Intuitively, everyone knows what the anagnorisis is. In the Greek tragedy tradition, it’s when Oedipus realizes he’s killed his father and slept with his mother. In Harry Potter, it’s when Harry finally grasps what Dumbledore had planned for him all along. It’s great in literature. But it sucks in real life: recognizing I’m in the wrong in a heated argument, for instance, crushes me every time (which is cough often cough).
So I recognized—as I stood in the middle of the Brussels slums, having dragged both my suitcase and travel-worn ass around a quarter-mile radius for the last hour, having nowhere to sleep that night but the sidewalk—my own anagnorisis. I had already been stalked by a man who may have been offering taxi services, but hell if I was going to trust an unmarked car with a man leaning out the window shouting at me in Dutch. He was persistent, circling the block a couple times to find me again, but it was easy enough to walk against the flow of traffic that confined him.
I circled the train station. I searched for road signs (why, Europe, why do you always have tiny, invisible street signs?). I asked for directions. I walked past the place where my hostel ought to have been according to my directions four times, but was met only with steel grates and filthy doors.
Interestingly, this little pocket surrounding the Clemenceau metro station is the Arabic section of Brussels. When I realized it—by the many falafel and hala signs and a few turbans—I felt slightly safer, more comfortable. The first man I worked up the courage to ask for help told me he only spoke Arabic and French. But his son figured out my accent when I asked for “Rue Jorez,” and pointed helpfully at the forebodingly unlit street across from us.
For another half hour, I played a bizarre form of what I’d like to call Arabic pinball (or ping-pong, I suppose), bouncing around and around, gradually honing in on my hidden hostel. Closer, but still clueless as to the exactly location of No. 12 Grimmauld Place, a man saw that I was lost and offered to help. Untrusting—it was against that night’s policy to accept unsolicited help—but desperate, I held my distance from him and said the name of the hostel. With a smile, he pointed across the street and wished me a pleasant evening.
“God helps those who help themselves.”
It’s so tempting to believe.
Which is more difficult: stillness or action? Silence or arguments? I prefer action; I prefer arguing; I prefer to get my hands dirty and fix the problem. So of course I like to believe that God rewards those who get things done. Doing things my modus operandi.
But I had no control over what happened that night, other than my ill-conceived decision to put myself in the situation in the first place.
God helps those who help themselves get into stupid situations. That’s the whole point. Take that, Benji.