Wednesday, April 05, 2006

Shortly after I arrived in Heidelberg, I wrote to Mike Johnston, “I really meant to kidnap you and Gaston – how delightful would that have been – but I got kidnapped myself. I’m pretty obviously in Heidelberg – my brother called last week and said I had to be here for school 2.Mai so I managed to say goodbye to everybody in two days and see all my dear relatives in Nashville (always an Experience) and get here by last Monday. It’s terrific. Spring just started last week and it’s green, and thundersnlightnings every night. I even get to live in the private room (Phyllis Westrope’s if you knew where that was) that looks out on the boys’ staircase and the mossy old wall – it’s like a convent, really nice – except after eleven every night, when 14 screaming girls run in from whatever it is they do downtown (heh heh).

“Nobody to drink with this time, no sense of Gemütligkeit
[i] – but that’s probably o.k. Ich studiere Deutsch sechs Stunden täglich, sehr schwer für mich, aber gut[ii] (14 in my class, 13 different nationalities and languages). I seem to be developing some purpose these days and Deutsch fits right in. Dear old Royce[iii] was quite encouraging in terms of Theologisches librarianing and said it was rare to have somebody at all knowledgeable to help in research. The question is, can I do it and consistently work hard? I have a feeling my motivation is too external. I tend to want to do well when the teacher or the students in the class inspire me – on my own I lose some of the fire.

“The fruit of all that fellowshipping last trimester is beginning to appear, so it wasn’t just pleasant time passing. The Salad for Lunch Bunch (Janie Epp, Caren Houser and Sara) are quite convicted about praying together all the time and being aware of the possibilities for spreading the love to the rest of the house (though their natural sticking-together tendencies make them look a lot like the Three Musketeers.) It’s been quite an immeasurable blessing to have them here. But it’s strange. When I count my blessings, the list is really outrageous – but there’s a tremendous sort of sadness that keeps attacking me at odd moments, particularly around 2 a.m., a kind of Angst. Either I’m bearing somebody else’s burden, or the Lord is teaching me something (I’m sure of that) or culture shock is sneakier than I realize. I’m thankful for the sadness in terms of empathy, and depending on the Lord/each other for comfort and purpose. Finally last night, we prayed with enough faith to gain some peace on the subject. Emotions are so elusive. Praise God – He said last night, “We know we are His children because we believe Him when He tells us He loves us.” It’s such a blessing not to depend on feeling.

"God loves you, Mike.
I’m not a bit sure why I feel close to you, but it’s one of my blessings that I do.
You know my prayers go with you.”

0 ~ o ~ 0 ~ o ~ 0
“Dear Naomi, June 8, 1973
I’m sitting typing before my doily upon which is a little green glass bottle mit pansies (purple) and dead lilies of the valley, aren’t we all. We leave on another Red Eye Express tonight for London for to visit my cousin and the biggest bookstore in da woild. I’m gonna miss you more than usual, I kin foretell. Cheryl’s babby is a girl, nicht wahr? Only is it sick unto death, or only babby-sick? I’m ascared to send my ButchnCheryl postcard but I’m going to anyhow. The below, overworked device and all, is an ill-favored thing but mine only own so far. I love you, sweetie, and we’re praying.


A long time we spent in rehearsing
Me with no body for a prompter
learning from books, speaking to the air
(a Method coach or two, concerned about
my lack of Real Experience),
you, playing to summer-stock failures,
a couple of walk-on beauties, bit parts
with two-dimensional futures.

Then Somebody handed us this
Terrific Script, full of laughs
and some Very Tender bits
with ah, such a score, music that
got inside, and never turned stale
with all that playing.

We gave it a reading, and Liked it
a lot; then you began to wonder
whether the casting was right, and if it was
worth the time of polishing, rewriting.
So for awhile we set it aside
and I waited, got involved in some
old One-Acts from the back of my files
Soon, so soon, you came back, excited again,
up for performing, ready to Believe in the play
and we decided to try.

The cast assembled—; how well we worked
together, not smoothly but with such Caring.
We found a Playhouse, musicians, some props,
announced the date, and walked,
quite bravely, onto the stage.

The First Act curtain has fallen now,
the sets have changed, the audience is settling,
and we’re waiting around in the hopes,
wondering how the lines will go,
Delivery and Timing and Mood to be considered,
praying the prayer of an actor:
“Oh, God, keep my mind clear, and my feet
from tripping.”
Breathe deeply, take it easy.
The curtain’s going up.”

Typically, wash came out of the dryer still wet, and we had ten minutes to make it to the train. Dialing 22222, “Graimbergweg Zehn, bitte.” Bored voice on the other end of the line at the taxi company, “Ja.” (They knew that address so well.)

Racing, just making the train, “Is Caren coming?” Quick sighs of relief when all were aboard. Then it’s all the laundry pulled out to dry all over the compartments, on the luggage racks, draped over the windows. “Making yourselves at home, girls?” Caren and Janie in their pajamas, and all four in their Pebbles-hair, ready for beddy-bye. Prayer time too.

Sara, Marilyn and I are trying to get comfortable on the fold-out seats while either Caren or Janie, stretched out on the luggage rack above, snaps a candid. I don’t care how small those girls were, the luggage rack could not have been comfortable.

