First things first.
What in the heck do I mean by experientialism?
This is not a lesson on apologetics or whatever else may come to mind when hearing this word.
This is about experience vs. materialism. Experientialism is the term used in the book that I am currently reading : Stuffocation by James Wallman. You can check out his website here. You’ll see a recurring theme in most of my recent reads… nonfiction books advocating minimalism, simplicity, experientialism, hygge, etc. Whatever you want to call it (I prefer simplicity as it doesn’t make me feel like I’m trying to fit into somebody’s prescribed box of must do and be a certain way), one of the overarching premises is that material possessions do not bring long term happiness and in fact, can often bring the opposite.
So what does a trip to Oude Kerk have to do with experientialism?
Well according to a group of psychologists and sited in the book, experiences are more prone to “positive reinterpretation”. Unlike a material good that can just turn out to be a bad choice, an experience “gone wrong” tends to be reinterpreted in a positive way. As stated by Wallman, that’s why we sometimes say “we’ll look back and laugh about this one day.” And one day, we do.
When we visited Amsterdam in April, one day I wanted to see Oude Kerk (“old church”). I love old architecture and churches tend to be quite magnificent. Oude Kerk is Amsterdam’s oldest building and oldest parish church. It was founded ca. 1213 and consecrated in 1306. It stands in De Wallen. And if you aren’t familiar with where this is in Amsterdam.
It’s the Red Light District.
I had read that it was tame during the day and that there wouldn’t be much to see so I decided we should venture there because I had to see this church. I assumed that perhaps we would would skirt the edges of the Red Light District.
I would be wrong.
That’s fair warning for where this post is going.
We decided not to take the first turn that the GPS suggested as the shops names were somewhat questionable.
I should back up in case you are new to my blog. This trip included myself, my husband, and our 13,15, and 17 year old children. While I am not naive about what my 15 (almost 16) and 17 year old sons know about, I like to pretend that my 13 old daughter is blissfully unaware of adult things. We decided to take the bridge a little closer to Centraal Station ( I took the title photo from there with the Kerk’s clocktower in the back.)
We sandwiched the girlie in between us as we walked toward the church in case the shops had adult accoutrements in the windows. Yes, we did pass the shop named Condomerie and they were not the only shop with similar items. We also were not the only people walking with children.
I understand that not all cultures have the same feelings about sex. I had a friend who was born and raised in Poland. She found it interesting that quite a few Americans have no problem with their children watching levels of violence that they will probably never see in real life, but cringe at them watching sex scenes which are real life. And I admit that I’m in that camp. I squirm a little if I’m watching a romantic scene in a movie and my kids are watching it too (even PG-13 has steamy scenes now).
But nevertheless, here we were, skirting the edges of the Red Light District. We rounded the last corner to the right and I was looking at the church. We made it!
But apparently, if I had looked to my left I would have seen the scantily clad woman with her red curtains drawn back and standing at her window. My husband informed me of my missed vision. I asked him if the kids had seen. The boys had. And now I felt like a bad mother.
I had a hard time really taking any photos by then. I just wanted to leave. The light and lens angle weren’t in my favor and I had just brought my kids past a prostitutes window. There were people all around near the church and in my desire to not seem like I’m taking photos of people on the street, I ended up not taking the photos from the base as I would have preferred.
My son however doesn’t have that same feeling of discomfort and rather enjoys street photography, as evidenced by his photo above.
But we were still stuck with a dilemma. How to exit? We stood near the canal assessing our situation. Back from whence we came and pass one window. Or left or right along the canal. I could see numerous windows along in one direction. I could see sign names, but wasn’t sure if there were windows in the other direction. I could hear women banging on their windows to get the attention of any passerby. We were standing near a green piece of metal, that encircled inward, presumably for men to urinate behind. At least that was what the smell in the air indicated. I was mortified that there was no preferable choice for leaving. My children were less mortified and wanted me to make a decision. In the end, I opted back from whence we came. I figured the boys would have no interest in ogling her since their description had indicated that.
We left and went to Centraal Station where we boarded the hop-on hop-off 24 hr canal ride that we had purchased. My kids like to process experiences by talking about them. I let them know my preference for discussion of it in private, way too concerned about what others might think about what type of parent I was taking my teenagers past prostitute windows. And the sad part as I read what I have written is that I let fear of judgement rule the situation.
Experiences, like photographs, sear in impressions. Experiences, good or bad, create stories to tell.
I have found that when things go wrong in an experience, it burns the memory in a little deeper. Like how on our first overseas vacation we witnessed a police chase in Amsterdam, somebody almost missed getting on the metro in Paris, and we were within a 1/2 mile of the Paris terrorist attack on the police officer. But those are all stories for another day.
Do I wish we hadn’t walked past those things? Absolutely!
Can I go back and change it? Nope!
Was it memorable? You betcha!
Years from now when we talk about the first time we went to Amsterdam, my kids will say “Yeah mom, remember when you wanted to see that church in the Red Light District and in the process you took us past a prostitute. And then you stood there like a deer trapped in headlights trying to figure out how to get out of there.”
We will look at this moment of experientialism through positive reinterpretation.
And we will laugh.
Let your light shine!