Madisen and I walked home together after the Christmas party while Ping got a ride from Max. I explained to her how I simply felt fatigued by the thought of all the movement which lay ahead of me and, with characteristic definiteness, she told me that of course I would feel this way now. But, later, after I had begun moving I would be energized by it… didn't I know that yet?
Maybe I do, but it is something which I forget.
Sometime during the past week I made the mistake of looking at the prices of plane tickets which would take me to my most immediate family over the holidays. I had expected that these would range to the thousands of dollars, but there, staring back at me, was a ticket for only $550.
And yet it gnawed at me, so I did three things on Friday evening.
I packed my entire life into a backpack. I have a few things more now than I did when I arrived in Germany, but I now know each and every one of my items intimately, and so I tetrised them together into a single backpack.
Then I decided it was highly unlikely that I would be camping in my 15° bag and bivy sack during the next couple of months, so I transferred these and a pillow into the largest flat-rate shipping box the DeutschePost had to offer. (I'd bought the box on Thursday anticipating this moment.)
Then I looked up every conceivable way to get from Heiligenstadt to Frankfurt to Sveged.
Then I stared and stared at those cheap tickets.
Steo and I had prearranged a call—fittingly so, since she had helped me pack when I left for Germany—and we talked about it. Heiligenstadt felt very isolating to me. Though every walk I took to and from work or around the mountains near the city filled me with peace, satisfaction, and inspiration, the topography could only do so much. The town simply lacked people, or I had been unable to find them.
During my last few weeks there, I'd finally found a group of people who met to single religious music weekly, though by this time they'd taken a break until January. Most importantly for my soul, I'd found a piano. But it may have been too little and too late, there were emotive aspects that the experience could not satiate and a sure-fire way of resolving this would be to make a longer flight to places where I could spend a lengthy time with those close to me.
But, though my job with IBA has ended, I am not unemployed. Rather, I have about two months' worth of funding through a project I began with the University just before I left… and there are other contracts and projects in the works. When I think about this, I realize that this is a rare opportunity to try to self-actualize. To explore how life might be lived. The effort of working on these projects will require that I am sufficiently stationary to concentrate, so I cannot be a slave of constant motion. But, beyond this, it is the freedom to go anywhere and to find a life there.
But, if you could go anywhere, and had the freedom to do anything what sort of person would you be if that freedom was not spent, at least in part, in the company of those important to you?
But there is a dual challenge: those very people cannot help but to tell you to run off on adventures they feel you want to have. And so there is a circle.
But, finally, at 3AM I am tired, but decide to put in a final plug for those I haven't seen for so long. And it does not work: I do not qualify for the cheap plane tickets.
I'm up before the alarm. At 8:30. By 9, I am showered. By 9:15 I have walked across town to the post office. By 9:30 I have triple-checked the address on the box and ~5.59lbs (2.83kg) and 22L of volume are on their way.
By 9:40 I have extracted a fistful of cash and few euros more from the bank.
By 9:50 I am home.
By 10:10 I have everything in the bag and have striped my room to the bare, single-lighted prison cell it was when I first saw it… before I made it into a home. My housemates are gone, so there are no good-byes.
I leave a Christmas card for the family in the apartment below me, how lent me screwdrivers and cooking utinsels when I first arrived, whose young (and very respectful) son I met so often in the stairwell, and whose cat I would often let into or out of the building. One of my most rewarding experiences living in Heiligenstadt was the night fifteen weeks in when the cat finally let me pet it.
By 10:15 I am walking down the road feeling that my backpack is overloaded and trying to find Thomas's house to return the bike he lent me. I have to ask four different people for directions; it is a simple act but one which inspires a feeling of gratitude and connection.
I arrive at Thomas's house at 10:40, glad that I did not wear my coat because moving with my pack and the bike has kept me very warm. He's in his car, about to leave, so the timing is excellent. His wife climbs in the back and we drive down to the station. And again, Heiligenstadt defies me: Thomas takes a route to the station that I didn't even know existed. There are still places in the town I haven't seen! “Have a nice life!”, Thomas says… and what else is there to say?
