On the day Lisa closed the door for the last time to the flat in which she had lived for nearly fifty years it felt as if a big weight fell from her heart. She had given up the flat and passed it on. So no going back. Lisa felt relived and the moving out at the end of February was an unbelievable liberation for her. Moving into the retirement home was the start of a better future. Lisa was nearly 80 years old and now moved into the small two-bedroom flat with a teeny tiny kitchen and a sunny balcony at the retirement home.
When she felt like it, she cooked, when she didn’t feel like it, she could eat breakfast or lunch at the dining hall with the other residents. She hadn’t eaten in the evenings for decades and she didn’t want to change her habits anymore. She quickly made connections and got acquainted with Liselotte and Hans who had a similar interest in art and music just as Lisa did.
Urs, a farmer from Ireland, and his wife Claudia, a doctor, write me a letter every year at Christmas. I always look forward to it. They let me know what has been going on with them on the farm and in their lives. I haven’t seen Urs and his wife for quite a while, but since I visited them some years ago, I can imagine many things that they describe so well. This year they have sent me a wonderful story that I would like to share.
I knew two
brothers, they were inseparable. They had a wonderful relationship and
undertook many activities that went into the town history. One of them was
smarter than the other but that wasn’t important. First their father died and
then their mother, they inherited a large estate with huge gardens and office
buildings. And their relationship was destroyed by money. One of them had
received more than the other.
We didn’t have any tickets for the circus performance and it was sold out. Reason dictated it wouldn’t make any sense to go to the venue and ask for a ticket at the counter. It was November, it was cold and rainy. To watch a movie at home seemed like the better solution. We went anyway.
Susanne went into politics as a young lady. She was an exceptional case. Pretty, smart, kind, barely of age and she had high moral expectations for the people around her and for herself. There was no meeting that she appeared to unprepared. There was no topic that she was unwilling to buckle down for and understand. She put endless hours into the party’s work. Five evenings a week plus weren’t an exception.
I’m not an
anxious person but the strong wind that woke me up during our holidays at night
did have an effect on me. It didn’t feel like a view out of the window but more
like watching a movie about natural disasters on the telly. Somehow everything
was moving even when it was meant to be still. When branches, lots of leaves
and clothing items flew through the air it was still understandable, but when I
saw how the wind lifted the metal deckchairs up into the air and threw them
into the swimming pool, I started to feel a little queasy.
When my youngest asked to go on a cruise during the holidays
I felt very negative towards the idea. What should I, a freedom loving,
individuality focused person do, squashed like a sardine in a tight space with
thousands of others? I’d go insane after a maximum of 24 hours. The idea that I
wouldn’t like it at all and that I would not be able to leave the ship was
horrific. I had only been on a dance ship once. I was very young at the time. I
found it horrible and swore to myself that I would never ever step on a large
ship again. It’s not that I have an issue with ships. I love sailing, the water
and I actually cannot really get enough of it. But a big ship that moves lazily
through the water and in which you are pretty much held captive, was gruesome
to me. Cruise ships seem like a heap of ants to me with a moat that feed their
members but at the same time rule over them like dictators.
The titan arum in the Botanical Gardens is in flower.
That is a spectacle worth seeing, firstly because the flower can be seen in our
latitudes only in the botanical garden and secondly because it happens
infrequently. It’s even worth an article in the newspaper. We went with my
youngest to see this spectacle. The weather was lousy, cold and rainy. And in
the Botanical Gardens there was a long queue. That gives it even greater rarity
value. Many people wanted to see this natural wonder. Next to the plant stood
the happy Director of the Botanical Gardens and gave all who wanted to hear
information about this strange plant. He
beamed with delight as if he were announcing the birth of his first child. It
was impressive, the atmosphere was replete with pride and wonder, simply a
wonderful event, which will long remain in our memories.
We then moved on to visit grandmother. And in the
streams in the surrounding woods beavers have settled. For more than 30 years
they had disappeared and now they have returned. Within a short time, their creative
urge has left a significant influence on nature. The beavers have felled numerous large trees,
dammed the water, raised the water level in the stream by half a meter. The
beavers are shy and rare and we wandered along their tracks in astonishment.
But we have promised grandmother to fetch her some
paint from the village. We continued our journey. In the meadow beside the road
cows are grazing. It’s a strange breed, which I had never seen. They are black
and in the middle they have regular white stripes. It looks as if an artist had
taken a wide paint brush and marked all the cows. There were also a lot of very
small calves. And suddenly we noticed that almost next to the road behind the
electrified fence at this very moment a calf is being born. The cow had turned
anxiously towards us and we chose a distance, which no longer seemed to disturb
it. It was a special happening to follow the birth so closely in the nature and
to be amazed at how easily the cow had managed it.
