Miracles happen suddenly.
They can not be wished for,
but come unbidden,
mostly in the most improbable
moments and happen
to those who least
who have least expected it.
(Georg Christoph Lichtenberg, 1742-1799)
Freely adapted from an old Finnish
fairy tale by August Löwis of Menar.
May 20 seemed to be a sunny day. A blackbird was perched on the ridge of the neighboring house, belting out its soulful notes into the morning chill. It was still quite early in the morning, Heinrich had just come out of the bathroom, was now filling the coffee filter. A freshly brewed aromatic coffee in the morning - that always started his day. The spirits of life then got a real boost!
Full of anticipation, he rubbed his hands together, then set about spreading the remaining ingredients of the breakfast on the kitchen table. Wasn't it wonderful to enjoy retirement to the fullest? Certainly, he had been retired for several years, but since his wife had left this world ten years ago, there had been nothing that could really make him happy. This spring, however, life had returned to him.
The trigger for this was Beate, the physiotherapist with whom Heinrich did his weekly exercises. Heinrich found her pleasant because she took a lot of time for her clients. He was just one of many, but secretly believed that she liked him.
Since his hospital stay because of the stupid stroke a few weeks ago, he actually really looked forward to those two hours of therapy with Beate. But the best thing was that she had invited him to a dinner together for the coming Saturday!
Tomorrow would be the day, he was looking forward like a little schoolboy, life seemed to be worth living again!
Shrilly the doorbell disturbed his early morning thoughts! Heinrich shook his head. It was just half past six! Who could that be at this hour? Well, this was a strange surprise! Heinrich rarely got visitors, when someone rang the doorbell, it was usually the mailman or old Mrs. Weihrich from the house across the street, who regularly asked if she should bring him something from the supermarket. Although he thankfully declined each time - she came by with nice regularity.
The doorbell rang again.
»Yes, yes,« Heinrich once again couldn't find his slippers, so he walked barefoot to the door, he hadn't even gotten around to putting on socks yet, "Always slowly with the young horses! I've got something against rushing!"
Heinrich pushed back the latch, then opened the apartment door halfway. In the hallway stood a darkly dressed older man, who tipped his hat in greeting and politely wished him a good morning. He was a head shorter than Heinrich, so had to look up at him. "Mr. Gardener? You are Mr. Gardener, aren't you?"
The stranger leaned forward a bit to decipher the nameplate on the door. Heinrich looked at the man suspiciously.
"Yes, and? What do you want? What can I do for you?"
The stranger laughed briefly, then took out a slim yellow loose-leaf binder from his briefcase and leafed through it briefly.
"Yes," he then said, "you for me? That's a good one. But I have a very important matter to settle with them. Can we do it inside?"
Heinrich hesitated briefly, but then saw no difficulty in letting the man in. 'I'll deal with him if there's any trouble,' he thought briefly. He now invited the stranger into the kitchen, offering him a seat.
"Would you like some coffee, too? I was just about to have breakfast?" The stranger declined with thanks. Then he said, "I haven't even introduced myself yet. My name is Immortaler, Adam Immortaler."
Heinrich had meanwhile begun his breakfast. "Excuse me," he said, "but I can't think on an empty stomach!" He laughed. "It's all right," said Mr. Immortaler, "it's all right!"
Heinrich leaned back. Then he said, "Now, it would be appropriate if you told me what this is all about. You act so mysterious. Have I done anything wrong? I'm not aware of any wrongdoing."
He laughed again. "Well?"
Mr. Immortaler put the yellow loose-leaf binder on the table. Then he looked at Heinrich. "You - you are 74 years old, aren't you? In a month you'll be 75. A fine age, especially if you're still as healthy as you are. I admire you, I really do!"
Heinrich shook his head in wonder. His sparse white hair stood out a little oddly in all directions as he did so, "You admire me? Aha? And that's why you come to me at the crack of dawn? Am I going to get a merit badge, or what?"
"Well, Mr. Gardener, the thing is ...", Mr. Immortaler looked again at his documents, then looked at Heinrich over the rim of his glasses, "You have - no, you will unfortunately today - so it's like this..."
"Well, what now!" Impatiently, Heinrich got up, took his breakfast dishes and put them in the sink. "I really don't have any more time to play along with your games now. In a nutshell, what do you want from me?"
Mr. Immortaler slammed the file cover shut. "Well, Mr. Gardener, you've seen this all right! You really don't have any more time! I am authorized to take you with me! I'm sorry, but there's nothing I can do about that. There is a decision!"
Heinrich looked at the man, stunned. "How - to take you along? Are you from the police? Why? What am I accused of? I demand clarification immediately. That's the limit. - But you can forget it, I won't go with you, whether you have a warrant or not. That would be even nicer, you come to me in the morning at sunrise and tell me that I have to accompany you. Where are we? You know what? I'm afraid you've been dealing in lemons there; you won't catch me. Done!"
Mr. Immortaler looked through the window at the beautiful grounds where his house was located. One had here a splendid view of the grounds of the forest cemetery at the end of the street.
"Mr. Gardener, - it is such a beautiful day today," he then said with a slightly dreamy look, "why do you want to destroy this last day like this?"
Heinrich was confused. What was this all about? Last day? "Hey," he then said, "what nonsense are you talking about? It's May 20 today, so why last day? Listen: I have an important appointment tomorrow - a date - if you will, I really want to keep it, it's very, very important for me and my life."
Mr. Immortaler had now risen, then opened the door to the hallway. "Please come now. This step is now more important for you. You don't have to change your clothes either. You can stay as you are, appearances don't matter to us."
Heinrich was completely taken aback. What was going on here? Why should he go with this man, and above all, where to? Heinrich sat back in the chair emphatically!
"No!" he then said. "Damn it, no and no and no!"
Mr. Immortaler remained quite calm, closed the door again, and then said, "Now stay reasonable, there really is no other solution, you really must accompany me!"
Heinrich thought about it for a long time, looked at his visitor thoughtfully for some time; suddenly an idea popped into his head. "Can I at least put on my shoes and brush my teeth? I have a terrible taste in my mouth."
Mr. Immortaler smiled. "All right, if it will help!" Whereupon Heinrich then said, "Fetch me my black low shoes from the shoe cupboard back there in the storeroom, will you?" Mr. Immortaler nodded in agreement.
"I'll do anything for you, if you just don't give me any trouble and come along peacefully!"
He then went to the storage room at the end of the hall, opened the narrow door and turned on the light there. This small room had no window, except for some small slits in the door there was no ventilation either, a small lamp at least brought some brightness into this room. "Which one is the shoe closet," Mr. Immortaler then asked in a loud voice, "right or left?"
As quick as a flash, Heinrich now emerged from the bathroom, toothbrush still in his mouth, shouting "liiinks," then ran to the door of the storeroom, slammed it shut, locked it, and then shouted, "Leave it alone now, I don't need the shoes anymore!"
Mr. Immortaler inside thundered his fist against the door in anger. "Open up. Open the door at once. If you don't open it, you'll regret it, I promise you. Do you hear? Open the door - right now! Mr. Gardener, you'll regret this! This is clearly a deprivation of liberty!"