Standing on the platform where I first arrived, I look up over my aparment bloc to the hills and think of what Uwe had said the night before, “You knew always that this moment comes, so there is no sadness.” Maybe he is right.
In the train, I watch the countryside slip past and at first it is evocative of memories and then everything is new and memories or being forged: mist-filled river valleys, intersecting wooded hills and I am not sad.
When I arrive in Frankfurt it is about 1:30. A series of people in the train station guide me to the tourist booth where they search “Christuskirche” and then draw me a map.
The entry-way of the church has two people smoking outside of it. “Do you sing here?”, I ask. “We try!”, says an incredibly tall man. There's a moment of confusion before they figure out that I too, am here to try. Walking inside, I see the familiar site of a group of inward-facing chairs arranged in a square in the middle of an echoy hall. This is the place.
I've found book and sat down to sing when M.K. sees me. I'd wrote her in August about singing together sometime when I was in Germany and she'd replied just the week before, which led to my being here. She gets a puppy-dog-for-Christmas smile and we have a moment to say hello before the singing starts.
A break later, we move all the chairs into an even more echoy room and a stream of people from Bremen, Vilnius, Cork, London, other parts of England, Berlin, and Frankfurt introduce themselves. All this for a day of singing! M.W., who led a workshop earlier in the day, is going person to person inquiring if they want to lead a song and, under such direct inquiry, with assistance, I take my first stab at it.
Afterwards, we wander over to the Albatross pub, order up some food and drink, and continue singing. On the first song, they turn the music off; on the second song, the proprietor says this is great; by the third song we're getting into it, and the proprietor returns to say we need to stop because its too loud for anyone to converse. Chastised, a half-hour passes during which I discover that perhaps half the people there know who Alan Turing is and in which we wonder whether mankind will ever outgrow its dangerous biological roots.
Then we start singing again, but in a quiet and, dare I say, subversive, way. Mic and Ilya take turns shushing us every few minutes as the volume insiduously creeps louder.
Andreas has (magically) arranged places for everyone to sleep and, far too soon, really, his friend—who is also named Andreas—shows up to collect Magda and I. On the walk to his flat he explains that he's a kind of on-call counselor with the fire and police departments to help families in the wake of personal disasters. It's a good idea, but, until this moment, I hadn't known such people existed. At the apartment, he, his wife, Magda, and I discuss shape note singing late into the night.
Magda tells us about the movie &dlquo;Cold Mountain”, about the war between the states. The Director had gone searching for the right music, stumbled upon shape note, and decided without hestiation that it was the right thing, saying afterwards that it was the movie's prime actor. It was problem for the studio, though, because they couldn't find any singers willing to go to a recording studio—the music is never performed nor practised—so the studio took their equipment to a singing in Georgia and joined in. That is how these things are done.
Magda, who I concluded earlier in the day must be crazy, is continually expressing new sides of herself. During singing she was awash with a kind of animated joy; during the breaks, exuding a cheeky energy; at the bar randomly breaking into Polish folk songs and lullabies. Now, the conversation glides into heart-felt exposition on issues of Lithuanian independence, lingering resentment of past Polish dominance, gender equality in language and practice.
Since I'm a fan of numbers, consider that Vilnius, the capitol of Lithuania, was once 70% Polish. Now it's only 25%, but still…
I've wanted to go to Vilnius for a some time now; after all, they are the only place I know of where a hitchhiking club is headquartered, and that would be worth visiting! But now Magda tells me that 80% of the country is forested, including the capitol itself. So maybe now there is a third city that I must visit.
About half of the living room is couch, probably large enough for six or more people to sleep on, with a lovely hardwood floor and numerous windows. As we're preparing to sleep I explain how I am now traveling without really knowing the destination or timing of things. Magda is fascinated with this idea, and speaks of thinking of quitting her job to travel for a while: “I have had this feeling within me for five years, but I have not done it.” Finding the idea of a Polish ex-pat working on gender equality in Lithuania to be fascinating in itself, it is odd to hear her say this.
Χριστιν has a wisdom-quote on her wall which says, “The reason we struggle with insecurity is because we compare our behind the scenes with everyone else's highlight reel.” Perhaps then such feelings are an indication that you are around the right people: there are so many highlight reels this weekend.