Thich Nhât Hanh
A few months ago Erich, my father died.
The cognitive functions of the brain had been retreating with Alzheimer since years before, first unnoticed, then more and more obvious. He ended his life in a beautiful home for the elderly where every morning until his after-lunch-nap (which he had been taking since decades), and every afternoon until bedtime one of us was staying with him, helping with food for his body and his soul. Also entertaining, playing with what was left of his mind.
Communication was less and less possible by the content of what was being said, but rather by the presence of the visitor, the feel behind the words, the touch of the hand. Music, singing was helpful, appreciated.
Erichs presence, his being in the moment was –more and more and more- obvious.
Meals had still been a main joy during the course of his days, his appetite showing that, though his body was waning, he was strongly rooted in life. He clearly preferred home cooked food that we would regularly bring along over what was being served in the common kitchen. But in the absence of this he would still cherish the other.
In the last months he had opened his eyes less and less, often even kept them shut while eating. Now his appetite was weakening until the day he refused all food and drink. It was clear to all of us that now he was taking the passage, that now he was dying.
Early morning after the funeral -the farewell celebration had transformed itself into my birthday party at midnight- I flew to Corfu to participate in the remaining two weeks of a 3-week “Satori”. This retreat is a structure of deep inquiry into the nature of >Who is in<, >What is Love<, >What am I like, if completely alone< and other such “Koans” that don’t have an answer but are like portkeys into the direct experience of the present moment, not obscured by the filter of who we think we are. Alternatingly we listen to a partner with an open receptivity or share our direct experience.
Outside of this structure we each are in complete isolation.
For the first week all the grieve and gratitude about my father and the experience of accompanying him through the final stages of his life had been flooding through me, tears flowing that didn’t find space in the days after he left, when I had been too full of the silence and magic of Erichs passing and simultaneously too busy with helping to create a ceremony, a space for all his friends to come together and send him off, give their fare-wells and let him go.
When the well of tears had dried up and I was melting with the vastness of the ocean of silence, towards the end of the retreat, an impulse arose that grew stronger, took roots: that I would write about my fathers death, about my leave-taking and gratitude in the DIMA-Newsletter.
A week later the impulse was still there so I wrote to Kanika and Charu, imagining their obvious theme for October will be something like “Letting go”, since it was the time of their parting, and that in this case I would like to write a contribution. It turned out that “New Horizons” were the focus of their intention at the time. I felt, that this could not be the headline to what I wanted to share (today I feel different). “Gratitude” –very fitting– passed by in a time of extreme busy-ness, when the world had me back in its grip and now somehow I am here, writing about “Curiosity”, wondering about how I will finagle it, how I will manage to hang my coat on that hook. I’m curious!
It took me over a page until first this word appears. I am curious: about how will it go from here? Trusting, that what I want to share will come through, with the aid of some wise peoples words sprinkled into my writing.
More than three years before, Erich had come back to life when, after a bad accident with 15 fractured bones, after two months in the hospital where on top of everything he had caught pneumonia, the doctors had already called the priest because they were sure he will not survive the night. After the accident, the pain and the drugs had finally and fully brought out all symptoms of Alzheimer, taking him into another sphere of perception, retreating, to our observation, from a common ground that we had shared and taken for granted.
Now he was dying – or so the doctors said.
We were all sitting around his bed, very much in the moment, at ease in a way, not wanting to make it hard for him to let go – if it really was dying that was taking place. There was a still presence in the room. My mother, all sisters and me were mostly silent, while his breath was going out, still for a minute and then the next breath was sucked into his lungs, suddenly, almost surprisingly. What I sensed in Erich was a wakefulness that was detached from this dying process. Can I call it curiosity? He was feeling the somewhat holy atmosphere and somehow enjoying this curiously mysterious gathering in which he was –obviously- the centre of attention. When the last sister had arrived in the room she joked towards our father “Now Dani (our oldest sister who had died of cancer almost 25 years before) for sure is also here”. He smiled.
I like to imagine that this is when life in him decided to stick around among this beautiful group of beings for another while, to swim another round or two in this body. Maybe also the understanding, not mentally, but intuitively, that Gabi, our mother, his wife, wasn’t alone to carry it, to support him. The past years, when the sickness had been ignored or hidden, she had been his bolster and cane, sustaining a normal life for him. Those years had taken a toll on her health.