Heinrich had meanwhile finished in the bathroom. "Oh yeah? I see, but if this is deprivation of liberty, then your behavior is probably coercion, do you get that?"
He had now become quite calm, treated himself to another cup of coffee, and walked with it to the door of the storeroom.
"Now calm down again. There's an armchair to the right of the door, it's very comfortable. My wife used to sit in it, you'll see, it's really comfortable!"
Heinrich smiled to himself in quiet amusement.
"Sure you don't want a coffee?" he asked with such great politeness that it almost bordered on arrogance.
"I don't need a comfortable chair, I don't need coffee, I want to get out of here, and I want to get out now!"
Mr. Immortaler's voice sounded really angry now. No wonder, Heinrich thought, I would feel the same way. But let him know how such an unexpected situation can have an effect!
Heinrich gathered his clothes and dressed leisurely. "Yes, yes!" he then said, going back to the kitchen, while his uninvited guest in the small room kept banging on the door. "Hey, you in there, if you don't stop, you won't get out of here at all."
He gave a short laugh.
"And if you're hungry, there's supplies in the right-hand cupboard that will last you three weeks!" Mr. Immortaler now shifted to pleading:
"Mr. Gardener, now come to your senses. It's no use. You can't influence fate - your fate - with this! Your name is on the list now, that can't be changed!"
Heinrich hit his forehead with the flat of his hand. "I'm beginning to realize some things!"
He fetched a chair from the kitchen, sat down next to the chamber door and asked his trapped guest: "Are you sitting well, too, yes? I've got you figured out now, took me a while, but now I've checked! I finally know who you are. I'm sorry I didn't recognize you sooner! You want to take me to your shadow realm, don't you?
He then laughed briefly. "No sir! That's out of the range. Never ever! I'm in charge here, you understand? Me! And nobody tells me what to do! And whether you're called the 'Eternal' or Purzelmann, I couldn't care less!"
Heinrich waved his hands wildly, although the other could not see it.
"Where were you, then, when my wife had to go on her way? Well, where?
Mr. Immortaler answered quietly, "I'm sorry, accidents don't belong to my department! I know nothing about it. However, it is only fair that everyone should move to us, must move. Is that so hard to understand?"
Henry's tone became louder and louder: "Oh yeah? Over there, the right doesn't know what the left is doing, does it? My wife was fifty-four years old! Did you understand that? Fifty-four!
And she was just picked up in the middle of the street. Nobody asked if it was time yet. I didn't even get to say goodbye to her. Is that your justice now?"
Heinrich tried not to fly into a rage. With all his might, he was overcome by the situation of that time, when he received the news that Natalie had lost her life in traffic.
Immortaler in the chamber had become quiet. No sound penetrated outside. Heinrich sat bolt upright in the chair next to the door. Both were silent for minutes. Then Mr. Immortaler said, "Have you changed your mind? Will you release me? You won't change the situation. I will take you with me, there is no discussion about that!"
Heinrich was still sitting with folded arms on the chair in front of the door. His gaze lingered on the picture of his late wife on the coat closet.
"My dear Mr. Immortaler, or whatever your name may be, do you still not realize that you are no longer holding the baton?" he then asked, "You, sir, are doing what I want you to do! And in the meantime, I'm starting to enjoy it!"
A grim smile appeared on his face. 'I've got him in the palm of my hand, he thought to himself, and I'm not going to let you take it away from me that easily.'
He rose, put his ear to the door, and then said, somewhat boyishly, "Are you still there? Of course you're still here. There's an air mattress on top of the cupboard, you can inflate it, it's good to sleep on!
Oh, yes, if I understand correctly, you don't sleep! You don't need food, you don't have any human needs. Are you actually alive? Do you have a leading function in the shadow realm?" Mr. Immortaler mumbled something to himself. "Do you want anything else?" asked Heinrich, "I'll fulfill your every wish - only release, that's not in my plan!"
"Leave me alone," said inside Herr Immortaler. "All you can do for me is to get me out of here as quickly as possible!"
"Forget that very quickly!" said Heinrich in response. "Our game is not over yet!"
He rose, walked slowly to the apartment door, the newspaper woman had just thrown in the "Rundschau" through the mail slot. He picked up the paper, sat down again on the chair next to the door. He opened the penultimate page and said casually: "Let's see what kind of misdeeds have happened again today!"
"Do you actually know what you are doing?" asked Mr. Immortaler from beyond the door, "do you? You're messing up the flow of the world. The coming and going, the becoming and passing away holds the world structure together! Can you imagine that at all? No - how then also. You only believe that you are the center of the universe? No, my lord, it goes without you. But it does not go without 'me'! Do you understand this? Or is your birdbrain too small to pursue this thought?"
Heinrich tried not to be provoked too much by Immortaler's words. Of course, he had been thinking about that, too. "Hello, great master, I'm reading here: three dead in an illegal race in the city. What do you say to that, old fellow? Three people whose time had also not yet expired. Is that your justice now? But then, that's not your line of work, is it? Is it on the principle of 'colleague coming soon'? You can't tell me it's all done fairly. I suppose you all work at random over there; do you do it with a dice or do you play poker with people's existence?"
Immortaler had fallen silent; it seemed as if he had understood Heinrich's view. Then he opined:
"You are deflecting. You are deliberately deflecting, Herr Gardener. The problem you have just addressed has nothing to do with either of us. What is at issue here is the sequence of events, the predetermined chronology of human existence. This cycle of life is interrupted if you simply want to stop the process, perhaps even suspend it completely. You are interfering with the work of the Almighty!"
Heinrich's voice had become quieter, "Oh, is that so? You stopped the cycle of my wife's life, too, didn't you? Was that intended chronologically? You want to pass the buck to me now, do you?" But I don't accept it. No, sir, I refuse to cooperate further with you otherworldly people!"
Heinrich had talked himself into a rage against his intention. He made an effort to continue reading from the newspaper: "Here, dear Mr. Immortaler, here are the obituaries on the penultimate page. Eight advertisements I see here. All with great obituaries: ... has pleased the Lord, ... called to himself, ... in silent mourning ... unexpectedly ... etcetera, etcetera.
These people were all lucky, they all grew significantly older than me. Why, tell me, why should I go already? I will join you in the hereafter soon enough!"
"Mr. Gardener," the man in the small chamber now spoke rather quietly and barely understandably. The excitement of the past minutes had subsided, after all: "Are you still there? Have you ever thought about Mr. Krämer on the first floor? The man is terminally ill, he has been suffering for months, he wants nothing more than to finally be released from his agony. He wants to die, Mr. Gardener, just die! And you, in your egoism, won't let him go because you're holding me.
You let him continue to suffer. Have you ever thought about that?"
Heinrich thought again. Of course, his actions had not seemed at all thoughtless to him. But to surrender so easily now? His defiance simply would not allow it.
"Well, sure, now you're getting new points of view out of your bag of tricks again, huh? It would be a laugh if we couldn't soften up the gardener, wouldn't it?
But I can promise you this in black and white: I will not change my attitude!"
