I went in to Stuttgart today for probably the last time. It was strange for me to walk around and try to think about how I would not be seeing it again for a long time. It was hard to convince myself of this, because so much of Stuttgart is so familiar to me, at least the pedestrian zone around the Königstrasse. Perhaps stranger still was the realization I came to while eating lunch just before leaving. I was thinking about how only one week from today I have arranged to meet up with a dear friend of mine after the noon Mass at our local parish. I was imagining driving up the the highway toward the church, realizing with a thrill how I would soon be driving my own car again, completely independent of public transportation. As I was envisioning this in my mind, it came to me that one week from now, as I drive past all those familiar landmarks, I may very well be thinking back to the week before, and how I was at that time eating rice with carrots, peas, and sliced sausage, and getting ready to spend my last afternoon in Stuttgart. In one week… in less than one week, I will be looking back upon my time in Germany as a thing of the past.
With that in mind, I tried very hard to enjoy my time in Stuttgart. I spent some time looking at my favorite paper store for the last time, but did not buy any more stationary. Most of my time was spent looking through the bookstore. I had thought that my pacing of reading material for the past few months, ever since the Great Berlin Book-Buying Binge of January, had left me perfectly prepared for my flight home. I had less than a week to go, and only one book left, which was over five hundred pages. Unfortunately (?), Elisabeth Glaskel is a much more absorbing author than I had anticipated, and I am set to finish “North and South” well before Monday, which would have left me with nothing to read, because although Markus has a large store of fantasy books in English from which I am welcome to help myself, I can not take any of them home with me. Fortunately, it was Penguin Paperback Classics to the rescue again, and for just over six Euro I was able to purchase to classic novellas of about a hundred pages each: “Heart of Darkness” by Joseph Conrad, and “Dr. Jekyll and Mr Hyde” by Robert Louis Stevenson. I have read neither of these books, but their names were familiar, and I expect to enjoy them.
After my little bit of shopping, I found a café close by the Markthalle, and tried to make myself slow down and enjoy the atmosphere. For a while now, I have been finding this harder and harder to do. With all the anxiety and anticipation wrapped up around the great Homecoming, the past days, weeks maybe, have been one giant struggle to keep my head where I am, and not to miss any of my final time here in Germany. This has less to do with wanting time to slow down, because honestly four days is far far too long to have to wait, but is rather the knowledge that if I do not try to take in the end of my stay, I will regret it later. In spite of all I have seen and done over the past year, I know I will still probably fault myself on so many counts for not doing enough. I have to keep reminding myself that I have done plenty, and that I should not wear myself out with overexertion. (Take a deep breath, you’re doing fine, it’ll all be ok. Don’t worry about not having seen enough, you had neither the time nor the money to see more. You don’t need more pictures, you have approximately five thousand already. You don’t need more chocolate, you have about four kilograms already. You don’t need to write more letters, you have written two hundred pages already.)
Yes, I am beginning to panic. No, I do not want to stay longer. I am panicked because I am on the verge of uprooting myself again, and this is a very uncomfortable process. Like any flower, tree, or bush, I handle transplantation very poorly. And yet, in spite of my nervousness, I have not looked forward to an event with so much impatience since I was a little kid waiting for Christmas. It is the type of anticipation that makes me scream inwardly and tear at my hair whenever I think about how much time is still ahead of me. I am sure that I will wake up tomorrow and think “What? There are STILL three days to go?” Try thinking about the last time three days felt far longer than three days have any right to be, and you may have some idea of how this feels. I have a lot to fit in to those last days, I am sure they will be a lot easier to get through as I am in the process of going through them, but in my current frame of mind it seems impossibly difficult to wait.
Then again, if you can imagine how this sort of anticipation feels, you will probably understand me when I say that this feeling alone makes the entire year worth it. I haven’t felt this way for over ten years, I would guess.
I haven’t wanted something so badly for over ten years.
The experience of being an au pair in Germany has been wonderful, amazing, and just as life-changing as I had hoped it would be; and yet I believe my days of au pairing will not be repeated. But it does make me sad to think of how seldom I am so filled with a longing for something. Feeling something so strongly bothers me, because it shows me how seldom I do feel things strongly. Really strongly. I recognize how important it is to open yourself up so that you can experience feelings like that, which is just the problem, because I never realized I was closed. It’s like falling in love for the first time, but since I’ve never really done that either, I can’t say for sure. I think that when I go home, I will need to curl up with my puppy on my bed and have a good long cry. Probably a few of them. And then I’ll look back on Germany, and I’ll miss it, and that sort of missing will hurt a lot, but it will be a wonderful sort of hurting. I’ll be able to live my life back home and appreciate better what it is I have, while at the same time remembering my year here, and looking forward to when I get to go back.
Maybe that’s all jumbled. The best I’ve ever heard this expressed was by my favorite author, G. K. Chesterton, in a book he wrote called “Manalive.” Actually, when he was twenty-two, he wrote a short story that seems to be the beginnings of that book. I read the book for the first time last summer, while my parents and two younger brothers were visiting and we were in Rome. I have not found anything that has so accurately and completely encompassed everything in my heart regarding this past year, and yet as much as I have recommended it to people around me, I am pretty sure no one has taken the time to read it. (Shame on you, it’s not long and very good.)
“He was, he somewhat vaguely explained, looking for a house. When I naturally asked him where the house was, he answered that he did not know; it was on an island; it was somewhere to the east; or, as he expressed it with a hazy and yet impatient gesture, `over there.’
“I asked him how, if he did not know the place, he would know it when he saw it. Here he suddenly ceased to be hazy, and became alarmingly minute. He gave a description of the house detailed enough for an auctioneer. I have forgotten nearly all the details except the last two, which were that the lamp-post was painted green, and that there was a red pillar-box at the corner.
“`A red pillar-box!’ I cried in astonishment. `Why, the place must be in England!’
“`I had forgotten,’ he said, nodding heavily. `That is the island’s name.’
“`But, nom du nom,’ I cried testily, `you’ve just come from England, my boy.’
“`They said it was England,’ said my imbecile, conspiratorially. `They said it was Kent. But Kentish men are such liars one can’t believe anything they say.’
“`Monsieur,’ I said, `you must pardon me. I am elderly, and the fumisteries of the young men are beyond me. I go by common sense, or, at the largest, by that extension of applied common sense called science.’
“`Science!’ cried the stranger. `There is only one good things science ever discovered — a good thing, good tidings of great joy — that the world is round.’
“I told him with civility that his words conveyed no impression to my intelligence. `I mean,’ he said, `that going right round the world is the shortest way to where you are already.’
“`Is it not even shorter,’ I asked, `to stop where you are?’
“`No, no, no!’ he cried emphatically. `That way is long and very weary. At the end of the world, at the back of the dawn, I shall find the wife I really married and the house that is really mine. And that house will have a greener lamp-post and a redder pillar-box. Do you,’ he asked with a sudden intensity, `do you never want to rush out of your house in order to find it?’
I do not know if I shall write again before I am back home. I would guess not. We shall see.