It had become apparent, in the weeks before, that Erich wouldn’t be coming back home if he were to recover from the accident. Steep stairs lead up to our parent’s house and even steeper ones to the upper floor. That’s were he fell, while walking up, maybe fainting, maybe letting go, and crushed his fragile body on the hard edges of a windowsill.
We –mainly one sister- had taken the initiative and checked out different retirement homes and put our father on some waiting lists. On that day, in the centre of the city, close to what now would be only our mothers home, a room became free, in “St. Maria”, a home belonging to the adjacent church, that was renowned for the humane care giving of the nuns and staff. It was opposite the house in which Erich had his first architects office when he had come to Cologne, around the corner from our first family flat.
On that day, we decided to move him, no matter his current state of being. It would be a better place, in a room with high windows, overlooking a courtyard full of trees, and with the professional care of geriatric nurses – a better place to see him off or for him to survive.
With the aid of a big support group of family and friends, survive he did. For another 3 years, and a half.
In the first week he began to drink, first water, then herbal teas, then highly caloric drinks. Then he started to eat, then eat with appetite. And then he started to talk again. And, over the weeks, his words became comprehensible. In a way it was like a new birth, like a withered plant coming back to life after the rain had moistened the soils that its dry roots were barely holding in.
This quality, with which Erich came back to life, like the plant that stretches its leaves and eventually its flowers towards the light of the sun, I can easily call Curiosity!
Curiosity was a constant driving force for Erich. Early in his life both parents had died, his father, a motorcycle race driver fatally crashed, his mother, a few years later, died of cancer or –as was said- of a broken heart. Growing up with his two brothers in Bavaria, rotating to spend time with two pairs of grandparents, one in the city of Munich, one in a small village built around a lake –Wessling. That name the young adult Erich added to his surname when he went out into the world.
My father had always felt that this supposed misfortune of loosing the parents had left him with a certain freedom and that furthermore the childhood during wartime, where the focus of the adult world was elsewhere but to limit the children, was a blessing for his growth: him and his brothers could freely roam the city and countryside, allowing their natural Curiosity to guide them. His younger brother, Manfred, feeling similar, even had written a book in his later years – “The fortune of the orphans – A childhood in Wessling”.
The grandfather on the countryside was a builder and trading in building materials. The chemical processes in producing cement, lime and other components fascinated Erich so much that he wanted to become a chemist, to understand the fundamental workings of the basic elements of existence.
Then, in university, he came to listen to a lecture by Richard Neutra, a Californian architect who had fled the Nazis from Austria. Neutra had developed a modern approach toward architecture by putting the natural human needs, the human scale into the centre of all considerations when designing buildings and cities, where every detail was seen and developed in the context of the whole, aiding to the purpose of the creation, aiding the inhabitants in their well-being. With him, as a disciple of Americas famous and infamous Frank Lloyd Wright, a house was not separate from the land and a room part of the natural flow of space, where there is not only outside or inside, but a succession of localities of which each is examined for their reason and need, shaped and positioned purposely. He called his approach Bio-Realism and was a teacher to this cause, a preacher by example of his professional practice: of creating a habitable world for modern human live in harmony with the planet.
Erich followed his calling, went with a scholarship to America – where he met my mother on the crossing, who was heading with scholarship towards Chicago. He ignored university and instead got employed by Neutra and was learning, as was his habit, by doing.
The dictionary explains Curiosity:
(from Latin cūriōsitās, from cūriōsus “careful, diligent, curious”, akin to cura “care”) is a quality related to inquisitive thinking such as exploration, investigation, and learning, evident by observation in humans and other animals. Curiosity is heavily associated with all aspects of human development, in which derives the process of learning and desire to acquire knowledge and skill.
The term curiosity can also be used to denote the behaviour or emotion of being curious, in regard to the desire to gain knowledge or information. Curiosity as a behaviour and emotion is attributed over millennia as the driving force behind not only human development, but developments in science, language, and industry.
And Art and Architecture – we should add.
“I have no special talents. I am only passionately curious.”