Heinrich put his chair to one side, then went to the door and said: "I'm going to my corner pub now, I'm having my skat night tonight! Shall I turn on the radio? You might be interested in the latest news. -
No answer? Well, then don't! Sleep well, Mr. Immortaler, see you later!"
He opened the apartment door, went out into the hallway, but then came back again and said to his guest: "By the way, shouting is useless, no one hears you here. but maybe your boss will hear you?"
Twenty-seven days Mr. Immortaler had now been sitting in Heinrich's private custody. There had been no change. They had argued with each other many times and several times a day, discussing the pros and cons of Heinrich's use of force over and over again.
Their arguments were often so heated that often the walls literally shook. Heinrich remained stubborn, would not let himself be softened, a reversal of his behavior seemed to be a long way off. He also did not leave his apartment, he feared that his uninvited guest could do something that would escalate the situation.
Then came June 16, it was Heinrich's birthday. He was now seventy-five years old. Basically, it should be a lucky day, this birthday. In the little house in the forest settlement, however, happiness no longer seemed to be at home. Heinrich Gardener was dissatisfied with himself and the world. He was aware that things could not go on like this indefinitely. What should he do?
"Congratulations, Mr. Gardener!"
Mr. Immortaler in his little hermitage was the one who congratulated Heinrich. "Are you feeling well? When are your guests coming? One doesn't turn seventy-five every day, does one?"
Heinrich said nothing. In the last few days he had already stopped talking to Immortaler, whose words and sentences were just monologues, Heinrich simply had nothing to say to them.
"There are no guests. There's no one there anymore. You've ruined the rendezvous with Beate for me, too! What am I supposed to do now? Congratulations: you won!"
He walked slowly to the door of the storeroom, pushed back the big bolt, and then said, "Please, I give up! You have to be able to lose!
Now you may take me away in peace. Are you satisfied now?"
Mr. Immortaler came out of the narrow room, sparkling clean and as if freshly bathed, you could not tell that he had spent four weeks in this prison. Emotionally, he grabbed Heinrich by one shoulder and gently pulled him into the kitchen.
So they sat in silence next to each other at the kitchen table for some time. Then Mr. Immortaler said, "You have my respect, Mr. Gardener, really. And after consulting with my boss, I may make you an offer today. You can refuse it, you can accept it, just as you please. I am authorized to promise you that you may stay here at least until your eightieth birthday!
If you wish, even longer. However, if one day you should wish of your own accord to join us, then it will happen."
Heinrich's eyes widened at Immortaler's words. It was not so easy to believe such a message. But the Lord Immortaler placated him with a smile.
"Everything is as I promised you. And my boss keeps his promise. Always, you can count on that! So, do you suppose, Heinrich?"
Mr. Immortaler had called him “Heinrich”. What an event. The birthday boy was beside himself with joy. No one in this big wide world could have such a birthday and be as happy as he was now.
"Thank you," he cried out loudly. "Thank you Adam!"
Adam Immortaler had gone to the door in the meantime, waved again with a smile and said half aloud:
"Have a good time with Beate, I've got it covered!"
Wasn't it very unusual that they met that afternoon? When had this ever happened before? Surely one would have had to leaf back very far in the annals to find such harmony here. But now, today, just in this glorious blue hour in the late afternoon it had surprisingly happened. And it was not at all evident what had led to this extraordinary event!
Neither of the two had ever seen the other, they knew each other really only from hearsay. And this knowledge was not comprehensive enough to be familiar with even the smallest parts of their existence. After all, they lived in different realms of time. Yet the discrepancy of their own existence is the certainty that no one can take off his skin as easily as the metamorphosis of a caterpillar accomplishes it.
When he met her by surprise, he could not understand how something so beautiful could exist at all. With difficulty he rummaged in the depths of his memory.
He tried to widen the doors to his ego in the process - in vain. His thoughts wandered back to the times of his childhood. Could it be that he had already met a similar woman back then who had impressed him so much? The question remained in the room, seemingly unsolvable and yet minute by minute asked again and again.
"An interesting guy," she thought, as the man first met her there on the gravel path. With a few quick glances, she regarded him, trying not to make it seem too conspicuous. Not everyone, and certainly not he himself, had to see right away that she was looking at him with a look of interest.
On the other hand, her attention could not be shaken off as easily as raindrops from an umbrella. One did not see such a man every day, so why should she not take a closer look? Was this already a faux pas? "Certainly not," she said to herself and now looked at this man very intensively after all.
"Exactly my ideal candidate, if I had to choose," she thought. "With him, I could already bring my life into line. But how would that work?" He had now reached the level of her park bench, his intense blue eyes looking at her with a warmth that she literally melted at the sight.
"May I join them?" he then asked softly in a voice that sounded like a breeze in the forest. "I don't like to be alone on such a beautiful day."
She just nodded, the words almost stuck in her throat. She felt a warm wave pass over her face. Then she managed to whisper after all: "Yes, gladly!"
The man thanked her; with a curt bow he then introduced himself. She didn't quite understand his name, but didn't dare ask again. "Lenz," she then said, "Ulrike Lenz, Lenz - like spring! " He laughed out loud. "That's strange," he then said, "Autumn and springtime, what a wonderful coincidence!" She smiled now too, Herbst was the name of the likeable man, she had heard correctly.
Soon they were both engaged in a lively conversation. Their conversation now almost resembled a discussion. Their thoughts wandered philosophically, often without reference to real life. The need to communicate of the two, who had met in such different ways, seemed to be inexhaustible.
At some point during the hour, however, they fell silent, and in the togetherness of that silence, their souls silently united into a bond of harmonious trust.
Although the present in their togetherness could sometimes only be guessed at, the conversation always had a connection with the course of their time. It was their very own time, which probably could not be experienced by anyone else. It was a time that ran independently of the four seasons and yet was filled with events. The youthful woman and the older man, who had never seen each other, only heard of each other, understood each other without restriction. It seemed like a miracle, this unison of souls on such a beautiful day.
She looked at him from the side. A ray of sunlight had found a way between the leaves of the great beech on his lightly tanned face, brushing over the relief of his forehead, leaving an expression of distance and timelessness.
"Why have I never met you before?" Quietly, he asked it as he felt the young woman's gaze. She sensed him looking at her, quickly lowered her head, then shrugged. "I don't know either," she replied, "probably our days or free times are too different?
I have to be honest: I think it's a shame, too!"
At these words she blushed. The man, who after all could be her father by age, touched her hand with a smile.
"That's nice," he then said softly, barely intelligible, "that makes two of us who feel the same way!" As if in an open book, and what he was reading there pleased him so much that he could not take his eyes off her.
"We should see each other much more often," he said then, "I can't imagine how I lived without you!"
She laughed brightly. "You flatterer, you have lived a long time without knowing me, haven't you?"
"Certainly," he said in response, "a very, very long time. That's precisely why I don't understand. I always knew that something was missing, only I never realized what it was. And now, since I saw you, - yes - it is just not comprehensible."
The sun had moved on, the evening announced itself. The little pond over beyond the path was now shaded by the tall trees.
Some coots were trying to find food among the leaves of the pond roses. In the shade, their little pales appeared like white dots on the water. The two people on the bench were silent for a considerable time.
