Monday, January 17, 2011

Things the Germans say...

It's been 6 months here. Six months of winter. That's all the Germans have--winter. Don't let them fool you: they will speak of myths and legends, fairy tales if you ask me, of some weird thing called spring, and then comes the completely unfathomable tall-tale of summer, which makes unicorns seem like normal, everyday boring stuff.

But there are other things they Germans say. Things so cute, or so weird, or so plain interesting, that make me pleased to have enjoyed their winter, with sunrise at 9 a.m. and sunset at 4 p.m., and during this "daylight" time, no sun. How can you have a sunrise when no sun rises? Anyway. That is totally not the point. Not today. Not now.

When I met with my German friends, Isa and Chrissy, in Barranquilla in May of last year, I think what they were most surprised with was our waking-up attitude. I used to sing them the song my mom used to sing to me (we sing it to each other every once in a while, still), which loosely translated is something like,

Every morning 
[my city] (I said Barranquilla, but really you can insert almost any city name. I use "Kiel" when I feel like singing some mornings... alone... in the dark...)
wakes up, 
we're going to have a great day! 
Together, we will walk along with the warm sun, 
smiling always at life! 
Stay with us and yell, 
I'm going to have a great day today!

And just singing this little song, their days (and mine) began with a smile. Maybe they were making fun of me, maybe they really liked the song--who knows. But they were smiling, which was my point. They told me that the Germans were very different. I didn't believe it until I heard it for myself on TV (and everything you hear on TV must be true). When the Germans get up, they say Guten morgen, liebe Sorgen: good morning, sweet worries. What's that all about? Who wants to wake up to concerns? No no no. I have to talk to Angie and teach her our song. But then, I also need some help from the Sun-god, because I cannot sing about walking along with the wam sun without sun. Hmm. Maybe I should greet my concerns in the morning.

But then, after I tired myself of making fun of the Germans and their Sorgen, I learned something else that the Germans say. When the Germans say good-bye, like a real farewell, not a "see you later, alligator", but a real white-handkerchief-waving-in-the-air-filled-with-tears kinda good-bye, like a heartfelt "so long", they wish you a full life. They say, Leb wohl. I think that's lovely. It's the best way to close a conversation and offer that last glimpse of the other, that last wave of the hand, that last tear falling, that last kiss blown into the air, that last wish--that last wish, which makes it all good: Leb wohl, live a full life. What more can one ask in a farewell, than the wish for nothing smaller than a full life. And I like the philosophy behind it: they are not wishing you a happy life, they are not wishing you a lucky life, they are not wishing you only good things. Because a full life has to have ups and downs. Otherwise, how will you be able to recognize that you have, in fact, lived a full life, when all you have had is happiness and luck and good things? No, no, no. The Germans know better. They know that you need a bit of sorrow, so that when the time comes you will be able to tell apart the happy tears from the sad ones. They know that you need a little bit of bad luck, so that you will work even harder to accomplish your dreams. They know that you need to go through some trials and tribulations, so that you will be able to tell apart the people who really love you from those who just use you.

The Germans. Ah. They are so witty. Maybe one does need to go through two World Wars and many, many centuries to think the way they do. Maybe we (my mom and I) try to dismiss our Sorgen too early in the morning, pretending they are not there. The Germans face them, head on, first thing in the morning. Like trying to say, "Dude, what's up. Here we are. Come and get us." Come and get us. They have no fear. They have no angst. They are Germans. They've gone through things I cannot even  begin to imagine--especially because the city I live in today, Kiel, was founded before my entire continent was discovered.

Maybe the Germans look at me and think I am naïve. Maybe the Germans listen to me and envy my naivete a little. Maybe they see me as one sees a younger brother or sister, thinking, "Ah, darling, you will soon wake up and smell the coffee..."


So far, I will continue to sing my song, and pray that this thing the Germans dare to call summer comes along quickly enough, so that I may write a retraction and say, Yes, Yes! The Germans DO have summer! And so that my song about walking alongside the warm sun might be true--if only for the few minutes the sun will last. Ah, there you have it: My very own Sorgen.

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