After a few years as head of a Neutra-office in Venezuela, then already together with our mother –Dani was born in Maracaibo- Erich, the Bavarian came to Prussia, came to Cologne. Next to Berlin it was the centre of cultural life in the early sixties in Germany. He founded his architecture firm and we, my four sisters (Dani, Domi, Dorle, Desi) and I, grew up around the corner, in the heart of the city – right there, where now the old man would be spending the remaining time of his life. In the With trees and birds outside the window and the same church bells ringing that we heard in the first decade of our family life, touching our hearts and bringing up childhood feelings.
For me, for us, these extra years were such a blessing. And in a way his sickness, Alzheimer, was a blessing too. I am sure for Erich it was the same, if so in a different, maybe more existential way.
Erich had followed his love and interest for architecture in a playful and curious way. He loved to discover what was possible and developed a trust in his ability to leave any trodden path to find new solutions, ask new questions.
When back in Germany, in the sixties, Erich complemented the findings of Neutras Bio-Realism that was describing natural human needs as the center of the architectural universe. He observed that an elemental need of all human is social bonding, integration, inclusion and that architecture should provide space for the individual as separate and independent from the group as well as space inviting connection, space for the group. Early on he understood, that urban sprawl was a wrong development, socially, ecologically and evolutionary. “Urban Living” was a caption for a life that included the young and the old, singles and families, using synergies to allow a rich life for all. Rich in many ways, also culturally, supporting self-development. With some friends, among them more architects and engineers, the non-profit society >Urbanes Wohnen< (urban living) was founded, eventually comprising around 50 families from all walks of life.
A central urban lot was offered by the city of Cologne and over some years a multi-functional structure was designed that allowed the development of all kinds of individual forms of living, allowed transformation over time, as the needs of space would change in changing individuals and groups. It was a cluster of life, like a monkeys hill, roof-deck terraces ascending. Car sharing was already conceived –eliminating costly driveways because always the last car will be taken and thus double, triple, quadruple parking into the depth of the structure was possible. Urban greening was a must. Synergies allowed common swimming-pool and sauna areas. Juvenile living communities allowed the practice for independent life, yet in a beneficial greater surrounding. Old people were cared for by the group, were part of the larger family of families. Not cooped up in a retirement home.
Erichs visionary creativity could flourish in this exciting, exhilarating time. Lots of connections. Many long night meetings in our home or the homes of friends. Many parties, much talking, discussing, planning, negotiating. Always many children around. Holidays with those many friends. Sleeping over. This was our childhood.
The project was never built. The city withdrew the property that all considerations, all planning had been tied to for years, when the group was getting to be too strong a political force. The momentum was lost in the need for the families for homes and life moved on. Lasting friendships, good ideas, colourful memories remained.
Throughout his life >Urbanes Wohnen< was Erichs mantra, describing a good, a right, an advanced life, the future of humankind.
Many beautiful buildings and urban spaces were one visible outcome of Erichs passion for architecture and love of the world around him. Another was a colourful legion of younger architects that had been inspired by him, working in his office, learning from him in the academy of fine arts in Munich, in the university of Berlin, MIT in Boston and wherever he would lecture and bring his slides, and, especially, wherever he discussed and co-created architectural projects. Many young employees after having been motivated, empowered by being thrown in the cold water of responsibility for projects, started their own practise after leaving Erichs office.
So many brought their gratitude and love to my fathers send-off, to the old cemetery in the heart of Cologne, where his body was put to rest near the remains of his oldest child. What a farewell they –we!- gave him! What a wonderful congregation of friends and students of Curiosity: Looking at life with open eyes. With death not excluded.
“Don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others.
Unfold your own myth.”
Throughout my childhood and adult life Erich shared his interest for the world around us and particularly his love for “architecture” with me. His Curiosity about the movement and forces in the creative process of developing habitable spaces was formative for me as for others. It was of a genuinely friendly approach towards life in general and towards most everyone Erich met in particular. In his playfulness and immediacy he had a presence, an often disarming directness, that included others and opened up many. His quality of listening -to more than just words-, his audacity to address taboo issues, to playfully provoke and also sometimes endure stronger reactions, were inspirational.
I was often amazed, and it was so touching how on this funeral many expressed this, how so many are feeling a joy and benefit of having met and become friends with Erich. Some magic was in play with him.
“To be creative means to be in love with life. You can be creative only, if you love life enough that you want to enhance its beauty.”