Then the man said, "Don't you have to go home? Aren't they waiting for you. If you want, I'll accompany you, it's about to get dark and the area seems very unsafe to me after all."
Astonished and also a little mockingly, she then said, "Hey, you don't trust me with anything, do you? I'm already huge! I can also defend myself. And then - no one has been waiting for me for a long time! I live alone - and I like to live alone. I lack nothing to my existence. You can be quite reassured about that."
"Excuse me," he then said, "I didn't mean it that way. I was just trying to be helpful. Is that such a bad thing? Are you always so suspicious, is help always a kind of paternalism for you?"
"I didn't mean you personally. I'm just not used to being mothered. I've been self-sufficient since my earliest days, always taking care of myself. And in doing so," she smiled, her dimples at the corners of her mouth becoming visible at this, "I've always done well."
The man looked out over the small lake in the gathering darkness. "Yes," he then said after a brief pause, "the little word 'always' sounds so simple. I too remember it from my youth."
He smiled now, too, his gaze seeming to reach back into the past.
"That's the prerogative of the younger generation: I always know what I'm doing. I always take care of myself. I'm always careful. These statements always have only one evidential value: I am I!"
She nodded several times in affirmation. "So, isn't it just like that? Why should I do something just because other people think it is good? What is excellent in May can, after all, offer a completely different perspective in October. Think for yourself, Mr. Herbst: What you experienced in your youth no longer has any meaning today. Time has changed, we with it!"
"Of course." The man thought of his own youth at these words.
"Yes, I can already understand that. I think I used to think the same way. But I have learned. I've learned from life, and that learning certainly hasn't always been painless!" She sensed the nuances in his remarks, but without interrupting him, she continued to listen attentively.
"You are still young, Ulrike. It's nice when you still have this life with its countless varieties ahead of you. You don't need rose-colored glasses for that either.
This insight is there on its own, practically by itself.
Do you think I thought differently back then? I simply ignored everything I didn't like. It didn't affect me and I didn't have to care about it.
All around, everything seemed right to me the way it was. I let all the other people think for me! Almost all others did it exactly the same way and that - exactly that - was just wrong.
Then suddenly everything was over. And the quintessence of it: Everything we believed in, what we boys had felt to be right, was suddenly wrong! Do you know what such a 180-degree turnaround means for a young person?"
The man was silent, the memory overwhelming him with full force. The young woman gently took his hand, said nothing to his words, and so they were silent.
In the meantime, evening had settled over the park landscape. The lanterns along the park paths scattered a dim light on the paths. Everything was quiet, the animals at the lake had probably all gone to rest. After long minutes, she finally rose, looked at him for a long time.
"I - I think I must be getting home after all," she said then.
"I'll walk with you," the man said, standing up as well.
"Just as far as over there." The woman pointed to the other side of the small lake, where a row of houses stood.
"All right," he smiled mischievously, "at least you'll let me." They both laughed out loud. Then the woman hooked up with him quite amicably. "Oh," she said with a laugh, "you can be proud of that, that's quite a lot" ....
The next day, it was early afternoon, the man again sat on the same bench in the park. A pair of swans were slowly making their circles on the clear waters of the lake. One of the swans had its wings raised, spreading a majestic calm. It was a beautiful picture, but somehow it did not match the restlessness that the man there on the bench was radiating. Repeatedly he looked at his wristwatch, only to look back at the path that led around the lake.
Shortly thereafter, his impatience was rewarded. Mrs. Lenz came along the path light and buoyant, a light, colorful flowered summer dress exquisitely suited to her youthful appearance. She indicated a slight curtsy, then extended her hand to him in greeting."I'm not late, am I? It almost looks like you've been waiting for me for a long time!" "No, of course not, I was just there way too early," he said. "Please forgive my impatience. It's been so long since I waited for a young lady. Just out of practice, after all."
She laughed. "Well," she said, "you handled it splendidly for that!" She looked out over the lake, lost in thought. "Well, if I may say so, I was looking forward to this meeting, too. It's not that often you get the pleasure of having such a good conversation. Usually with peers it doesn't go beyond a trivial conversation after all, I for one think that's a shame."
Herbst looked at her pensively. "You are quite something, Ulrike. If you weren't so young, one would think you belonged to my generation."
"Oh no," she then said, "I already have my own views, which certainly differ from yours. And certainly not too different. My parents, at least, have had their share of trouble with me."
She laughed. "And every tree of the generations bears its fruit, I think. But only those who know how to use them should pick them, don't you think?"
She moved her palms back and forth to indicate her uncertainty. Her facial expression underlined this questioning statement. The man nodded his head in affirmation.
"Yes. That may well be true. But a tree of knowledge of generations also brings forth other things. The search for the truth. That's where the conscious old question quickly emerges: What is truth? And from there to the conscious fruits that you now mean, it is still a long way.
Are your fruits also my fruits? Is your truth also mine? Or are they completely different things that can never be completely equivalent?
For example, if you were to talk about love, is it the same feeling, the same emotion that I have in mind? For example, do we mean the same thing when we love?"
She looked at him thoughtfully. Her gaze finally wandered on to the swans on the lake, to the reedy fringe of the shore beyond. A grandiose white wall of clouds with gloriously jagged edges slid imperceptibly slowly from the horizon toward the lake. It was an image that only nature itself could produce.
Silence had fallen between the two people. Both enjoyed this sight, which would so certainly not happen every day before their eyes.
"You don't often see something this beautiful," she then said. "I love these cloud pictures!"
He nodded his head in affirmation. "And so do I. Maybe it's a reward just for us? For two people who are as different as people can be, and yet of a kindred spirit that is incredible."
The young woman looked into the man's eyes. In that gaze was something of the knowledge that for eons of time has always revitalized humanity, made it mature, and constantly turned the wheel of life anew.
"It is the magic of the present that creates such things. A piece of 'yesterday' and a piece of 'today' without being able to hold on to either. You can only enjoy it silently. And that is also the conclusion!" she then said.
They were both silent, the young woman looking over to the large willows on the lakeshore, lost in thought. Even if her youth and his age might say otherwise - they both knew the riddle that she did not release. And they knew that this emotion, which connected them both, already carried the end within itself!
Where else can 'yesterday' and 'tomorrow' meet than in today? But this today forbids every love, every union between these two poles without exception and from the beginning. Because it is unreal, without a 'before' and an 'after'. Nothing else is possible.
I am of the opinion: Where the 'yesterday' was a home, the 'tomorrow' is still far from a home for the present!
Because love between two people can be at home only in the today! Where it lives in the past, it is dead and only permeated by the 'then' and the sorrow. It is then accompanied only by figurative dreams, which must remain unfulfilled. Exactly because she is no more, but was! The love of the past can always be only the nostalgic retrospection of wonderful time processes!
However, it also happens very often that some events are suppressed or excluded, because this time was by far not always so beautiful as it was stored in the memory. An old lady with whom I talked on the occasion of her 'Iron Wedding' quickly brought me back down to earth from my admiration for her marriage of sixty-five years. Both spouses were still in good health, five children were born of the marriage, and they had accomplished much else in their life together.
