Dienstag, September 16, 2014

Home is Where the Heart is...

This saying may seem cheesy or kitschy, but has much to it, as I experience often. For so many years of my life home was in one place on one street - in Texas. But now, whenever I fly back to Texas to visit, I realize that my heart is in this original place only to a limited extent. Especially since I have made dear friends other places, and especially since a particular person has recently opened my eyes to possibilities in my current location on a more northerly latitude, I notice the center of my life shifting on its own.
Years ago I never could have imagined wanting to call any other place home, even in Texas. But the seemingly impossible is happening. We humans can surprise even ourselves, if we give ourselves time and flexibility. So it's also a good idea to let the other person surprise you, even if you never expected it.

Donnerstag, August 07, 2014

Cheerleaders, pets, magic, risk and reward...

As an addendum to my most recent post - the one below - I have more thoughts on friends and relationships.

Some people simply seek confirmation in friends. Here friends function like a cheerleader to confirm and strengthen who the person has already become. There is no encouragement for the person to develop further.

Some people seek in friends a solution to loneliness  - they don't want to do things alone. All they want is someone to be around on holiday, at a bar, riding their bike, going to the cinema, or lying on the beach. Here friends function simply as companionship, perhaps like a modified pet that always looks at you and "smiles" regardless of what is happening.

Some people seek in friends someone to help them. Help can mean many things: help completing tasks with home or family, help with university, help cooking or shopping, help in becoming better at hobbies, help overcoming personal problems, help in developing personally.

Some people seek in friends simply someone they enjoy being around. While this can be any combination of the three categories above, it defies categorization. There are certain psycho-emotional qualities that are activated and strengthened when two such people spend time together.

And then there are the seemingly magical occasions when at least two of these four categories come together to produce a deep friendship of mutual help and support. Here both persons are fully aware of many problems and shortcomings in the other person, and they communicate openly desiring constructive criticism from the other person. The dynamic is fascinating, as a continuum of give-and-take emerges. This can put the relationship to the test at times, though. If one person has the long-term feeling of giving more than he/she gets in the relationship, it can cause the relationship to suffer and die.

There are dangers when moving into more personal deeper friendships, yet these also bring greater rewards - no risk, no fun. More about this later.

Samstag, März 09, 2013

Dead or Alive - tied or untied?

... and you thought this blog had died.

One often wonders if something is dead, or in a hibernation phase, or just resting. Biology is easier here. But when has a connection between two persons - two souls - been severed or strengthened or simply relegated to a fermentation phase?

Cultures have ways of easily answering such questions. My extended adventure in Germany has given me chance to observe - and participate - in the German version of relationships.

The standard often seen is the "birthday-Christmas" friendship (my own designation for this). Such friends visit only on their birthdays and at special holidays or anniversaries. In a circle of friends, this means the group meets several times a year simply to attend to these annual events. This is a no-brainer, but the German thinking person likes to have all things nailed down with no questions or uncertainties, so this is very good for them. You know when you see and communicate with a goup of people - and you know you do not (have to) deal with them at any other time - very cut and dried, black and white. This is very common, because it helps people avoid having to make uncertain decision and perhaps embarrass themselves.

Often among younger (under about 40 years old) people there are some closer friendships - people you go to a bar with often or go camping or even on holiday together. Here there are still birthday meetings, for birthdays are true holy cows in Germany. As traditional ideas concerning the classic nuclear family dissipate, this category of friendship can often act as a replacement for family scenarios.

In the USA people often say they have a large number of friends, and social media "friends lists" would confirm this. Of course, each person's definition of a friend drives the persons's use of the term, and this is true in Germany also. But there seems to be an underlying understanding in Germany that a friend is something "more serious", someone you have invested more in than other people who do not belong to your collection of friends.

But my observations only provide anecdotal references, essentially tied to my own private experiences in my native culture and in Germany. Yet I wonder, is there somewhere a continuum between frienship and life-long bond, or is a friendship merely a function of a temporary need to be met?

Sonntag, November 13, 2011

The View When Lying on the Ground

I closed my eyes on the couch, so tired and wondering what would face me after my next arrival at home in Texas. Just a short nap, as my lids shut on the blanched wine-red walls of the living room...

