I found belief in Amsterdam. As I washed my food down with a glass of water, I spoke to my waiter about his paintings. It was Christmas eve and we filled the restaurants silence. He painted on the walls of his flat, he told me. He painted tigers. He showed me photos of his painted tigers. I paid my bill, and took his recommendation for the best local coffee. “I finish in an hour if you would like some company, and if not it’s fine, I don’t have plans” he said to me, with a genuine kindness. “Neither do I”, I told him “I think I’ll have an early night tonight, but if anything changes I’ll come back”. I had an early night and woke up in the morning thinking about painted tigers.
The cold haze of the day carried on through the evening. The families that crowded the seats in shop windows placed a subtle warmth in the air. I left them behind me whilst walking down the same street that I had done every evening. I was looking for my next plan amongst the surrounding neon lights. Through the buzz of Christmas cheer I heard my name called and turned to see a gleaming smile with an uncanny resemblance to the painted tigers, stood outside his restaurant. “I knew I was going to see you again today, I saw it in my dream!” he exclaimed, his aged eyes wild with amazement. The customers that he had been talking to waited with a patient curiosity. “I have a lot of stories to tell, and I think that you would like to hear them. You don’t have to, but I finish in half an hour, if you want to.” There was something familiar about his face. “I’ll see you in half an hour,” I told him.
He had been working here for years. We stopped on every corner to respond to hello’s as we walked to his favourite coffee shop. He was greeted with open arms when we entered, a change from the hostile response that I had gotten the night before. We sat down with two coffees and after a moments pause as I took a sip, I turned to him and asked him his name. He told me it was Amin, an Arabic name meaning ‘honest’. “Let me be Frank” was a phrase that he used often, laced in a thin Mediterranean accent. I asked Amin, “why do you paint tigers?”. “Because tigers are powerful,” he said, “they possess a knowledge that no other animal has. This gives them a strength that could make them very dangerous, but they choose to be good.” The tiger was his spirit animal.
We spoke for three hours. He told me about how he ended up in the area, about the people in his life and his thoughts and beliefs. He spoke with a confidence of his purpose in the world. I decoded the philosophical riddles that he spoke in through questions and more questions. Two years ago, he told me, he came back from hell. He had been there for two years. It was a voluntary visit. I drank the last of my second coffee as he fiddled with his tobacco. “Why did you choose to go to hell?” I asked, once I had decided that I didn’t understand. He emptied his hands and looked at me with a light grin on his face. “Everyone goes there, at some point in their life. When you wish for hell, you can wish your way out. Otherwise when it comes to you, and believe me it will, you won’t find a way out.”
Amin did not believe in religion, but he did believe in God. God, he told me, exists everywhere. Only, the one place that God cannot exist is in your mind. Your mind has the capacity to put things to a side, and if God is true to his eternal omnipresence, how can he possibly exist in your mind, where things can cease to exist until they are remembered again. His certainty and confidence in his belief had convinced his doctor, an atheist, to also believe in God. He visited his doctor once a week, and every so often the amount of knowledge that he received would overwhelm his biological system and he would check himself into a clinic.
I resonated strongly with the philosophies that he told me. The deeper I delved into his brain and the more time that I spent thinking about them, the more I agreed with them. He told them through stories about his own experiences, which had less rationale, through my own perspective anyway. I asked him about the area and the flat that he lives in. It was set in a big condominium that surrounded a square communal garden. In this garden was a tree, beautifully big. Outside his door was a large arched window. He told me that he sometimes stood there, watching the nature outside. His face lit up with a childlike awe as his mind reminisced. “One day,” he said, “I saw every single bird of the world land on that tree.” The emotion coated his eyes with a sparkled glare, and in that moment my skepticism was lost and I was experiencing this memory with him. “They all landed together, as one. They didn’t stay long and when they left, they left together, as one. I watched it from the window. It was beautiful.” We paid our bill as I contemplated the feeling that he must have felt and the feeling that anyone would experience to see such phenomenon in their reality. We wrapped ourselves back up ready to brace the winter haze. “That’s a lot of birds” I responded.
We parted ways that night, back into our own realities and beliefs. I didn’t bump into him again, but I still think about the three hours that I spent that night learning about his realities. Whether I, or anyone else, believed his experiences to be true or not made no difference to him. It was his truth, and no-one outside of his own eyes was able to say otherwise. The human capacity of belief is the strongest, most powerful process of our mental ability that we possess. His rationale of each experience was no different to those of the person who witnesses a miracle, or the dedicated scientist who discovers a new phenomenon. The act of belief helps you to use the knowledge that you have of your existing environment to give reason to anything new. If you were to believe something to be true, to you, it would truly be true until a new belief may make you realise otherwise.
لَكُمْ دِينُكُمْ وَلِيَ دِينِ
To you be your religion, and to me be my religion