I asked her if she was not proud of that time. The answer left me quite perplexed: "It was hell! But at some point it was too late to change."
Sometime was too late. What an outlandish word for a relationship between two people. Somewhere along the way that love was lost. It was forgotten on the paths of daily monotony. And surely no one bothered to look for it. Perhaps because one was already too tired?
Love of the past is always just a memory. It is certainly worth keeping and cherishing.
But it must never reach into the present! Because then this 'now' is doomed to failure! Where love lives only in the future, it is only an imitation of longing and desire, it is only a scene of insatiable passion, which weighs down the heart of the person concerned, while usually completely constricting desires and also reactions of other kinds.
How many friendships have been destroyed because one of the people involved suddenly discovered love and thus neglected the earlier common ground, without love then really taking a place in life.
Love in the future is unreal. It is often accompanied by wishes, by imaginings, which then more or less find their end in disappointments. Many a time it can happen that the disappointed partner for a long time from all these possibilities of human togetherness for a long time, freely according to the motto: For me there is no partner who fits to me!
So what then remains of everything? Hopeless days, nights full of strange desires, wistful dreams, which often turn into depression.
Love is. Love is today. Love is that of which Erich Fried says: ".... Is what it is!"
The young woman and the older man from our story go back to their own lives, each alone. Left behind are dreams of mutual understanding between the generations. Their dreams. Our dreams?
Yesterday was! Of course, with all our dreams, sufferings and joys.
Tomorrow will be! With the same conditions, the same desires.
But: Today is! That must, no that is the consolation for all humans, who always only wait. Sometime it is too late. Then however only the 'was' remains.
There has always been something homey about kitchens to me. Basically, a kitchen is one of the most important rooms in a home; it's the center of a house, so to speak. It is here that the good or bad mood of the inhabitants is decided, since the physical well-being is undoubtedly the main concern of the family.
I remember my grandmother's kitchen, which I consciously got to know at about the age of 5. A huge room with three windows, several cupboards of different sizes, and a huge table that was always covered with an oilcloth blanket. The floor was made of red bricks, which was repainted twice a year with red paint (caput mortuum). The previous general cleaning brought the entire kitchen in an improbable glossy state, which was actually not necessary, because grandmother always attached great importance to cleanliness in her realm!
I remember quite well that I never saw this large kitchen without people. In the kitchen the relatives met, here the neighborhood was received, here news was exchanged, sometimes gossip was spread.
At the kitchen table we sometimes sat together with up to ten people at a meal. We enjoyed the well-prepared food, the delicious soup, a good main meal and also the dessert in various forms. Even in the days of war, when everything was lacking and scarcity was the main product, - here in grandmother's kitchen there was always something to get. Heaven knows where these delicacies often came from! Perhaps it was due to the good relations with the old village family outside the city?
There were indeed still a number of permanent sausages hanging between the ceiling beams of the kitchen, while underneath in a corner small laundry was drying, as well as on the circumferential bar of the enormous coal stove. Its oven often brought to light the most wondrous breads and cakes! On the stove always simmered an enamel pot of coffee, but this was rarely bean coffee, but a kind of roasted barley, which then acted as coffee.
The dishes that grandmother used in the kitchen were certainly not Meissen porcelain. It was earthenware in a blue-gray color. But we loved Grandma's cups and plates, perhaps because they always had contents.
Bread was always available, even in the difficult war days, meat Grandma often brought with her when she visited her relatives in the villages. Potatoes and vegetables came from her own garden. So I don't remember ever starving until the end of the war, despite the minimal allotment on the ration cards!
The weekly bathing procedure during my weeks of visiting grandmother, however, was not something I loved. There was a large zinc tub that suddenly appeared on the floor from some recess, a wash kettle with hot water was already on the stove, this was then poured into the tub, which was then filled with cold water. The little boy - I - then got to feel the superiority of the adults, with clamor and murder it then went into the tub and to work with it! I feel the soap(!) still today in the eyes. (because of shower gel and bath additive).
So it was in the old kitchen, here during the work songs were sung, in the evening games with the whole large family played - it was simply a time, which I will never forget, also would not like to miss!
And today? The kitchen is full of appliances, electric and electronically controlled. Of course, each of the countless appliances requires a thorough study of the operating instructions in 17 languages.
(You know: Please insert nipple A in hole B to expander the outgoing side wing to open the door segments. etc.)
Anyway, it's always the latest of the latest, always updated to the latest level! The kitchen is super-hyper-extra-modern, only you can't talk there anymore, much less sing. The laundry dries in the dryer, the pre-frozen food waits in the freezer. There are exemplary and modern two-minute meals straight from the microwave.
There is too little time to sit and eat; it would be an immeasurable luxury to indulge in such unproductive activity. After all, one has to leave right away, work is waiting. Since the dishes are almost ready, no one has to sing while preparing them. We quickly turn on the mp3 player and in eleven minutes of stopped time we get into the car, which is already waiting, ready to leave, or we run to the bus stop so as not to miss the bus.
That would be an unimaginable chaos, because a delay would not be tolerated by our boss, who is just leaving the restaurant "Gambrinus" after a two-hour business dinner with his partners.
Oh yes, the bathroom, I almost forgot. It is, of course, a whirlpool with all the chicanery.
After all, it's the only place where we can have 15 minutes to ourselves to switch off. Are there any questions left unanswered?
Certainly, in our youth we had nothing of what is modern today, some things did not even exist. And yet we had much more!
We still had a sense of value that included atmosphere, conviviality and cheerful life. Grandmother would not have understood what was meant by that. But she had in her kingdom, in her kitchen, one thing that is not known to many today: she was happy, and we with her.
I wonder today: how did we survive?
Never ask for things that you can acquire yourself!
Hunger can be quite unpleasant, hunger is a real problem when you grow up and - as mother put it - "eat the hair off your family's head!" Was the adolescent actually hungry at that time, a few months after the end of the war? No, really not. They had been accommodated as refugees in a village in East Frisia, more unwelcome than joyfully welcomed, given a roof over their heads. They, that was the small family, mother with two children, five and eleven years old.
Well, the food stamps were not enough, but that was the case for all people who had survived the great empire that had once lasted a thousand years and now had to start anew. The three had also survived. None of the refugees liked to remember the events of their flight through Pomerania, which was surrounded by the Red Army, to Gotenhafen and then across the Baltic Sea. What was the point? The people who asked curiously shook their heads in disbelief anyway.
In the small village on the Ems, life gradually returned to normal. But what does normal mean? Is it "normal" when tanks and other tracked vehicles rattle through the village? Or when the makeshift pontoon bridge across the Ems to the eastern side was very inconvenient for civilians to use? In the days after May 8, 1945, when it was not yet possible for us children to start school, Hans-Georg, as an eleven-year-old boy, took the opportunity to go on adventurous excursions. There was the big swing bridge over the Ems, fourteen days before the end of the war it was blown up by German troops to prevent the Allies from crossing the Ems. What a sky-scraping nonsense!