We had to fetch the paint the next day because we were
so fascinated that we didn’t arrive in the village until the shop was already
These were unique, one-off events, which you couldn’t
have planned. The appeal of the special, the unique is astounding and given to
what it drives the individual, the more so.
The titan arum is still in the
Botanical Gardens but now is only an inconspicuous plant, because it flowers
only for a week, while the construction skills of the beavers can still be viewed.
Let me know if you are interested and I’ll send you the GPS coordinates.
Lajla’s father believed that investing in the education of girls was not worth it, because in any case they marry and stay at home. Boys should learn a trade, because that is always needed everywhere.
Dan was not a hero at school, but that didn’t worry the father at all. The main thing was that he could knuckle down and help around the house. Lajla was a model student and brought home only the best marks, but that was also all the same to the father. The main thing was that she helped her mother and was a master cook, baker, seamstress and of all household tasks.
In the final school year the teacher had invited the father. The father went to the school. The suggestion that Lajla be sent to high school, was absolute nonsense for the father. He then would have to finance Lajla for the next 8 to 10 years and why make such a fuss, when she would in any case no longer need it. The suggestion that Dan should repeat the last year made the father even more angry.
Finally the teacher and the father agreed that Lajla would find a commercial apprenticeship (the father thought that that would be something useful, if she were to marry into a family business) and Dan started an apprenticeship as a mechanic.
Today Lajla manages a business with almost 120 employees and that for years and extremely successfully. Despite completing his apprenticeship, Dan has somehow not quite made it. The father is proud of Lajla, but deep in his heart he feels sad that it is not Dan, rather than Lajla, who is successful. After all Lajla has married and no longer bears his surname.
Lajla puts in even more effort and is still a bit more successful. She also does it to gain recognition from her father, which never happens. And Dan is frustrated, because it seems to him that for his sister everything is effortless and, regardless of his efforts (but he doesn’t really try), in any case he has no chance in a world, where the women now take precedence.
My step-father Jan has passed away. He was 84 years old and the last 5 1/2 years he had suffered from a fatal illness. We all knew that he was dying. With his disease one can survive 1 up to a maximum of 10 years. And although I knew that, I realised you cannot prepare for death. His death struck me like lightning from a clear sky. The ground was swept from under my feet and I felt more helpless than I had ever felt in my life. I am a person of action, I am used to solving problems. I am the one, who searches for and finds successful ways out of hopeless situations and suddenly there was nothing I could have done. I was overcome by an infinite sadness. I functioned and helped my mother in everything such a situation requires, but somehow it was all mechanical.
For the funeral, which took place 7 daysafter his death, my mother wanted me to give the parting speech. And I couldn’tsay NO. From the time I made her the promise, I began to prepare myself intensively.I recall all the things he had ever told me about himself and his parents and Ibegan to assemble the small stories into a picture. I imagined a collage ofstories, which best described his character. And the more I worked on the speech,the worse I felt. He was a kind-hearted person, always in a good mood. He hadliked people and they repaid him with their love. He couldn’t harm a fly. Hewas undemanding and cheerful, hard-working and very skilful. He was a gifted craftsmanand a wonderful pianist. He was a sensational husband for my mother. The more Ibecame aware of this, the greater became my already infinitely great sadness. Thefeeling of having lost forever someone who was so immensely valuable, felt likea lead weight fastened to my leg.
I practised the speech when I wasjogging, because while moving, at best early in the morning, I could relax alittle. I practised the speech, just as I have practised my speeches in thepast, but almost always the tears flowed. I became increasingly anxious that onthe day of the funeral I will not be able to finish my speech, because the tearswill stifle my words. I didn’t know how to protect myself against such sadness.
The funeral was terrible. Obviously so many people knew him and respected him that there were not enough chairs in the funeral hall. Many, who wanted to take leave of him for the last time, had to stand. There was not much space and all the flowers that people had brought with them were laid around the coffin, like a colourful meadow. When the first piece of music, after which I should make my speech, began, I had to bite my lips together till they bled in the hope that the pain would conquer the sadness and the tears which were starting to arise in me. Without much success. Never in my life has a speech been so difficult. If my mother, who wanted me to give the speech, had not been there, I would have run away like a coward. The pain was intolerable. Somehow, I succeeded in standing up, making my way to the front and holding my speech. Jan would certainly not have wanted me to give a sad speech. So I told some of the stories he had told me himself, like the one here about a forgotten wedding anniversary.
I talked about his relationship with his mother and his unique relationship between him and my mother. At first, I didn’t even see the many guests in front of me, I saw only him, at the time he told me the stories. Only later was I aware that, although none of his stories were sad, many of those present were crying as I spoke. I didn’t cry and was able to finish the speech. I have fulfilled my task. But, afterwards, I was tired, dog-tired, as if I had run a marathon in record time. My body and my spirit had been taken hostage by sadness and weariness.