“Let’s have a round for these freaks and these soldiers, a round for these friends of mine…” Every now and then, crossing a street, in the Metro, sitting in a cathedral, the presence, the feeling, a particular ache, a faint, echoing “Yebrachle…”

London for a third time in one year…cold gray wind, everybody running someplace, double-deck omnibus. Floating covetously through Paperchase, I wanted to buy the entire contents of the store. Foyle’s religious section was quiet and holy on the fourth floor; the children’s section I had previously condemned was unattractive but really full of good stuff, except that the British edition of Narnia stinks. Hot chestnuts are terrible. “Courage” above all the bars…I took it as a personal word from God. There’s no magic left on the British stage (at least not in Hair, A Doll’s House, Godspell). The East Dulwich train station reminded us of Nashville. We stayed with Mrs. Rose again and again she made Yorkshire pudding, apple pie and heavy cream. She gave us tea and digestive crackers. Caren is the avenging angel standing on the wall. From the left, it’s Marilyn, Janie, Mrs. Rose and Sara.

Paris again…the Jeux de Paume had been an indoor tennis court, and it was converted to an Impressionist museum. Danny Jackson had told Naomi that was the one place she had to go, since she didn’t like the “old stuff” much. So now I could introduce it to the girls. Remembering the teddy bear Naomi found in the Metro. Watching the city lights come on from the Eiffel Tower. The white marble park rain windy feeling. Always a hassle over food. Eating about ten loaves of French bread in one day, and Janie wouldn’t share her strawberry jam. The terrific open market on the Place Maubert.

We took a train out to Versailles, but since I had such limited cash and didn’t expect to enjoy the interiors anyhow (I already knew I despised the Rococo period), I sat outside next to a reflecting pool and read. It was a gray, cool day. Pretty soon, a very French looking guy in a wine-colored turtleneck came up and asked permission to sit with me. Sure, why not. His eyes were soft. We slowly, tentatively began to converse in his broken English and my zero French, and enjoyed it a lot. According to my notes we had a “terrific, romantic, Jesus talk.” We talked the whole time until the girls came to find me, and I appreciated his respect, and the warmth of his interest. His name was Giles, and he made up for all the “slimy Frenchman” who approached me before and since. He gave me a friendly, passionate French both-cheeks kiss goodbye.

Mike or Danny? Head or Heart?

Mike Johnston had made a strong impression on my heart in the short time I had known him in Malibu. Before I met him, he had dated Elaine Thomas (Ted’s sister) the year before in Heidelberg, but now she was working at Shiloh, where Sam had been years before, in Mendham, New Jersey. They were broken up and Mike spent all his time studying. We had only spent one time alone, when he came over to my house on the night of his graduation.

He gave me a different flavor, created a different atmosphere, in his interaction with me than I had ever tasted before. He took me seriously, he wanted to hear my thoughts, he was intellectually curious, a bit combative but not defensive, and he seemed to perceive and enjoy me in a way nobody else quite had before.

So we wrote. Not that many letters, but enough to let me know that there was another person out there besides Danny who could conceivably be for me. And that gave me the courage and the distance to step back and reassess the past three years with Danny. I never sent this to him, but this was what my heart wanted to say to him.

You see, I want to be
and fair about this
and I like you some

You’re gentle sometimes
and you create beautiful things
Your touch leaves a special glow that is
your own
and you stop to think ore often than you
used to

But maybe I will need someone
who can decisively lead me
who feels the burden of potential
and grows stronger in bearing it
who delights in minds
reaching into mine and polishing
intricate patterns of thought or the
sharp (or pointedly dull) kind of wit
that makes aloneness special
and sharing so exciting.

Could you be that man
or should that matter so very much to me?
I’ve been taught to honor curiosity
that searching, seeking spirit
that causes men to grow
yet they hint to me lately that not many
have found my dream
and that it’s one that tends to
tarnish more quickly than most.

Oh God, you’ve given the dream
Now I need your love and wisdom

Will our quietness settle into
stagnant patterns of unawareness
or will
we blossom into a real communion
of hearts and minds?

Can you share my life this way
Can I share yours
Be one with you in God
and He in us
our spirit moving toward Him
in a journey through His world
together and alone
one and Three?

Here’s a meditation and prayer that I wrote as I vacillated back and forth between what I had with Danny and what I might have with Mike, written on June 15, 1973.

“I’m sitting on a bench in the shade of a park, rose beds before me, eating Studentenfutter
[v] and learning the meaning of an hour. Also, I’m waiting for the bank to open.

“What makes this a day for feeling? An old man is playing hide and seek with his granddaughter. His hugging her makes my heart ache. I feel so vulnerable today; but also quite boring. Self-aware to a fault. Yet it’s forgivable because I’ve been alone this week and done little else but try to harness my thoughts. Lord, is it common to man to go through his days, waiting until he can sigh with relief that another piece of time has dissolved? Why couldn’t I take these days with You as a gift, and use them, savoring what they brought? In some ways I did that, but I tried to avoid anything below the surface, and they were lazy, selfish days which couldn’t have really pleased You.