As a son, of course I have felt and seen –more than most others, aside from my sisters and mother- my dads weaknesses and wounds, have loved him for those and cared for him because of them. And have also suffered them: the mechanisms of Erichs personality that had developed to protect those wounds, hurts and childhood secrets, when tested in the heat of family life, were shaken and in an emotionally really tight spot some ugly faces, some hidden facets could show up, that frightened the child and that the child – I – learned to avoid. By not going there.
In this way each child is part in stabilizing the parent or the family system by adjusting and supressing their own natural flow to supply the demand of the group. In this way, disguising our essence, we all develop an ego, a personality, our own set of strategies – may they be accommodating, conforming or challenging (as in a family rebel, misfit or one prone to disaster), thus taking the heat of other family members.
And then we pass it on to our children and they to theirs. I to “mine”. Especially what’s unconscious and obscured even from our own awareness: the child sees it, feels it and on occasion (or often) gets to suffer it. The child arrives with choice-less acceptance, unconditional love and also challenging needs.
And from the parents, society, we receive the bad with the good.
Sunshine and rain.
Erich had been born with a crippled hand and perfected the art of creating an invisibility field around it throughout his life. On the one hand, in his childhood the handicap had somehow given him some leeway from the usual male-Bavarian conditioning and allowed him access to more female, intuitive qualities; on the other hand it was a disability, even a disfiguration, a malformation that bestowed him pain and shame. So he developed strategies, strengths and abilities that would make this flaw disappear. One young architect had worked with him for two years before first noticing the weak hand.
Erichs right hand, by contrast, was very strong, very expressive and engaging.
He dealt with other weaknesses, wounds and painful memories in a similar way – ignoring, hiding, distracting, playing cool or – in many cases – making an asset out of them.
Of course Erichs charming mind was also, besides creative and inspiring, disguising those weak spots. His provocations and dispute could be part of a fog screen, when needed. The closer one gets, the more time we spend together, the more obvious the shadows, conflicts and wounds we are trying to hide and protect are becoming and the bright and capturing traits of the persona need additional assisting strategies. In the system of the family and also other groups, work- or vision-related, Erich applied rules and contracts that were not always out in the open. And in a tight spot, in emotionally intense situations, other, more forceful reactions could erupt.
Curiosity in this context can be a very shallow trait: a pastime of the mind, keeping it entertained by constantly being out there, with the awareness outside, “greedy for the new” (which is the literal translation of the German word for curiosity: Neugier). Curiosity can be –and often is- like an itching, something that constantly keeps the mind busy jumping from one subject to the next, from one project to the next. It can keep us from going deeper, from feeling or seeing what needs to be exposed, what needs to come to the air and light in order to heal.
So Erich would also employ his natural sense of Curiosity in service of stabilizing his ego, the unconscious sum of his survival strategies.
This is what also came down to me and formed me and made me who I am right now. Especially this, the unconscious, is what I am struggling with, as we all are. This is the suffering.
I don’t feel any grudges now, about what Erich “did” to me, about his part in my suffering. I do not rule out, that they could resurface with new findings, but even then I know they won’t lessen the joy and gratitude and the love towards Erich, also my proudness about him and the sadness because I won’t see him again.
Because I know how it is. How the unconscious is unconscious and that this is the human condition.
And because I have seen him, played with him, he played with me and he was one of us: lost and brave and my father, whom I trusted, and he trusted me. And because of all the love and support that came from him towards me – as to my sisters, as towards others.
I am so happy, blessed, to be his son!
When we were kids we were quarrelling about who could hold his left hand, when walking hand in hand. The “crooked hand” – “die humme Hand” – was a privilege, where he was special to us, where he was our father and friend and also where we could best enter with our love, connect with the hurt and the child that he also was. My child’s love went so far, that I myself developed a strong right hand and a week, a bit underdeveloped left hand, often holding the left arm in a somewhat restricted posture – unnoticed until early adulthood, when I started to investigate into who I am.
And with healing the left hand grew, over the course of some years, to the size of the right.
These are words that come to me when I contemplate about it.
It seems to me, that Curiosity and Surrender are two sides of the same coin, two energies needed for both Creativity and Inquiry, two complimentary notions of approaching life, that, when in harmony, will blossom and be very fruitful in the Outer World and the Inner. Like Love and Meditation.
