Leaf of the Tree

Finding the Divine in the Details

1 Comment

Life at the speed of two languages

Hay511BzrTZ2uL._I am living and reading in two languages. Sort of.

I’m in Germany for, among other things, work on a book, which I do in English. (Or at least, I like to think so.) Meanwhile, the rhythm of the rest of my life right now is mostly a German soundtrack.

I know that the more time I spend writing in English, the more I flounder in German. Sometimes, when I’ve been really immersed (one might almost say relaxed into) German, I struggle for the words in English. At times, I feel like a refugee from the lands of both languages.

The remedy for this arrived on a recent rainy weekend when Buchhandlung Moritz & Lux was kind enough to have its Wertheim branch open. When I get to feeling a bit lost in the world, or a day, I can always find balance again in a bookstore.

This one eliminated my taking the easy road – there was no English section. I was nearly contenting myself with a book of Anthony de Mello’s, as he’s a longtime friend of my soul. But geesh, I knew it would be tough going. M&L1619625_518118688220377_420921398_n

Then, there she was on a shelf next to his – old friend Louise Hay, God bless her. I could feel instantly how perfect this was. This is the kind of reading that, I knew from experience, I would do with my heart — which, I’m realizing, is the only way I ever really do anything. So if I want to deepen into German, this is the soul-sized way, for me.

Meditationen für Körper und Seele, it’s called – Meditations for Body and Soul. The blurb advises: “Mit diesen Meditationen erhalten wir den wichtigsten Schlüssel, um negative alte Gedankenmuster aufzulösen und wieder Vertrauen in die positiven Kräfte des Lebens zu gewinnen.”  With these meditations we receive the most important key to resolve negative old thinking and restore confidence in the positive forces of life to win.

Or, one might say, we “restore confidence” (love that phrase) in the power of the building of the good. Isn’t life ever-delightful in the way it nudges toward the very next just-right thing?



Coming home by heart

Kitzentor21538697_10152305884857641_1827432945_nI’m back in Wertheim, my old hometown, where I lived 50 years ago high on the hill above town in a place called Peden Barracks.

Back then, the Cold War meant there were whole parts of Germany my family couldn’t travel to. Today, irony of ironies, the building I lived in is home to families who came to Germany about 20 years ago as refugees from parts of the former Soviet Union.

Wertzug1897981_10152217920057641_2099791820_nEach day, I listen for the church bells, or the latest train arriving at the nearby station. As this is my primary means of travel right now, I’m extra-aware of trains.

As I’m out and about in the marketplace, I can have a bit of a conversation with someone in German when I don’t over-think things. My German seems to work when I don’t think about it too much.

My writing days are assisted by fresh Brötchen with good butter and miles-long walks. The walks don’t feel miles-long because I’m exploring and looking at so many things, a kind of imbibing that’s even more enjoyable than each morning’s coffee and good Brötchen.

After a tasty dinner at the restaurant up at the castle the other night, things looked truly beautiful as I gazed out from on high. The church bells near the market square were tolling their 6 o’clock symphony and the moon was near the horizon. 10-15-2011-Wertheim-castle

I’d had another day of productive writing hours, which is why I let myself celebrate with that dinner. Each day begins with the sun’s light, and draws to its close with the moon rise, and my heart feels very thankful for this rhythm of life.

Each night, I “ask” — put my request for help down in writing in the novel’s journal.

Then, I wait to see what comes each day.

It’s a reassuring and reinvigorating process — good practice for the rest of life, too.


Going with the flow

hw-2011-01-11-0010As I return to the German town of my childhood, I’m reminded about the enduring values of resilience, acceptance, and pragmatism.

Wertheim is nestled between two rivers, the mighty Main with its bustling shipping traffic, and the quieter Tauber, which can still kick up a good flood given the right circumstances, such as rapid snow-melt or excessive rainfall. Iceland and Mexico and Spring 06 Germany 287

As a child here, I was fascinated by the spectacle of “Hochwasser”, that inundation of Wertheim’s streets by the waters of one or both rivers.

As with many towns in Europe (and elsewhere), flooding is a part of historical experience here. There are markings on many of its buildings, showing the years when water had its way, and the only thing there was to do, beyond what pumps can accomplish, was wait for it to recede.Wertheimhochwasser1619349_10152215498052641_837893055_n Thankfully, after major flooding five years ago, the town has mostly had a reprieve from this annual assault.