“I found myself wishing on the Straßenbahn that Lightfoot’s songs didn’t remind me of Danny – for this summer at least, they seem a little spoiled. Oh God, I’ve looked back on these years and seen a selfish, fumbling girl who didn’t understand where she was at all. I’m embarrassed to be her. Help Danny to forgive me for all the times I’ve hurt him, criticized and laughed at his very self, demanded things he couldn’t give. I have the faith that says You used our time for Your purpose. God give me the faith to believe You’ll guide my heart if I give it to You once again. If we’re to be together in September, God, You’ll have to prepare the ground of my heart for it. You see that my whole spirit is turned away by its nature and its desires to someone new, whether it be my awareness of Mike or someone unknown. Father, if that’s against Your will, show me in whatever way. Please show me, though, otherwise I won’t have the strength to turn again. Jesus, go on loving me and explaining the messiness of me to our Father. I love you both.

“Lord, I bring before You these pictures, gifts to me from life.
— The inexpressibly warm reality of Mark, or Sam, waking up bare-chested to welcome me into his morning
—The simple excitement of sitting down to find out where his mind has taken him since I left the room
—That very special gentle cynicism that laughs at Dick Cavett, or goes to old movies at MacArthur Park, or follows A Thousand Clowns to seven different 2 a.m. showings, and then reminds me that “It’s only a movie.”
—The constant landmark of my life, that meal time is a Family Council (that Family, world-sized) that meets to enjoy the past together, and present feelings and future plans for approval. God, this is perhaps the most basic. (Oh! Blessing, June 19, when the Youngs arrived to steal the girls away for a little side trip, and took us all out to dinner.)
—As independent as I have seemed at times, that sense of following him, down the street or through a crisis, my mind being tended to, being of service and support, having something expected of me.
—‘How are we doing?’
—‘What are you thinking?’
—‘That was the most romantic music…’
Hey, God, it looks sometimes like there’s some of us been groomed for a job that ain’t no more.”

I must say I do enjoy list making, though I was much more prone to it in my youth. Here’s a list I made during the summer of 1973, remembering scattered moments throughout the previous year in Europe, with the cast of characters changing each of the trimesters (four month periods) I was there.

• John’s mutilations of Ellen’s face on hundreds of paper napkins and blackboards
• On Tim and Peg’s “tramping
[vi]” sign, “For the best exchange rates in Russia, see C.W.”
• Smoking party, Ernte 22 with Ellen and Jana (“They were Jeff’s brand.”)
• Imagining Elaine Thomas and Mike Johnston and Chuck and LaNell Stovall at Le Palme (“Every Saturday night it was deep conversation time.”). Watching the candlelight through the Rotwein, stoned freaks and me after Heiliggeist
• First snow (and last) out Danny’s window slowly blanketing all the trees and roofs
• Adventkranz
[vii] with candles lit, Naomi’s unbleached doily, little treasures, green striped Decke covering my cupboard bed, with that Howe Bicycle poster hanging over the bed.
• Waking up laughing nearly every morning with roommate Barb Henderson
• Frizzing Dith’s and my hairs
• Singin’ with Steve and John and Dave; later with Mike Boyd
• Walking home in the storm after Bier mit Mikhael and Achim
• Danny’s 21st birthday Open House, gin and oranges and Alice B. Toklas tea
• Exploring das Schloss, with Phil Lowe playing giant
• "Letchgoschmokesomehash.” (Phil Lowe)
• Dur Ang Fang (“the beginning” -- with a broad Texas accent)
• Danny’s favorite expression, slowly, loudly: “Ich…spreche…kein…Deutsch!”
• "Guten Abend, mein Liebschen.” (“Good evening, my love.”)
• Stein Fuchs (“Stone Fox”, John Baker’s nickname for his girlfriend, Sunny Lindsey)
• "What am I doin’ here???” said in constant desperation by Rich, a fellow student.
• “Eeeeoouuu…” (Phil Lowe)
• "I want to get into the culture.” (John Baker)
• Wilma-Reis
• "What an org.” (Caren Hauser)
• Jana always having orange juice at Seppl
• Bier Brunnen, where they had the copper bar and the incredible wall made of log ends
• The night of apricot brandy at the Schloss
• Neuerweinfest and Zwiebelkuchen (onion pizza, heaven for me)

[i] An untranslatable German word that contains elements of comfort, familiarity, delight, pleasure, and cozyness.
[ii] “I study German six hours daily, very difficult for me, but good.”
[iii] Royce Clark was Mike’s landlord the previous year, and our mutual theology professor.
[iv] I don’t know if it was original, or borrowed from Suzi Townsley, but this was the cry of recognition between Matt Young and Danny Jackson when signaling each other from a distance. It sounded something like a parrot.
[v] “student food”, a packet of raisins, almonds and hazelnuts, with skins off the nuts, slightly salted.
[vi] hitchhiking
[vii] An Advent Wreath or Crown made of evergreen, in which you put four candles and lit them for the four weeks of Advent before Christmas.
[viii] “I…speak…no…German!”
[ix] An actual product on German supermarket shelves, this was a box of instant rice.

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