Erich, in his creativity, was a searcher, was very open, very playful and when an impulse came that demanded change –for example in the almost finished plans for an architectural competition- he surrendered to that impulse. Through the final nights the plans were changed. And when obstacles came he did what he could to bring forward the spirit of a building, of an idea, and tried to integrate the difficulty to compose a more mature result. And what he managed and what he did not: he surrendered to that. This muscle had been trained by life.
What a benefit for the last years of his life.
Erich had come back from the dying to cherish food and drink, enjoy music and friendly beings around him. The movement back into life went in a way, that for a few weeks or months on many occasions and then later in rare bubbles that surfaced, he became an architect and a teacher and the benevolent Don of a large family again, mostly very friendly to those around him, sometimes lecturing –as in “teaching”–, sometimes disapproving, often the words comprehensible -if at all-, only to a few who could put them into context. But his bearing, his tone demanded attention and respect.
At the same time this sweet, open and receptive, receiving, grateful and loving essence of his being “Erich” would again and again shine through, all the more clear, all the more un-veiled as the grip of the persona, of the personality was slipping away.
When you look at the black and white photo of the little boy Erich – that is whom those who spent time with him got to see. Blended with the dignity of a life fully lived. The staff was respectful and very loving towards him, >the Professor< as many called him.
I cannot praise them for the work that they do.
I remember one day, I came to visit, one of the staff had turned his wheelchair towards the window in the common room, wide windows from floor to the ceiling, facing the trees, on a beautiful day. His leg-support was up and Erich was sitting cross-legged looking into the trees, maybe snoozing a bit. He looked like a bon vivant, and epicure of beauty, of life, on the deck of a cruise ship. When I made myself noticed he was happy to see me, both cheerful and musing and he said “This is beautiful!” or even “This is a beautiful life!” and then, after a pause
“This is like >Urbanes Wohnen<”
I don’t want to withhold, that the deterioration of Erichs body and mind, the effect of the Alzheimer disease and old age were not very much present and often painful to witness. The personal connection, the “story” that we had together was less and less significant. Son and father had become meaningless and the moments he was addressing me by my name were getting less and less.
And he was weakening to be only skin and bones, his body lessening always, when we had already thought before that less is not possible. The contractions that he had come with from the hospital, which are a physical symptom of Alzheimer, also reflected an energy with which Erich was holding on to life. Holding!
Some friends who came to visit couldn’t bear it and couldn’t return.
What they saw was too far away from the brilliant mind, from the charming character, from the alive, physical presence that they had come to identify with Erich. And too far away from the “story” they had with him.
To the mind it is challenging to spend time in that home, between the old people, many dement and deteriorating. Being confronted with the insecurity of life, the frailty to heath and sanity, with mortality is very challenging to the ego.
The few times during the final months it happened that Erich said my name were like a special present, like a hummingbird staying still in mid-air close to a flower, just next to my face. A magical blessed moment. Personal and not personal at the same time.
As I said before – to me those years were a blessing.
Once a week, most every evening, that I spent with him in these last years, coming from the buzz of my work and social life between countryside and city into Erichs world, taking time to give him food and drink, to talk, be silent, sing, listen to music, to wash him and brush his teeth and bring him to sleep – most evenings I left more full, more still, more joyful.
And to him, I believe, it was a blessing too.
In the years in St. Marias, Erich relaxed and the energy of holding transformed into trusting. Resting. The body was still stiff with Alzheimer, but less forceful, more at ease with life.
Erich had the time and circumstances that allowed him to experience surrender from a passive side, not connected with impulse, with activity. To be loved for who he is not for what he does. To relax. It was an opportunity and a preparation for the final let-go of this lifetime.
And as fearlessly as he had thrown himself into the life of the city, with his bicycle and learning how to use public transport for longer journeys, when his orientation was dwindling and he couldn’t drive a car any more,
curious, trusting, fearless,
he approached death.
Another quote by one I do not know much about:
“A deep and profound curiosity lies at the heart of the spiritual impulse”
Lukewarm curiosity and a “Deep and Profound Curiosity”…
The one I know. Absorbing news in all forms and shapes but always far enough away from me, that I can stay on the surface, surf the waves, the face of the ocean. When I sit in Korfu or wherever, looking in, looking >Who is in?<, >Who am I?<, opening myself to whatever arises, to whatever is, without judgement or choice, I have a taste of what the other could mean.
