Amsterdam left a lasting impression--steeped deeply in culture, history, art, commerce, engineering and all those things we associate with the Age of Enlightenment.
Yet, I cannot leave you thinking it was all fun, beauty, light and wooden clogs. I have to venture over to the dark side of Amsterdam to give you the complete picture.
The city which prides itself in its liberal leanings and promises anything goes as long as you do not hurt anyone else with your actions--had a much darker side.
Though we all laughed, and promised to not eat the brownies--I began to question laws being blatantly ignored while those in charge turn a blind eye. At what point does personal freedoms become societal downfalls? Can there be any action which truly has no effect on those around us?
I was astonished to learn there is a "Red Light District" open and flourishing in Amsterdam. "Adult Entertainment" is available in full view of anyone who walks by. Oh, they are defensive about it, pointing out this goes on all over the world---walk down Bourbon Street in New Orleans.
And still I am floored by the girls sitting in the windows advertising their wares. You are not allowed to take pictures---for obvious reasons--they are not proud of what they do. If there were no shame, why not advertise? Though they may tout otherwise, I strongly suspect someone is harmed in all of this. I could not look those girls in the eye--my heart grieved for their plight in life.
And then came the tour of the Anne Frank House, our first encounter with the evil endured during World War II by millions. Today, I will only speak of Anne Frank, for much is to be said about all we saw surrounding the impact of this war upon Europe.
I walked away from the tour of this hiding place deeply touched by all I saw and with thoughts whirling through my mind of what it was to endure the horrors of prejudice at its worst. To live all those months in a secret annex with the admonishment to be absolutely silent all day--to never look out a window--to not know the warmth of the sun on a summer day--to be trapped with your family and another in a desperate attempt to stay alive and totally dependent upon the kindness of those who held your secret is impossible to understand. To find out someone reported the family, months before the end of the war, and the subsequent inprisionment by the hiders and those who helped them is a fairy tale gone bad. To learn everyone dies--except Anne's father--heartbreaking. And the worse part---to know deep down inside---I might turn away---I might desperately try to save my own life if placed in the same circumstance.
And the trip to the Corrie Ten Boom House, to remind us of those who were brave, who did help, who were subject to the same punishment--and yet they survived---to tell the story. Who lived to tell the story of being faced with a guard--one of her tormentors and having to forgive Him as Christ forgave us. To stand in the very place where those who lived and died so that we might understand the darkness of hatred and the beauty of grace.
I leave you with this last impression of Amsterdam---with the hope you will pause and ponder what evil you ignore--turn a blind eye to today with the thought it harms no one else--but does it?
You therefore, beloved, knowing this beforehand, be on your guard so that you are not carried away by the error of unprincipled men and fall from your own steadfastness,
II Peter 3:17