For the kids, however, it seemed like it would be a great adventure playground, so completely off the roads! He later still saw the large signs at the former bridge approach in front of him:
"OUT OF BOUNDS" and "BRIDGE CLOSED."
The latter, in turn, constantly made him and his playmates laugh: What an abstract word for everyone. They always translated it as "bridge toilet"! For them it became a clue when they wanted to play there! "Will you come to the lavatory?" became a common word. When an adult heard it, he would just shake his head in wonder. This 'playing on the toilet' mainly consisted of racing the 'lorries' parked there down the steep descent from the ruined bridge to the road! This descent was almost kilometers long, the small vehicle on the superficially laid narrow rails reached a speed that would have demanded respect from any racing driver.
Hans-Georg kept asking himself why there had never been an accident? Maybe there were the famous guardian angels after all? In any case, it went well until the Canadian guards at the pontoon bridge further away came running furiously to chase us away. Unfortunately - or rather, thankfully - the soldiers were never lucky enough to catch us.
At some point, however, the children of the village came to dislike this "playground". A diving company, it was called "PISRAEL", began the first work to remove the under water lying parts of the destroyed bridge. With diving bells and modern cranes they began the necessary work. The village youth would have liked to watch - unfortunately, everything there was hermetically sealed off.
Hans-Georg had found a new field of activity for this. On both sides of the pontoon bridge built by the Canadian troops there was a guard house. There, a soldier was always on guard duty, regulating the single-lane traffic across the Ems by field telephone.
However that had happened, I had made friends with some of the soldiers. We tried to communicate linguistically - and lo and behold: it worked excellently. He often received small gifts from them, in return for which he helped them with small manual tasks. Small transactions with cigarettes always brought him a supply of Chewing-Gum and Chokolate. The Canadian boys - hardly any were older than 25 - were without exception friendly and cordial to him. Their friendly nature also proved to him during these years that humanity costs nothing and can prevent much evil!
Of course, he often spent time with the soldiers at the bridge, which meant that he spent less time with the children of the village. And so it was then also quite good for him that the troops left towards the end of the year.
The bridge had to be dismantled again because of the expected ice drift.
Now that school lessons had finally started again, the 'inclusion' of the refugee boy from East Pomerania also picked up again! Nevertheless, he was quite sad in late autumn. He missed the 'hostile' friends from faraway Canada very much! For many years afterwards, he cherished a hunting knife that Jacky from Winnipeg had given him as a parting gift. A beautiful episode had come to an end; the gray post-war everyday life had returned.
Was it night when they met? Darkness, frosted darkness lined with cobalt blue velvet, silver stars as decoration. The world had not yet seen this level of darkness.
A concave, infinite night. G'tt had been there long before him. Infinitely long he had been waiting. Eons had passed so far. Eons it took for this meeting to come about. Eternities after he had created the universe, the earth, the man from the infinite chaos, G'tt was already waiting. For him, the opponent. The fallen one.
The stars abruptly dimmed their light. Then he came. Diavolo. With a smile, he entered the stage of action. "I greet you, Lord."
He was small, much smaller than any human would ever have imagined. And he spoke in a low voice, almost toneless but quite audible and certainly not to be missed. "You are waiting for me, Lord?"
G'tt looked at him. Long. And penetratingly. Amethyst eyes that see deep into the heart. "He calls me master? He, the apostate?" G'tt spoke to him as to a third person. Then again, as a statement, "He calls me Lord!"
Finally, more insistent, more demanding, "It is time that we speak about man."
"Your creature, Lord, it is your creature." Diavolo twisted the corners of his mouth, smiling. "What am I supposed to do about it? Am I you, Lord?" He took a step closer. "You can't handle him anymore, am I right? He's outgrowing you, no, much worse, he's not listening to you anymore!"
Diavolo put his head on one side and looked up at G'tt. "Even worse. He looks for other gods. Me, for example, he looks to as the person he worships. And then on top of that, a whole bunch of secondary gods, temporary gods, so to speak." G'tt frowned and looked at him questioningly, then extended his index finger to Diavolo and said in anger:
"You? You he worships? Who are you, then? An overthrown, unworthy angel, not worthy to share in my work!"
"May be, sir. Perhaps so."
Diavolo laughed out loud. The darkness trembled at this laughter, the blue changing momentarily to deep black. "I'm not disagreeing with you, Lord. But your creature is no longer the creature you once created.
Your great spirit Goethe says it nevertheless aptly: '...the misery is great, which I called, the spirits, I get now no more rid of!'
You reversed your decision once, Lord, back then with the Flood."
He made a sweeping gesture with his arms. "But then came the greatest mistake of your history: you set your rainbow in the clouds and made a promise to it. And now?"
Diavolo's voice was like the rustle of the night wind. "Has even one little thing changed, has even one tiny trait of your creature become different? No! The absolute opposite has occurred. He kills the brother, he tortures the neighbor, he rapes the fellow. Still. And again and again and again and more and more!"
The rushing voice turned into a roar at these words. "Why don't you admit that I am right, admit it, Lord?"
G'tt had winced at these words. He looked up at the cloud formations drifting in the endless expanse of blue night. Then he said softly:
"But he loves, too. The brother, the neighbor. He loves his fellow man. I know it. It can't all be hypocrisy. In emergencies, this willingness to help, just as in disasters, these are real facts."
G'tt stretched his left hand heavenward. His voice trembled, "Even you can't deny that."
Diavolo looked thoughtfully at the ground. "Certainly, there is. But why does he do that? Man does it only so that he will not always carry around with him the guilty conscience that you, Lord, have taught him with your commandments. So that he can claim that he is good."
He laughed again. 'Noble be the man, helpful and good!' What nonsense there is in that poet's word. I know the truth better than you, Lord, I know the most secret desires and lusts of your creature! I, Diavolo, have played with his heart from the beginning of human times!"
G'tt looked thoughtfully at his counterpart: "But- but that would mean man's greatest enemy is man. He fights himself, kills himself, does all the terrible things to himself!"
"Oh, the great Lord has embraced my truth."
Diavolo laughed, sounding a little mocking.
"But the best is yet to come, all the wars, all the great catastrophes, famine and misery, all the terrible things he blames on you, Lord, after all!"
He shook with laughter, the forest shook.
"Are you still not awake? Your creative respite is taking a little long, don't you think?"
Diabolo's laughter boomed through the night world. "Why does G'tt let all this evil happen," don't you hear those constant questions? "Why doesn't He do something to make it different?"
He took a step closer. "These hypocritical questions should reach even you! You love these prayers with pompous phrases, Lord. You want him to worship you! I almost feel you are like him - Or is he like you?"
He slapped his forehead with his hand.
"Of course. What is it they say in your strange writings? ...In his own image he created him! Well? What do you say to that?"
G'tt turned away from his counterpart, a quivering of his shoulders hinting at the inner excitement that was going on within him.
"No," he then said softly, "No, that was not my intention. I only set rules for a coexistence of these human creatures, my commandments!"
"Yes, yes," Diavolo interrupted him, "but you left them free to decide for themselves to follow those commandments, too! And that was your mistake, see that at last! You yourself put man's fate in his hands. You turn an immature creature into a being who can decide for himself."