And suddenly I saw green. I had opened my eyes, looking straight-ahead into lush grass - I was lying not on the couch but on the ground... at the family cemetary at the very spot where I will someday join my family. Yet to reflect on this new view, I saw two sets of legs moving in my direction; one set in business grey slacks and dress black shoes, the other in a smart black skirt and black high heels. This young couple leaned down directly in front of me and cradled my head in their arms together. My mother and father had come to help me, now eternally young and strong, and resolved as masters of this whole situation. I felt their smiles and joy.

"You can get up and take care of all of this - it is not yet your time to be here. And we are always with you supporting you, as we always told you all your life."

I saw wine-red again and remained frozen on the couch, trying to return to that reunion cut so short. Yet they were still with me - and still are - as I drink the red wine and look forward to the lush green grass of eternal strength in the source of all life.

Samstag, Juli 09, 2011

Busy? Who isn't....

The famous Astronomical Clock in the main square in Prague, Czech Republic. I took this foto because I took the time to travel to Prague a week ago.

The past hundred years have seen the invention and implimentation of many labour-saving appliances and devices. Cars speed our journeys, kitchen appliances making cooking really fast, washing machines and dryers make doing the wash a marginal activity, and computers and the internet make communication virtually effortless.
So what do we do with all this spare time? Perhaps I ask the wrong question. Why do we forget what we originally wanted to do with more time? Time is the most precious commodity, because we only have it once. We can make more money, but once a day is gone, it never comes back.

I've entered a phase of life in which I remain lastingly disappointed with how most of us deal with time. How many emails can you respond to, how many text messages, how many mobile phone calls that bombard you hourly? Looking back over the past few years, do you simply see a goulash of time diced up into tiny pieces for so many different people/causes, that there is no pattern or common thread to the whole matter? You can replace all material things, but time never returns, and often you have one opportunity to help someone at one specific time. If you let the time slip, you've lost that one chance.

Samstag, Dezember 11, 2010

The Religious Right is left (out)

Random thoughts cross through the mind. As anything "right" (meaning a percieved political, social, or religious slant) seems to gain ground in north America, I am astounded at how such groups so thoroughly exclude people. They often have a very narrow tolerance zone of convictions in their respective fields, and they quickly alienate those who think or act differently. They become the arbiter or defender of truth, and they may even claim a divine sanction for their convictions. Whole groups may be dismissed, but when individuals are approached as individuals and put under pressure to conform (either you do it my/our way, or you are wrong/evil/an outcast), I am reminded of totalitarian regimes in the 20th century in Europe, and perhaps even in the largest eastern "people's republic" that now exists.

But perhaps the best solution to this dilemma is to let such groups simply continue down their road. As they define and delineate themselves, they will exclude more and more people, until they loose any impact they might have had. At some point they will have left themselves out of life all together.

Samstag, Dezember 04, 2010

Wild Weather

My fears have been confirmed - winter has returned to Middle Europe with great force. The transportation lines for almost all forms of motion have been severly effected. And daily I scorn the inability of our ultra-modern high-tech public transportation to deal with these normal weather events. People spend the night on trains stranded in the countryside while motorists wonder if they will also overnight on the Autobahn.

Back in April, I believe, we had an ash cloud from a volcano in Iceland that brought most of air travel to a standstill. Once again, all the advances, technology, and power of our society were powerless and at the mercy of something totally outside of our inventions: nature.

We still cannot control nature. It does what it wants when it wants, and all our plans may be changed or cancelled as a result. Or perhaps we should include nature in our plans. It's a good idea for me. I see here a reminder - we - humans - did not create everything around us. We live the delusion that we can control and use it as if it belonged to us. But such weather events remind us that we belong to it and not it to us. But what is "it"?

I have a very specific answer to that question.

Sonntag, November 28, 2010

Is there no choice between sentiment, kitsch, or exaggeration?

Germany's economy is supposedly improving fast. I don't see where this is really happening. Compared to my home in Texas, people here are not buying new big expensive things, they're not building new houses, and among those I know here, the job situation hasn't changed. I wonder if this is a ploy - act like you are doing well, and you will do well.
When are we "acting" and when is it genuine? Especially in December the decorations go up to pep up the spirits. It really helps on this dreary latitude - so dark and cold, so drink hot mulled wine and look at the bright lights and you'll be bright and happy.
But one can't deny or disguise that life has rough edges and aspects we at best wish were different and at worst can't bear to think about. Kitsch, I think, involves denying these facts and forcing a surface happiness, which is what makes some people loathe the Christmas season. But true art looks at these situations and might seek to understand, to fix, or simply to present these apparant contradictions.
A week ago a friend on FB said, looking for confirmation, that this season makes everyone feel happier and in a better mood. Yet for many this holiday season painfully reminds them that important people are missing - the empty chairs at the dining table, fewer presents under the tree, or no invitations to Christmas events. Having grown up spending every Christmas with family and grandparents, now there are so many empty chairs at the dining table I sit at at Christmas, that I often would rather not eat there. But this is also Christmas, a normal part of the journey of life. The idea of unconditional love that stops short of no effort to love others. And ultimately for me, the notion - the conviction - that the ultimate gift - God's unconditional love and promise to be with him forever - can somehow make even difficult times somehow happy, when you know that many things in life could be easier and simpler.

