It was real. I was really there in Kirchsteinbek, a suburb of Hamburg. The day’s outing was over and I stepped off the bus at just the right place.
Twenty-five years earlier I got off the bus at this same stop, loaded down with school books. I was a fearful girl then, unsure of my life. What did I believe? Who was I? It was a year of getting to know myself, an American teenager in Germany. I worked incredibly hard at learning the language. I had an ear for it; I could converse almost flawlessly – until that is, I totally lost myself in an impossibly contorted sentence and forgot which verb to put at the end. And in my intense desire to appear to fit in, I would rather stay silent than risk the chance of making a grammatical mistake.
But an eighteen-year-old didn’t get off the bus this time. It was the next-to-last day of my visit back to the place of those memories, and a forty-three-year-old wife and mother stepped down to begin the walk “home”. I had talked for hours that day with my host brother, Henning. I hadn’t cared a bit if anyone heard my American accent, or if I’d gotten a word wrong, here and there. It had been a great day. Now, I was headed back to the Fitschen’s house. Hundreds of times I had walked that stretch before.
Everything was so familiar….. Suddenly, I was young again! I closed my eyes, my heart beat faster. I was that girl again. All the years ahead! A whole lifetime! But what was contained in those years? It came rushing upon me – scenes and faces, swirling around me. I felt the burning in my throat of suppressed sobs, for they were crying faces, screaming faces – mine, filled with grief.
When I had walked this way years before, I had a brother, I had a whole family, I had an unbroken body. Between this walk and the last one, they were gone. Years had stolen them.
Then, other faces took their place: Three babies, my husband.
There was no separating the pain and the joy. They were joined like an object in a picture lit brightly on one side, yet deeply shaded on the other. One object, one life: My life.
I can’t take away the bad, without doing away with the good. If it could be any other way, I would choose it.
So that is life. I can choose every day to live in the lit side, or in the shadow. It is only one small step from one to the other.