It is time to not only acknowledge but thank all the people in my life who made me who I am.
Anybody whom you meet more than in passing will influence your life in some shape or form, however minutely. But a few people will not only influence you, they may very well alter the course of your life.
This is for them.
First there was my sister. Max came into my life when I was 8 and she was 11. She is my foster-sister and has her own set of parents. The reason she came to live with us is very literally that she was at the wrong place at the wrong time. She is part of German history. Part of the families whose lives got ripped apart by the Wall. She was on one side, her family on the other on August 13, 1961 when the Berlin Wall went up. She needed a place to live. My family offered it to her.
I always thought of my sister as a round peg coming to live with a family of square pegs. No matter how hard my parent tried, they could never quite make her fit into that square hole. What Max gave me was the ability to see us for the shape pegs we were. And most importantly she helped me round out my edges so I could roll with life rather than jar my way through it.
Just a few years later I became friends with Inge. We were in the same class at school and lived close to each other. After school we walked home as slowly as humanly possible, pushing our bikes, and talked about God and the world. But mostly we dissected emotions. It is Inge who taught me compassion. From her I learned that you don’t have to walk a mile in some one’s shoes. You can be considerate of their views and even share their feelings without having to have been there yourself. All you have to do in life is keep your eyes open. The people around you will experience all kind of joys and traumas. Watch them and learn.
In my late teens when I was old enough to travel alone I regularly set out to East Berlin to visit the family left behind: my uncle, aunt and cousins. My cousins were still small then. My uncle Klaus and my aunt Weska became my Ersatz-Parents. We would sit up late and talk about politics, philosophy, the arts, human nature, aspirations and dreams. Of course I had to cross back over to the West side by mid-night. But next morning when the border crossing opened I was back in line for another day of animated life. After the all around void in my home it was like a new chance at life. To paraphrase Margaret Houlihan from M*A*S*H: At home it was all rat-tat-tat-tat. With my uncle and aunt it was all wush-wush-wush.
It took me till much later in life to really appreciate what my uncle went through. When his sister, my mother, fled East Germany his career as an aerospace engineer came to a grinding halt. The powers that were did not believe that he was as surprised as they were to find my mother gone. He really never knew ahead of time but he paid the price anyways. I got to grow up “free” on his back.
Now Klaus is dead. One minute he was happily skiing down the slope, next minute he keeled over dead. As dying goes it was a good death. But he’s still dead.
The biggest influence and shaper of me was and is my husband and best friend, Ryaan. Never mind that we are divorced. Not being able to live together anymore has nothing to do with respecting and admiring the other person. In the almost 20 years together we each learned so much from the other. We each shaped ourselves a little to please the other and a lot to please ourselves. I maybe more so. I am easier content with myself, contained in myself. We still very much value the input of the other in making our separate decisions.
Somewhere there in the beginning of those 20 years I went to college in the US. And yes, there is a teacher in my life who made a big difference. I have looked him up online over the years hoping to find an email address. I will just have to break down and write a letter. I do hope it will go the right Bill Baldwin in California. Chances are. How many Bill Baldwin’s can there be in Murietta?
So Bill, remember me? The German in your Camera, Stripping (yes I know, but that is what a negative prepper in printing is called) and Color Separation class? The one you thought got everything right and remembered every word you uttered? I don’t know where you came up with that idea. But guess what – your expectation made it so. I worked my butt off to get everything right and wrote notes like the devil so I could tell you where you left off last lesson. Your expectation of excellence create a first-rate Stripper and Camera Operator. And it carried on from there.
I had always considered myself fair to middling in my performances. Never mind that several times in my life back in Germany I was one of only a few to pass entrance tests to various place of education. And never mind that I was really pretty good at my job at the radio station. I always thought of myself as mediocre. To point an ugly little finger, think Mom.
And along came Bill and changed all that. I suddenly saw myself for who I am. If I care, I get it. Not only do I get it but I am damn good at it. A brand new thought was introduced: I can do this.
How did that shape my life!
So thanks Max for untethering me from squareness.
Thank you Inge for giving me empathy.
Thank you Klaus for the sacrifice, unplanned, but still very much felt by you.
Thank you Klaus and Weska for giving me a glimpse of an adulthood with possibilities.
Thank you Ryaan for believing in me.
Thank you Bill for making me realize, I do have a brain.
And thank you to all my friends who are not listed. You may not have touched me in a life changing way, but touch you did. As life happens I think of you and you and you.