I hope we can remember those around us who might be spending their first Christmas season with acute sufferring because of the empty places at the table, since some they loved have passed on or cannot be there. These people might be too embarrassed to let you know of their situation and may hide it at all cost. Have open eyes not for Santa and Christmas treats, but for the smallest signs of need in others.

Freitag, November 05, 2010

Half a Year Later

Leipzig in late summer on a lazy afternoon
Texas - near Fort Worth - in mid-summer after I mowed the lawn
York in England in October
Leeds in England in October

I thought I'd report back. Since my last post a lot has happened - nothing negative. I've had the house in the USA worked on (and I visited it too), and I've gotten a new job in teaching. This led me to the UK in early October on a business trip for ten days. So many new duties and tasks, and so many new impressions, not the least of which is the outcome of the election for the yankees and the new situation there as a result.
I don't know what to think right now. I'm disappointed at the short collective memory among the voting population in the USA. The current administration did not create the crisis - it was plopped in their lap two years ago, and I think they've done a smart job dealing with it; there is indeed much more to do, for after only 24 months you can't undone such dimensions of crisis. But let some adults done cheerleader- tactics and traverse the country with a message supposedly connected with the Boston tea party - calling it a message is already inaccurate, for it is more a burst of gut anger with little or no substance. And these people have made it into the nation's capital now. Suicides among teenagers are a problem, and those not towing the line in their social-sexual orientation are mobbed and bullied to the point of killing themselves to get away from the torture. Whatever one's conviction might be about same-sex orientation, it is never correct or "christian" to force those at least leaning toward same-sex choices with violence or psychological abuse.
And then I see unusual tenacious protests in Germany. In Stuttgart protesters show great strength in opposing renovations of the main station, and new protests are opposing the transport of nuclear waste to disposal sites. In comparison to these perhaps not so lucratively funded but cogently constructed protests in Germany, those tea parties in the US seem like a paroday of political activism - wind with no substance. Perhaps it would be the biggest blessing for the current administration, to have one of these party people running for President in two years. Time will tell what happens, so in the meantime we can "wait and drink tea" as the Germans say.

Freitag, April 30, 2010

The old garage door opener finally turned up...

This garage door finally has its old opener back....

My brother went to the door last week. Wilma, who spent the last 13 hours of my mother's life with her, was there. Wilma wanted to give him something.

When Wilma took my mother to the hospital for tests on March 29, 2008, mother took the garage door opener along - she would need it to get back in to gather her clothes to move to a nursing home. Not wanting to lose the door opener, mother carefully put it in Wilma's glove box on that Friday - in about 5 days she would be going back home to get ready to move to a care facility.

Wilma was back at Baylor Grapevine about midnight that Sunday night - she knew my mother needed her. And about 13 hours later my mother left her broken down lungs behind for the real air of paradise and permanent rest from so much worry.

But that garage door opener stayed in the glove box of Wilma's car waiting for those fingers to press it. And Wilma returned it to my brother last week, after finding it and figuring out where it came from.

I don't know if I can use that opener again. After two years of waiting, I wonder if it would be better for the opener to just keep on waiting. After all, it isn't waiting for my fingers to press it... as it is, it opens much more than a garage door right now.

Sonntag, Februar 07, 2010

Seven Years of Leipzig Today

The view from my current living room in winter - here is my life right now
The home in Texas, where my life still somehow continues over there....
My permanent resting place someday just a few feet away from this obelisk where I will take my place next to my mother, just as we are standing here together, to join her to await the resurrection.

This is a short post: today I have been in Leipzig for seven years. And when I got off the plane on that snowy day back then, I knew no one in this city, and I never would have imagined all the things that would happen in the next five years: church crises, new jobs, moving, and the sudden illness and death of my mother.

