LIVING UNSCRIPTED: B’Day in Germany

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There’s so much about this journey that impresses me in the context of the “Universe” providing opportunities I hadn’t planned . . . After 10 days in Paris, I went to the Opening Night of The Three Musketeers in London, which gave me a chance to reconnect with old friends–and then head “home” to my apartment in Paris, more comfortable and confident than when I’d first arrived there …

Now in Israel, I got an amazing invitation from my German sister, Ricky (whose family I lived with as an exchange student when we were both 17) to celebrate her 60th birthday with her.  An Ophthalmologist who’s opened free clinics in Ethiopia, she wanted to reward me for doing volunteer work with an RT plane ticket, Tel-Aviv/Bremen (Germany). “How insanely generous –Are you sure??” I replied to her email offer.  “Yep,” she wrote, “that’s what sisters do.”  Wow: there’s a feel good lesson in that.

Since she was covering my airfare, I decided to fly my youngest daughter, Brielle, from Charleston, South Carolina for the weekend as well.  We hadn’t seen each other since she went back to college in August, she loves my German family, and this journey is all about doing what feels right, even if it’s crazy.

So after 10 days of packaging “dessert delight,” bottling olive oil and labeling apricot jam on Noet S’madar, I hitched a ride 11 kilometers to the junction and waited for the bus to Tel-Aviv.  I arrived after dark, sans makeup and jewelry, dusty and shaggy – the elder cousins opened the door, blanching at the sorry sight before them.  “It’s my Kibbutznik  look!” I laughed, noting their shock. I had an hour to get ready for dinner with Speedo (who insisted on seeing me again even though I only had time for a quick bite with an early flight out the next morning) and when I reappeared in city slicker garb, the elders were noticeably relieved . . .

More handsome in clothes than Speedo was in his given namesake, we walked to a nearby restaurant and the “who are you really?” conversation began.  Not married, married — he’d felt for years that his marriage was over but was afraid to pull the plug . . . Now in the 3rd month of a 4-month commitment he made to his Spiritual Leader, to put “100% effort” in to his marriage, he was unsettled . . .  (Pause) And dinner with me was, Hello? It was so easy for me to see the error of his ways – and so hard for him.

New day.  Airport.  Another country.  Celebration.

I was a very naive 17-year-old, 25 years post WWII — and one of 5 Jewish Americans chosen to live with German families through AFS (American Field Service) for a year, between high school and college.  3000 students from around the world live with American families every year; 600 American students go abroad.  It was an incredible, year and with lots of transatlantic travel during my marriage, I’ve remained close to my “family” and several friends, including a 7-day bike trip Ricky and I organized with our families in August 2001.

The idea for that sprang from a weekend visit ten years ago, when I brought my two younger children (and my ex) to Ricky’s 50th . . .  a Cabaret costume party, themed: Berlin circa 1928.  The costumes were hilarious and everyone performed –my children were ‘begeistert’ (in awe).  For her 60th, she hired a cabaret singer and a pianist who performed “Songs from Berlin circa 1928.”  Interestingly, the singer sang songs –and read poetry by a Jewish song writer/poet, who left Berlin before the war, lived in New York and eventually immigrated to Israel . . . my daughter had questions.

Brielle is faithfully Jewish. (My ex is Catholic; my oldest stepdaughter is faithfully Catholic.  The two in the middle — my other stepdaughter and my son — shake their heads, wondering what’s up with the other two??).  She’s an English major, Jewish History minor.  Born a generation after the 6-Day War, her Jewish identity has had very different influences than mine.

After a wonderful evening with my two favorite German sisters, lunch with my now 91-year old German mom, and a fun dinner the following evening with a dear friend and his wife, Brielle, and I spent a day alone, walking around Bremen and sharing stories about my year there . . . She wanted to know where my German “parents” were in the War –and how I felt, going to school with the sons & daughters of former Nazis . . .

My answer: I made an impression on them and they certainly made an impression on me. Religion runs deep in most of us; I mastered the language and, as I read more, wrestled with the good, the bad and the ugly thoughts about the country that hosted me, the family I became a part of and the friendships I still cherish.  “There was a Yin and a Yang to being a Jewish guest in a small German town in 1968 — just as there’s a Yin and a Yang to everything else that’s happened in my life since,” I told her.  “I’ve often wondered at the absurd cruelty of the previous generation.  My classmates told me then, that meeting me made them wonder too.”

. . . that was then; this is now.

My sister was a gracious host – she’s always impressed me.  Raised with affluence, she could don a set of pearls and head off to a Ball as easily as she would strap a guitar around her shoulder and head off on a bicycle.  She collected a mixed bag of childhood mates, college chums, professional colleagues and extended family.  She acknowledged everyone in her welcome speech, including fun dime-store gifts for those of us with “equally important birthdays” this year – thanking me for coming all the way from Israel (audible gasp from around the room) and Brielle from the U.S.

I’ve been waiting a long time to feel balance in understanding who I am in the context of those relationships . . . Being with Brielle, young, beautiful, proud – in a room with old friends, fine wine and plenty of black bread (my favorite with butter and jam), I think I found center.

It was truly special to reconnect to my past with my daughter, 42 years later.  Six months is a long time to be apart; 3 days is a short time to be together, but it’s enough for intimate conversation, quick shopping and a couple of mother-daughter snuggles.  Most importantly, she and I agreed it was well worth the commute.

I don’t know many songs in the German language but one that made a lasting impression on me is their translation of the Theme from Exodus.  In English: This land is mine; God gave this land to me. In German: Das Land ist mein in dem mich jeder liebt.  (“This land is mine, in which everyone loves me.”)

As I walked on to the plane back to Tel-Aviv, I smiled and thought: “They do.

NOTE TO SELF: Let there be eggplant.

About Shaz

I’m 59 and never expected to be divorced and, having raised a big family in the city I grew up in, to be still living there now completely on my own. My parents are gone and my grown children have opted for smaller towns. My father passed away this past February and my children suggested I take off and make a world tour of all my friends overseas…In piecing that together in my mind, I imagined taking a boat across, as I did the first time I went to Europe with my grandmother, as a teenager – and in that vision, I imagined taking those first five days and writing. Writing about where I’d been, writing about what I want, writing about the crossing over from my past to my future.

In reestablishing myself as a single woman, I’ve made new connections with some fabulous women and realized I’m not the only one going through this; there are other women out there who are also on a journey to becoming whole again. I hope my personal adventure will help us all find humor in the aging process –and confidence in following our hearts.

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