In the past week we’ve been strolling through the ancient cities of Dordrecht, Oude Beijerland, Buren and, the biggie, Amsterdam. It’s mesmerizing for me to stand in front of structures that were established before Columbus sailed west in search of a new world.

We could place the palms of our hands on the sides of beautifully-crafted buildings that were erected 200 years before the Reformation.

We trampled on stones in the streets that the Romans began.

When I try to comprehend this (what’s really to figure out?); when I attempt to ‘go there’ and assess what’s happening in me (what’s really to feel?) not only do I feel overwhelmed, I sense how small I am (I’m kind-a bummed) . . . I’m  emotional. I’m in little undone.

I think I feel overwhelmed because I can’t capture any of it. It’s right in front of me but it’s too far away. I stand still as long as I can . . . but there’s pressure to move on. I simply have to walk away and . . . order more chips (french fries for you North Americans) because my children are hungry and don’t care how old anything is. For a moment I’m frustrated, feeling I’ve left something of me behind but . . . it’s only for a few moments and then I let it go. What was there ‘of me’ anyway?

I feel overwhelmed because I want to stay, to hold on to it (what exactly is ‘it’?) — memorize it. But that’s ridiculous. How can you live in a moment or in a place that happened 475 years ago? My capacity is limited.

I unfold the tiny map that the tourist office handed us 45 minutes before and attempt to find out where we are. Which way is north on this map? “Dad, it’s this way!”

I guess this is how the souvenir business was spawned. A way of holding on.

I feel small because my ego remembers how insignificant I am in this ever-flowing stream of forgotten generations, coming and going. Each generation with it passions, pressures, pipe dreams. Long forgotten. (What of mine?)

I imagine skirmishes, struggles, strivings. Once so important!

Surely meaningless energies now as I stand before the stunning remnants of their ambition. Who remembers their names except what’s scratched on gravestones? I feel small because my ego wonders about purpose. Part of me wants to curl up into ball. Helpless. Part of me wants to scream and simply step off . . . yet, I want desperately to stay, to take in more, as much as my capacity allows.

I take a second look towards my restless children.

I feel emotional. (Never quite sure why I feel so dog-gone emotional.) I imagine what may have happened in this 16th century home. How many deaths, dinners, dreams have these walls experienced in 500 years?

I stand in the middle of the room and refuse to go when everyone else has seen enough. What more is there to see?

Instead, I listen for the voice of an 18th century child, fearfully shouting, “The Spanish are coming!”

I breathe the air — as deeply as I can, searching for a hint of something. What?!?

I listen for the 17th century voice of the downcast doctor who whispers that mother and baby were lost during the delivery. The 19th century reports that dad was lost at sea. The 20th century boy, nervously crying, “The Nazis are in the next street.”

I look for clues in the cracks of the ceiling, maybe messages scratched into the walls.

I’m a little undone until . . .

Another kind of emotion dawns on me when one of the kids reports a flat on her bike and demands to know how we’re going to get home to Rotterdam . . . I hate bike repairs.