Deep, like the Ocean. Profound like a Mystery.
I had mentioned Erichs quality to listen. He listened to us children, (which is not to say, that he did not also love to talk to us!), listen to all kind of different people, intently, listened to different sounds, attentively. Birds in the trees, a door squeaking, his lips whistling. He could sit in front of a piano for a long time, completely absorbed, playing the white and black keys with two fingers, listening to the note as it was played and as the vibration of the tone expands and dissolves, ceases. Then the next key, the next note.
Erich also listened inside. He was vivid with dreams, intuitions and inspirations – because he listened to what was coming through him.
“What you seek, is seeking you”
Dietz, an old friend of Erich and our family gave a little speech at the send-off about one sentence of Erich, that had been haunting him –the professor of philology who so believed in humanistic education- for decades until finally he could understand it:
“Actually we must always allow a number of children not to learn anything.”
He called it a “wholesome call for freedom” and ascribes to Erich “prophetic capability. How obvious it is that in the modern time, where children are put in front of the radar screens earlier and earlier in their life, for longer and longer times and more and more often are sent through a process of evaluation, so that it can be figured out as early as possible, to what cogwheel in our political and economical system the little human can be forged.” And that by and by he realized, “that this sentence, this statement, was an exhortation, a reminder, that freedom and human dignity don’t begin with our act of molding, but that they are essentially inherent in all humans. Those two seeds develop also, and maybe even more beautiful, more strongly, more CURIOUS (as in peculiar, unique, individual), if we don’t factitiously propel them. This was Erichs basic trust.”
Erich was, also, a wise man.
“Allow children not to learn anything.”
Prof. Erich Schneider-Wessling
The day he was positively starting to die the “quote of the day” on the wall calendar of the common room was by Thich Nhât Hanh:
“Our own life is the instrument with which we experiment with the truth.”
How fitting this felt to me for Erichs Life. How fitting for this moment, how fitting for his Death!
From that day on, during his last three days in this body on this planet there was a focus and determination in Erichs bearing, while his breath goes in and out with a force of life that is still holding on –a bit longer. Inside he is leaning forward towards his passage, in some way with this same quality of Curiosity that has brought him here: now it’s time to move on!
The body breathes in, breathes out.
One more time, a day or so, before he silently and unnoticed by those present, releases his last breath, sneaks out, over the fence and into the woods where he can only go alone, one more time he suddenly opens his eyes and leans forward towards me, his head, his body, his eyes, his total energy towards me. I hold him from behind with my right, with his he holds my left and our eyes are locked in a silent communion for what seems like eternity – 5 Minutes or 30? I don’t know: two angels in mutual support. Then he leans back, closes his eyes, relaxes.
Breathing in, breathing out. No disturbance even by the fight of the body for air. Sometimes a bit painful, uncomfortable. Automatic. Not welcoming, not minding.
Time means nothing.
Breathing in, breathing out.
– and then,
“Don’t seek, don’t search, don’t ask, don’t knock, don’t demand – relax.
If you relax, it comes.
If you relax, it is there.
If you relax, you start vibrating with it.”
While writing this, Erichs younger brother Manfred (Manni) died, at age 83.
While Erich had left, he had stayed in Wessling, where he, although rooted in the local tradition of the Bavarian countryside and connected to the history and people of the village also challenged the conservative with his lively and colourful ways. After learning carpentry he also became an architect, built a beautiful family home on the outskirts of the village and, with his wife Christl, fathered and raised three childrens, my cousins Rosi, Marpa (“little Manni”) and Sylvester.
During the past two years his mental and physical functions had deteriorated from a rare form of dementia, a blend of the ailments of his two older brothers: Hanns had suffered from Parkinson during the last 10 years of his life and died more than 20 years ago, and Erich with Alzheimer.
After quite a few years not seeing him, I had visited in June and saw, instead of the strong and spirited uncle I knew, an old man, shrunken and with a fearful outlook into the world, not knowing what was happening to him and still, somehow, trying to hold it together. Trying to function properly.
He was obviously very connected to Erich, strongly responding to his name and Christl told me, that he often asked for or about him. This was exactly the same with Erich, who, while he was still talking, had often said Manfreds name, often as in a question, and when not talking, even in the final weeks, “Manfred” was one of the only words that he would clearly respond to.