Yes, it’s terribly cliché to say that folks here go with the flow, yet after hundreds of years of doing just that, I can see how it has shaped the character of this place.

Perhaps it’s part of the reason that those who flowed in from other places — people like my American military family, and thousands of US servicemen, and those who’ve sought refuge from places that had been turned upside-down, or rendered unsafe by war and other calamity — have always found an easy welcome here.

Or perhaps it’s the experience of what the water washes away that has made this a generous and forgiving sort of place. hwsw1-2011-01-11-0059

And the pragmatism?

Well, when the flood waters do rise, and one major thoroughfare becomes a sort of tributary, these canny locals erect raised metal platforms that act as a network of pedestrian paths that thread through the streets “above it all”.

I think this may reflect something of an inner attitude, too.hochwasser






Our daily Brötchen

EB pix Germany and more 002When life sends you sleeplessness – or any other waiting game — you can churn in frustration, or create an adventure you’d never otherwise know.

That’s what my husband and I did when we last visited Wertheim, my German hometown. At 4:30 on our first jet-lagged morning, rather than continue to toss and turn, we decided to go out for a very early-morning walk around town. The public-works employee we kept encountering as he emptied trash dispensers around this tiny heim only looked surprised the first time, then was friendly each time we met up with him under streetlamps and moonlight.

When an irresistible aroma wafted our way, we followed it to where a column of fragrant, bread-scented steam was rising in the dark in a little alleyway beside a bakery’s kitchen. We stood inside that steamy column and inhaled deeply, as if eating.Broetchen7742-8797_106_2_det_001

In a flash, we had our plan: as we walked around, we’d check the opening times for the bakeries in town and conduct a sort of taste test of Brötchen – those rolls of our childhood like mini loaves of crusty bread with exquisitely soft doughy centers. We’d begin with the bakery that opened the earliest, which turned out to be the one that had been sending out those lovely smells. It was also the hands-down winner – and, it turns out, is right around the corner from an apartment with which we would later begin to fall in love.

The runner-up of the four we sampled was a bakery in the market square that my mother shopped at 50 years ago, owned by the same family for 13 generations. A woman is now its master baker, something highly unusual in Germany when she took the helm there 20 years ago.

As the first train of the day rolled into town, the bridge across the river where we waited at the crossing gate had the sun coming up on one side and the moon setting on the other. It was a little slice of unexpected heaven as we sipped our coffee and nibbled the last of our buttery rolls.EB pix Germany and more 094

All along one of the bridge’s railings was a sudden gallery exhibit: dozens of intricate spider webs illuminated in the morning sun, dewdrops glittering in them like crystals. It brought to mind those words of Kafka’s: “The world will freely offer itself to you to be unmasked, it has no choice, it will roll in ecstasy at your feet.”

Of course, preceding those words, he asserts, “You do not need to leave your room” … but only sit solitary and listening. In our adventure, of course, we had to accept what we could not change and then go out and see what we could do with it. Or what it would do with us.

But as with most of life, we had to be in motion for any of it to happen.

Leave a comment

Not what we were expecting

Happy to share some thoughts and memories at BoomerCafé this week:


On my family’s first visit to the Hotel Schwan in the small German town of Wertheim, we found the entire staff assembled out front in two lines on either side of the door. Even at age four, I could recognize this as the red-carpet treatment.

The telegram that had advised the hotel manager of our military family’s pending arrival had carried the words “General Alexander Patch” at the top, the name of the humble Liberty ship that brought us from New York to Europe in January of 1960.  Hotel Schwan-2

This general’s troops had liberated most of this region and neighboring France at the end of the war. Our welcoming committee was eager to meet this celebrated visitor who’d help put an end to the miseries of the Third Reich, and treated Germans fairly in that process. They were no doubt anticipating a line of dark vehicles with noisy accompanying entourage. When our travel-weary family of four with whining child (played by yours truly) rode up in a battered taxi, they must have been very disappointed indeed. DSCF3564

The weight of those next few moments was palpable even to a distracted kindergartner like me. I can imagine how much more my parents felt it, and my (10 years) older sister. There are things silence conveys so much louder than words. Phyllis & Nan

Read the rest here at BoomerCafé: