambulance, the other woman sat still on the bench, her back to us. The paramedics pushed her leg onto the cot and wrapped a blanket around her, carrying her off. Once she was loaded into the ambulance, the sirens didn’t start sounding. The ambulance didn’t drive away.  I didn’t know if this boded well for the young woman or not. Was she coming back to consciousness? Is that why they waited?

People on the street stood by, equally transfixed. One man, who had come to his car minutes after the ambulance arrived took out a large camera and started taking pictures. Finally the ambulance drove away, and I willed this to be a good sign. When the police car left, the young, rowdy men began to yell at one another, menacingly. It wasn’t long before a fight broke out. I couldn’t help but think of the words I had just read about raising boys as I ran for my phone to call the police back to the scene. But, before I got to the phone, the fight was over.

They say good things always come in threes. And, if you look at it this way, I suppose the saying holds up; the firemen rescued my husband, the police helped a young girl, the ambulance came to the aid of a young woman. The outcome of two out of three will remain a mystery.

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