It was amazing to see the connection of these two brothers, who had evolved from the same family-background, and, as it often is with siblings, they, as orphans especially, had been each others protection and refuge, love and inspiration, essential for survival in the world of the adults. They had lived separate lives and when it was coming back to the essential, the essence, when death was approaching, the significance of that connection resurfaced. As in: we are not-separate!
Coming back from a very touching and colourful funeral, with a ceremony in the church, that my great-grandfather, the builder, had erected, with the longest bulbous spire in the world, I am awash with impressions of family and connectedness.
In Satoris I have come to know, that I am not separate from The Whole, that I am Truth, I am Love, I am Creativity.
Here it was so palpable, that I, as a body-mind organism, am not separate. I am coming from roots that connect me with members of my mothers and fathers family, from genetic and social forces that are vibrating through my life. Traumatic events as the loss of parents, and the strategies of the fathers and forefathers (and –mothers;-) to deal with them are oscillating in my personality as they are with my sisters and cousins, with my sisters and brothers.
We are connected.
Wonderfully, painfully, playfully connected.
This is so beautiful.
This is Beauty.
In a touching speech in church my cousin Sylvester related how in their childhood Manfred and Erich were playing. Manfred was Chief Strong Hand and Erich –with the crooked hand- was Chief Swift Deer.
I was, as were our cousins, so happy that Erich was represented by his wife, all children alive as well as some grandchildren, for the ceremony and the send-off at the grave. While watching family and friends passing by his coffin, which had been colourfully painted by his 4 grandchildren, to pay their last respects to Onkel Manfred, I was standing aside, observing, inhaling the proceedings. With Curiosity.
The local brass band, after playing his favourite tune, said farewell to their friend and passionate saxophonist, one by one, with traditional garb, felt hat, feathers and all. Remaining members of the the Wessling ice-hockey team of Manfreds youth took leave of their esteemed member, relating that in the later years, when Bavarian curling had replaced the ice-hockey, he had always been the first one at the lake on winter mornings, checking if the ice is strong enough, and, if it was, urging the friends to come play.
I notice, that the wall I am leaning on, is a tombstone, overgrown with moss. Here my great-grandfather Hans Schneider was buried, beneath the church that he built in 1938, as was his wife, my great-grandmother Maria Schneider, their son Martin, my grandfathers younger brother (who had looked after the three boys, while not even 10 years older than Erichs older brother Hanns), his wife Margot and their oldest daughter Marion, Erichs young cousin who had been born with Down-syndrome.
My sister points out, that the hole in the ground where soon the colourful coffin will be let down is dug next to the grave of the great-grandparents Hans and Katharina Steigerwald, parents of our fathers mother Centa. She herself had been interred next to her husband Hanns, the three boys father, who had died before this church was built, his mortal remains, together with those of the sidecar driver, were buried on the old cemetery next to the lake.
The thought crosses my mind, that my first given name is also Hans, never used, rarely remembered, running in at least four generations in that side of the family on both sides of my fathers parents, and –as it turns out- on both of my mothers parents sides as well, going back from my grandparents for at least 4 generations.
When all guests are gone and only family present the cemetery personnel, the gravediggers, allow that the coffin is lowered by the sons and grandsons. Marpa is gone with his mother, so I have the honour to take his place, and, in representation of my dads, his brothers, family I take a strap in one of the 4 corners and together, singing, we let down Manfreds body, feeling mostly the weight of the wood, slowly, evenly, until it touches the ground.
We pull up the straps and shower more rose petals.
Rest in peace,
dear uncle Manni.
Row out into the lake
Where Wessli, the friendly monster of this Loch
Will watch over you.
Row, row, row your boat,
Gently down the stream,
Merrily, merrily, merrily, merrily,
Life ist but a dream.
One picture of Erich as a child had been by Manfreds bed for the past two years of his sickness. That it was so important for him to have it there, was a sign for his wife, of their connection, of his brothers relevance to her husband.
When Erich died, she couldn’t bring herself to tell him, since he was so attached and she was afraid of the effect of these news on his health. Then, one morning, shortly after Erichs death, Manfred had torn up the picture.
In a most curious way,
Connected we are.
I feel blessed
To have known
And as the son writes about the father
The father writes to the daughter
It’s you road, and yours alone.
Others may walk it with you,
But no one can walk it for you.