Over the incessant bar noise of patrons enjoying conversation with their friends, family, and lovers, he leaned across the beer-soaked table and asked, “Are you happy?”

“Trying to be. Are you?”

“Darling, I am not happy. I am love. I am all emotions, happiness, sadness, anger. I am an action, not a reaction. Love is an action, fear is a reaction. Do not live in fear, live in love. So am I happy? No, as happiness implies something to be achieved. I am love, a state of being. I just am.”

*    *    *

Visit Brussels

I awoke late that morning, around 11 am, to the three other travelers in my mixed-dorm hostel room in Brussels, Belgium still sleeping soundly.

‘This NEVER happens.’ I thought to myself. Because as anyone who has ever stayed in a hostel will tell you, dorm situations usually mean somebody setting their alarm for the crack of dawn to catch a bus or train, or to start an early tour or breakfast.

I quietly slipped out of bed and into the en suite bathroom, careful not to wake anyone while I had my shower. Once I was ready for the day, I stepped back into the dorm room to find two of my hostel mates making conversation, one in which I inevitably joined.

Their names were Dayna and Daniel, both originally from Michigan, and we spent the day together. We wandered around taking photos and testing out the local mussels, waffles, chocolate, fries, and beer. We stopped at the infamous Manneken Pis, ogled at Smurf memorabilia, and accidentally took a sketchy, local-guided tour through the part of town in which terrorists planned the 2015 Paris attacks.


Manneken Pis. The biggest attraction in town.

After our day on the town, the three of us headed back to the hostel for a quick nap, and then Dayna and I parted ways with Daniel, who had a prior engagement. Dayna, being a huge beer connoisseur, suggested the two of us hit a restaurant that her friend had recommended to her, which apparently had some great brews on tap.

A dimly lit, small, yet extremely popular place, Dayna and I ordered beer and eats off the local menu and grabbed a table. She ordered the duck, I ordered the vegan curry with fries. The restaurant was absolutely buzzing with people, but the only ones that mattered as far as our memorable night went were two burly, yet rosy-cheeked Norwegian men sitting in the corner table next to us, and two local Belgian men sitting outside on the patio.

Visit Brussels

Spectacular mussels from earlier that day.

Dayna and I were nearly done with our meal, but we decided to enjoy the atmosphere a while longer and order another round of beer. As we did so, the two Belgian men came inside the restaurant and sat down with the two Norwegians (whom they did not know). This placed them right beside Dayna and I.

One of the Belgian men had dark, shoulder-length hair, was wearing a black and blue fitted blazer paired with blue jeans, and had one small, silver hoop earring; frankly, he looked like Johnny Depp. The other was lanky with short blonde hair, was wearing a dark sweater, and had Harry Potter-esque glasses perched on his nose. Later, they would introduce themselves to us as William and Smo, respectively.

The first contact they made with us was when William reached over to our table and grabbed a hunk of duck off Dayna’s plate with his fork. We sat there, slightly dumbstruck, before Smo noticed me and my uneaten plate of fries.

“Why are you neglecting your fries?” He asked with concern, “Do you not understand that these are authentic Belgian frites?”

“Oh, sorry.” I sarcastically replied, “I had no idea it was blasphemous to leave some frites behind.”

“Why do you apologize? You have nothing to be sorry for! You need to live unapologetically. Say ‘fuck you, world’!”

“Uh, I’m Canadian. Apologizing is just what we do.”


And so it began. The pair of them decided then and there to dissect my soul.

First, Smo asked me why I was unhappy. When I replied that I was happy, he said that no, actually, I wasn’t. He said that he felt my exhaustion and that he noticed me constantly looking over my shoulder to see if I was in anyone else’s way. He asked me what I felt was missing in my life, the big picture. He made me list everything that I like about myself as well as everything I wish I could change.

Okay, so obviously anyone’s first reaction to something like this is to be guarded and either shake the person off or leave the situation. And, while in any other setting I would have been rightly offended that a stranger would even attempt to dissect my feelings and proceed to explain them to me, in this case, well, Smo was right. He tapped into something about me, and I was curious.

I was traveling Europe for a reason; I wanted to find out more about myself, what makes me tick, and, you know, all those other cliche reasons for which people decide to travel long-term. I had just quit my job, moved out of Toronto, and set sail to Europe, after all.

So, instead of shying away from the conversation, I played along.

Smo told me that he could viscerally feel my power to empathize and that he was drawn to me because he felt I have a certain softness about me, that there is nothing rough about my aura.

“You’re perfect,” he said. And when William overheard this, the pair of them started chanting very loudly to me, “You’re perfect. You’re perfect. You’re perfect.” All the while attracting quite a bit of attention from other patrons.


Smo and Dayna, after a couple rounds.

This was when William decided to add to the conversation.

He told me that he could feel me taking on the weight of the world. He could feel the pressure on my shoulders. He asked me if I was happy, and when I replied, “Trying to be. Are you?” he said…

“Darling, I am not happy. I am love. I am all emotions, happiness, sadness, anger. I am an action, not a reaction. Love is an action, fear is a reaction. Do not live in fear, live in love. So am I happy? No, as happiness implies something to be achieved. I am love, a state of being. I just am.”

At that, he rose from his chair and went to the bar to get himself another drink. In any other situation, what he said would have been mind-blowingly pretentious. To understand why it wasn’t, just picture Johnny Depp saying the same words.

Visit Brussels

These two men were ethereal. They were on another plane. They were, I would soon find out, coming off an acid buzz.

We stayed in the bar for about an hour, getting to know William and Smo, and the two of them quizzing me about my realities and perceptions. I quickly loosened up, and, for the first time in quite some time, started to feel really good. It wasn’t just the beer talking either. Having an impromptu therapy session in a downtown Brussels bar with strangers proved to be incredibly therapeutic.

We also got to know the two Norwegians a bit better too. But all too fast, Dayna decided she wanted to move on, and head to a real bar with more beers from which to choose.

William and Smo didn’t like the bar Dayna chose, however, and suddenly I was faced with a choice. Either I could go with Smo and William to a place called Cobra, where we would hang out in the basement and do LSD, or I could go with Dayna and the two Norwegians to the touristy beer bar down the road.

Visit Brussels

In another life, I would have found a trusted friend to accompany me to the first option. 

So off I went with Dayna and the Norwegians. We drank too much beer, met up with another beer connoisseur from Philly, and learned all about life in Norway.

I went home that night with a great beer baby in my belly. But when I woke up the next morning, despite the brew that was wreaking havoc on my intestines, I felt better than ever.

I felt love.

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