Now I look back and have many friends in Leipzig and Germany. I feel very much at home here, despite the frigid weather. And I look with concern at my life in Texas. Seven years of continuous life in Leipzig, and no one from the states has visited me; no one from Texas - except my mother and brother - has even called me on the telephone one single time. I can count on one hand the number of people from the USA who keep any kind of regular email contact with me. My mother was my real connection to my life in Texas, and now she is gone. I've tried this blog, and then facebook, but I have slowly come to realize that nothing will change the saying "out of sight, out of mind", so for everybody over there I am "out of sight and out of mind".

I don't know how much longer I will stay here. Yet I wonder what I have to return to in the USA. Most of my family I now visit at the cemetary, and as the years without ongoing communication go by, you grow apart from people you used to know so well.

While I am thankful for these seven years, Life is very different now than it was then. Some of it changed because of my decisions, but much change was thrown upon me. Yet as the years go by, I realize more and more that our life is woven out of the connections to the people we get to know and even love. I am happy for this woven garment here in Europe, but sad to see the garment being neglected in the USA.

Sonntag, Januar 24, 2010

Twenty-Ten sounds like a football play

This was one place where we rang in the new year - Roses in Berlin-Kreuzberg. What kitschy-cheesy decorations!
The Moltke Bridge in Berlin at new years.
The new year is already here. I wouldn't know, except that the days are finally getting a little longer. We're still in the deep freeze in central Europe, and I am so fed up with snow and ice everywhere. I'll take any temperature above freezing. Sunshine would be the best right now.

Today I feel like this eel....
Here I am with Lars at Sea World at the Alexanderplatz in central Berlin. Freezing cold outside.

My New Year's Eve was great, after a totally uneventful Christmas. I visited a friend in Berlin, got to go shopping there and saw the fireworks at the Brandenburg Gate and then went to some clubs until about 3 a.m. Don't worry, I drank nothing at all.... I was in no mood to compromise my alertness in situations where it is shoulder to shoulder people as far as the eye can see. But it was very entertaining and exciting to see so many people fit into a small club, and people were even trying to dance... that was a sight.

A semester at the university is ending, and on St. Patrick's Day I'll set foot on my homeland for the next visit. Perhaps you've followed me on another forum - FB - where I've become quite disillusioned with the absolute lack of follow through there. Since I live on the other side of the world - compared to the place I was raised, I value internet forums as ways to find out what friends and family are doing and how life is treating them. But lethargy reigns, so no one responds, and when people post something, it is often mindless banter - things that millions of people do or experience every few minutes. This concerns me, since as the years go by you can lose the common bond with those you spent years together with earlier in life, and you lose this bond when you no longer have common experiences to share. Reminiscing can only go so far, since we live in the present and not in the past.

Right now hibernation is in gear. With high temperatures not even near the freezing point, and with over a month of snow on the ground now, I spend most of my time in my apartment reading, translating, listening to music, or inviting a few friends over. I still go running on my usual schedule, and that is invigorating, but otherwise I want away from the cold outside.

Thank you for reading my blog. I haven't given it up. I hope your new year has started well.

Freitag, Oktober 23, 2009

Lets go for a walk in my neighborhood

My river - I can look out my living room window down onto this little river.
Lets cross the bridge - at least three times a week I do this to go running in the forest.
Another river - in the forest - where I spend one hour running several times a week.
I think this majestic house is abandoned.
Gohlis Schlößchen - the little castle in Gohlis - about 20 minutes by foot from my place.
It is a little castle - compared to others in Europe.
The zoo - about 10 minutes by foot from my place.
The meadow in the Rosental.
Here I am back in my immediate neighborhood.

Here are a few impressions of the surroundings where I live. I'm so fortunate to have found an apartment in such a beautiful historic part of town, and so central. When I took these photos I was on a rare walk through the forest. Normally I am running, to stay in shape, so I can't stop to take pictures. But it was such a beautiful Fall day, I had to make time for a few photos. Some day when I am back on the other side of the world, these will be cherished memories. Now if I could only let you hear the church bells that ring every day.

Dienstag, Oktober 06, 2009

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down

No pictures are in this entry - check October or September of previous years for the fotos for this topic. I posted this on Sunday on another internet forum, but I think it needs airing here too. Memory is a very important function that we are losing with the digital age and Twitter, FB, and other forums that mainly encourage us to only live in the immediate moment. Forgetting many indeed be the most dangerous thing that can happen to a person and a society.