G'tt whispered now: "I wanted that he loves me. Nothing more. Nothing more. But he loves only himself!"
He grasped the blue of the night with his hand and let it slip through his fingers. "Is he becoming his own creator? Does he now rise to that as well?"
Diavolo nodded wordlessly, then pointed his hand into the distant reaches of the blue night, "If you do not intervene, Lord! He's copying himself now. He's creating his own personal spare parts store so that he can finally enjoy eternal life someday. A little different, Lord, than you thought eternal life would be, isn't it?"
G'tt looked at him for a long time, his eyes having become lackluster, his great spirit weary with the realization that the other was right.
"And you? You does he acknowledge? What does he call you? Satan? Devil? Mephisto? Shaitan?"
Agitated, he paced back and forth without pause. His voice quivered with anger. "Speak!"
Diavolo looked serenely up into the endless expanse of the now starless sky.
"There are so many names for evil, you know that well, Lord: whether Lucifer or Ahriman or Diavolo. And there are so many places where evil lurks: hell, the inferno, the underworld, Tartarus, the night, the graveyard, the land of enemies, the neighbor beyond the fence. The person next door in the room!"
G'tt would have liked to cover his ears, in order not to have to hear these long enumerations any longer. But it had to be, he could not avoid the words of Diavolo, who now continued to speak:
"Yet he knows and feels exactly what evil is called and where it dwells: in himself!"
His words grew louder, resounding far through the night, and G'tt listened in despair as Diavolo continued, "But he cannot bear this thought without despairing. Either he sees himself as blameless or damned. Man, your great creature cannot stand the truth: That he is good and that he is evil. And that every moment demands its own decision. A decision that no one can take from him. No God and no devil. He himself is his own Satan, only he doesn't want to admit it!"
G'tt was silent for a long, very long time. Then He said softly, almost tenderly to an imaginary third person:
"You worship Satan. You worship power and money. You worship some stars, artists, sportsmen. And don't you realize that you worship yourselves!"
His voice increased to a thunderous roar through the blue eternities, the whole universe trembled from that sound!
All the stars of the universe faded into an indefinable mist. And suddenly Diavolo had disappeared, dissolved into an unreal eternity, evaporated into the thought worlds of the human sphere.
A shadow, ready to return at any time, always prepared to be worshipped anew!
G'tt however was there in the widths of the pale dark-violet sky illusion. His voice resounded for a long time, repeated by thousandfold echoes:
"I am who I am, your G'tt. It is time to grow up, children, high time ..."
The storm raged around the lonely house on the hill, tugging at the solid thatched roof, trying to lever out the tightly lashed shutters. The climbing roses on the house wall bowed to the force of the storm and swayed in unison with the power of the wind. They knew from time immemorial the secret of adapting, bending and yet not denying their own nature.
I stood in front of this beautiful old front door, faded fascinating colors in shades of blue set off with white, four small panes gave this door a romantic look. I had already knocked on this door several times, in vain. All I wanted was to get some directions so that I could get back to the village before the evening approached. By trying to reach my destination by side roads, I had really lost my way, had landed in a completely strange environment. The sudden storm was not exactly helpful in my efforts to find my guesthouse again.
Just as I was about to turn away to continue my search, I heard a noise from inside. The door opened a crack. In the semi-darkness of the hallway, I saw two eyes looking at me in amazement.
They were eyes that one does not often find, expressive eyes that knew life and yet looked into the world full of childlike curiosity. I could not take my eyes off them, they fascinated me so much. After a few long moments, then the voice of a young woman.
"Yes? Can I do something for you?"
An impressive pleasant voice, clear and melodic. Since the door still remained closed except for the small crack, I still did not know with whom I was dealing. Just the eyes and this voice charmed me so much that I could not answer at first.
"Won't you tell me what you want?" The voice now sounded a bit impatient.
"Forgive the intrusion!" I had finally regained my speech.
"I want to go to Overdieck, I got lost there. Could you show me the way?"
"To Overdieck? Oh, you're way off track there! That's pretty far away. It'll take you two hours to get there!"
A beautiful young woman with long blond hair opened the door, aquamarine eyes looking at me appraisingly. A blue and white plaid strap skirt and a white blouse with ruffled sleeves gave the woman a somewhat old-fashioned look.
To me, however, this woman seemed downright charming. She made a hand gesture towards the door, then said: "Come into the parlor first. You look like a dripping wet St. Bernard. I just made myself some tea. Would you like some?"
I accepted her invitation, entered the narrow hallway. She took off my jacket and cap, then said, "Take off your wet shoes. There are slippers."
Then she opened a low door decorated with peasant paintings and I stood in the living room of the old fisherman's house. It was just as I had always imagined such a house to be. A beautiful, age-browned beamed ceiling competed with the romantic furnishings and the bull's-eye windows. The furniture had apparently seen the last century. A pretty bouquet of flowers on the oak table made everything really cozy.
"You - you must be used to more comfort," she then said, smiling at me, "well, everything here is still as my parents left it. And that's why I come back here once a year. I love this old house and also the seclusion."
She offered me a seat, pointing to one of the beautiful woven cane chairs.
"By the way," she then said, "my name is Gesine!"
I now introduced myself as well, and so we were soon engaged in an exceptionally good conversation. We now talked at length about life here on the coast, the old days, about God and the world. In the meantime she had served the tea in an old teapot, the tea shimmered golden brown in the shallow cups, a tiny mountain of rock candy protruding from the cloud of cream. It was a delicacy I hadn't enjoyed in a long time.
"The tea tastes so good here because I only make it with rainwater," she then said as I praised the drink. "I don't know it any other way. I never drink the tea any other way."
By now it had quieted down outside. The storm had subsided, no longer tugging at the shutters. Dusk crept quietly around the house and I felt it was time to leave if I wanted to arrive at my boarding house before evening.
She still accompanied me to the door after I had put on my now dry clothes. Then, as I said goodbye, I asked if I might see her again. "I don't think so!"
She said it with a slight sadness that made me wonder.
"Glad you were there," she said afterwards, "it was a delightful hour. Keep it in your memory, will you? I will, too."
Then she held out her cool hand to me in farewell, one long look still from her beautiful eyes, and I was back on the road she had described to me before. On the way, I thought about this young woman for a long time.
Late in the evening I arrived at my pension. Afterwards, as I sat in the dining room eating dinner, I reflected on what had happened that afternoon. The landlady casually asked me where I had hiked today during the storm.
When I explained this to her, she stumbled. Astonished, she asked again and patiently I explained again my hike and the stay in this fishing house.
"It can't be! It's impossible!" Her words sounded with a determination that brooked no contradiction.
"There is only the ruin of an old fisherman's house there, which collapsed more than a hundred years ago. There is no one there anymore, how could there be?"
The landlady shook her head.
"The last occupant was the daughter of the old fishermen. She took her own life a few years after the old people died!"
I looked at her in disbelief and concern. Then she said casually, "Her name was Gesine!"
Sacrosanct and reveling in all shades of red, the sun floated towards its destination for the day. It enchanted the rugged peaks of the mountains with its crimson glow, making them shine in all their glory. The north face of the mountain, facing away from the sun, now lay in semi-darkness, conjuring up the image of a vast shadow theater with its ever-changing figurative depictions.