Right now Germany is basking in twenty years of unity - in November 1989 the wall came down, and on October 3, 1990 German unity was officially completed.
But for me and my family, these events move to the back burners. It was on September 20 and October 4 of that same year of tumbling walls that my life tumbled down - my grandmother died on September 20 and my father on October 4. My grandmother had lived with my parents - my mother took care of her - for over seven years. I often played the piano while grandmother sat at the table and listened, almost going to sleep, and mother prepared the food for the family meal. So grandmother listened to Mozart, Chopin, Lizst, or Debussy from her grandson while her daughter prepared the meal. She often said she was the luckiest woman in the world.
About a year after their deaths I was back at the that same grand piano playing the same Debussy Ballade. Then I noticed my mother was gone for a long time. Thinking she might be sick, I went and saw she was in the bathroom. She was crying quite a bit, so sad because that piece reminded her of how we all were together with grandmother and my father eating together. All of those times had become memories.
And now my dear mother has rejoined them, and she gets to eat with them at God's table and listen to music much more beautiful than anything I could ever bang out on a piano.

But maybe I have found the real reason in Fall - everything falls - political walls, leaves on growing trees, and it would seem death and destruction can make life utterly bitter. But only a few months later Easter comes - really the most important holiday for Christians, because it reminds us of what seems impossible - that someone could really die and be buried, and then several days later really rise from the dead and walk around showing those who loved him the still present wounds in his body that would immediately tell you this person should be dead.
So for me, as each year goes by and I keep memories alive, I remember two important commands from God: do not be afraid, and be patient. What began at Easter is still continuing to unfold, if backstage, until someday the last wall will fall and death, the last enemy, will vanish forever.

Freitag, August 07, 2009

Voilà my new apartment from the inside

Looking out the kitchen window to the west
Kitchen window view to the east - nice courtyard we have...

Looking down from the kitchen window to my very own garden.
Looking straight ahead from my bedroom window into the back courtyard.
The breakfast table in the kitchen - rubber tree wood....
The icon wall in the hallway
The bathroom
Another view of the kitchen
The kitchen seen from the hallway.
The view looking north out the living room window.
The living room
The living room from the other side
And the hallway seen from the living room.
The hallway seen from the entry.
My bedroom.
My bedroom from the other side.
The view from the living room window looking east - here is where I go running now.
The view from the living room window looking west.
Perhaps a better view looking west....

Above you see the interior of my new apartment. Please excuse some of the clutter - when I took the pictures there was still some unpacking and sorting to do. I really love the new apartment and the section of town I now live in - I am only 4 tram stops from the main train station, so I am very central, yet it is very quiet here - I can finally sleep with my window open - wonderful.

Freitag, Juli 17, 2009

Moving On...

The new garden
another corner of the new garden
the stairwell with stained glass and wooden steps
an intersection about 10 seconds from my new front door
the street view from the front door
a front view of the house - the windows on the fourth floor (third for Europeans) are mine.
The house from the back

In one week my moving day arrives. The current apartment has two main shortcomings: very noisy outside, and mold on the east wall. And the management company is like a typical east German socialist "business" - do nothing fast and try to blame the tenant for everything.

The new apartment fits my personality much better - in an art nouveau house built 1902. Leipzig and Prague are the two cities with the most art nouveau architecture. If you remember much of the design of the Lord of the Rings movies, art nouveau elements played a central rôle there.

I could chose the colors of this newly renovated apartment: kitchen - apricot with terra cotta tile, my bedroom - sky blue, the hall - vanilla yellow, and the living room - a wine red bleached almost to white. Sebastian's room he just wanted white. The bath has anthracite tiles and old style white tiles. Being older, the ceilings are higher, and the living room has the old double windows and a rustic wood floor. I am on the top floor again, so more light and less noise comes in the windows.

And we have our own nice garden, as you see, with climbing roses, tulips, daffodils, grape vines, and several other local flowers I don't know yet. There is plenty of room for nice garden parties - afternoon tea on the lawn, or evening cooking out with wine or good German beer, and in the Waldstraßenviertel, where this is, there is a high concentration of top-notch restaurants and beer gardens, with the largest park, the Rosenthal, next door, and the zoo around the corner.

And when you move, you sort out and throw away many many things, so this is a purging experience also. Very ambivalent for me. And so a move is often like a transition to a new time in your life. I will see if this is true for me right now.