This morning, the man had set out to reach his great dream destination. At the mountain station at an altitude of almost two thousand meters, he left the cable car gondola behind him, then ventured to carefully tread the narrow mule track nestled against the western face of the mountain. Well, some quietly emerging feelings of fear were already spreading. But that was exactly why he had undertaken this hike, after all. It had to be possible to process the experiences of the last time without immediately falling into some neurosis.
The narrow path presented him basically no difficulties, on the right hand the thousand meter towering wall, on the left it went then just as steeply deeply down into the valley. He avoided looking down there.
A slight feeling of vertigo tried to gain the upper hand with him, but ultimately did not manage to keep the upper hand in his mind.
He had started this strenuous hike completely alone, and he wanted to finish it completely alone. It was certainly not a great mountain tour, which he had undertaken there. Every mountain climber would have laughed at him. For him, however, it was an act of self-conquest, a kind of internal crisis management.
He had set himself the goal of tackling this high-altitude route alone, even though he had been warned. Strongly warned, because for a "lowland tyro," as he had been jokingly called, it would be dangerous, as the weather could change within minutes.
"You won't make it!" These doubting words made him stronger and stronger. "You'll never make it!" how many times had that been drummed into him.
"High school graduation? Ridiculous, you're a fool!"
"You dream of going to college?"
He had been laughed at. Consequently, he hadn't made it either - of course not. Attending high school had been denied to him from the very beginning.
How could it be that a boy, who was highly speech impaired, presumed to explore the world of knowledge.
"The herring fishing fleet is still looking for young people," one had said, "that's something for you. You're always looking for adventure. Up there off Iceland, you'll get over the nonsense."
He had then taken up a profession that was 'suitable' for him. He filled this job to the full, but day after day he went to work only with reluctance.
Now, finally, he had picked himself up, wanted to show them all that he could do more than just spend his hours between the computer and the cafeteria. Well, it had been eons of years since he had heard those words, but he still heard and felt those pejoratives inside him almost constantly.
The sun had so slowly hidden behind the western flank of the ridge. A deep red glow bathed the surrounding peaks in a tangle of kaleidoscopic blobs of color. Shadow plays at nature's highest level gradually bathed the winding path in a blue-gray something.
A starless night returned to this lonely mountain path. Deep down in the valley, darkness had already reached the small village. Like a luminous string of pearls, a long line of light dots stretched around the base of the mountain, on whose steep flank the man marveled at this wonderful sight. Then, suddenly and almost without transition, darkness fell all at once over the mountain face. Almost without further dawn, the mountain now lay in full darkness. Only the lights in the valley showed the lonely hiker that the mountain solitude was only partially effective here. The silence that now completely and without the slightest sound dominated the night that had fallen enveloped him in its natural essence.
Breathlessly, he leaned back against the rock wall, grasped the safety chain attached there with both hands, and then uttered a cry that resounded far down into the valley. Then he inhaled and exhaled deeply several times, then set off to continue on the path to the descent. Certainly, it was already a daring enterprise, on which he got involved there. But there was no other way, to spend the night so easily on this narrow mule track was a much greater risk. So he felt his way along the path, cautiously inching forward with each foot and then finally taking it step by step.
The lights deep down in the valley were now noticeably diminishing; there were surely only a few streetlights left, like fireflies trying to impart a tiny bit of light to the darkness. Up here on the mountain, however, it was pitch black on this moonless night and - despite the late summer night - also bitterly cold.
After more than three hours of always following the rock face along the path through the night, the hiker finally reached a gentle slope that reached down several hundred feet on the left side of the trail. The low bushes, consisting mainly of stunted pines, did not yet give a view of the valley.
He looked at his wristwatch, shaking his head in disbelief. Four twenty! Over on the eastern slope of the valley, the first outlines of the mountains of Col du Luc appeared with their fringe of magenta brightness. For quite a while he watched the rising sun as it slowly emerged from behind the mountains, tentatively casting a diffuse light on the area on this side and the other side of the valley through gray-white wisps of mist.
Half an hour later, he continued his descent from the mountains down into the valley, after feasting on a small snack that he still found in his small backpack.
The descent was certainly not easier than the hike before. Man-sized boulders repeatedly prevented the straight path, and in addition the scree path was very slippery and slippery due to the morning fog. The man was happy, he felt that he had succeeded in the improbable, in which he had never believed: He had conquered himself and his fear! And he felt good about it, better than he had in a long time.
"Yes," he shouted out into the misty morning. "I can do it. I really can, you all didn't want to believe me!"
He laughed uproariously, jumping enthusiastically into the air, slipping, losing his footing; losing his balance, he rowed his arms, then tumbled over a rock down the slope. A large chunk of dolomite rock stopped his fall. It stopped his fall into the deep valley, but also ended the further course of his life.
The last glance of the dying man was directed to the beautiful view of the dawning day. This day that would be just as glorious as the last one he had set out to conquer himself.
A beautiful November day was coming to an end. The paths of the forest were wet and soggy. Brown-yellow leaves sank down from the trees almost inaudibly.
Before nature went to rest this autumn, it showed itself once again in all its colorful splendor, and then in the fog inexorably went the way of everything earthly.
Vladimir, the gray-haired forester, wandered through the large forest area as he often did to see what was going on. There were still trees to be marked, which were to be cut down in the winter, a small bridge made of birch logs also needed to be renewed.
"Be careful," his wife had still admonished in the morning, "the Big Brown Bear is supposed to be back in the territory! Take care that you do not come too close to him! God keep you, my dear husband."
Vladimir had only laughed. "Just leave your God out of it! You know that I have nothing to do with him since my childhood. I am an atheist, do you understand? Atheist!"
His wife crossed herself. "Man, don't talk so blasphemously! You're sinning."
Vladimir continued to laugh even as he made his way through the forest, shaking his head repeatedly at his wife's pious talk.
Just before the small bridge over the brook he heard a noise and then a strong humming sound! And then - there he stood: a black-brown bear, overman-sized and as wide as three tree trunks! Vladimir was terrified, he couldn't run away, the bear was faster than him, he knew that.
And to stand up to him, without any weapons, that was an insane undertaking for which he was no longer young enough. Vladimir fell to his knees and cried aloud: "God, where are you now? Now help me! I need you after all!"
The bear suddenly stopped as if frozen, the water of the wide stream stopped flowing, and all the clouds in the sky stopped moving on.
Then he heard a voice, powerful, as if shouting from a great height: "You have denied me all your life, you have always said that I do not and cannot exist, that everything in the world has come into being by chance and can be explained physically! Why - I ask you - why should I help you now?"
"Oh God, at least command this bear to become a believer, that would also be a help!"
And immediately the clouds moved on, the stream flowed again in its bed, and the huge bear awoke from its torpor.
Vladimir rubbed his eyes, he did not believe what he saw: the bear suddenly fell on his knees, folded his paws in prayer and Vladimir heard the giant pray before him:
“Dear God , I thank you for the gift you have prepared for me ...!”