Peter’s Daring Request and a Chinese Love Poem
Still dwelling on my romantic sentiments fuelled by my recent fishing trip into the Canadian Rockies and riding now on wave of euphoria brought on by my apparent success at the registrar’s office of the University, I sat down to finally write the letter to Biene, which she had been yearning to receive for such a long time.
August 2nd 1965 Calgary
My dear Biene, …And now I come to the most important part of my letter. Next April my first year will be over, and I will do everything in my power to pass all my exams. Then I will be at the halfway mark of my teachers’ training program, and the most difficult period of my studies will be behind me. However, a very busy summer will be waiting for me, because I will have to earn enough money to pay for tuition and living expenses for the second year. Since the direction, which I have chosen for my profession, will have been secured, I think that it will now make sense for you to come to me so that we two can take on the challenges of the last year together. That way we both will have worked our way up, and it will give us later the feeling of having reached our goal together. But above all remains the fact that I love you, and it seems to me now that two years of waiting will be unthinkable and unbearable. This summer has brought me so many wonderful experiences that I am hurting just to think that you could not share them with me. After your reply I will find out what to do next. I love you. Your Peter
Four days later I received the devastating news from another department of the university administration that they had reviewed my high school certificate and determined that I would have to take a written English proficiency exam on September 10th. Only if I passed that test would I be admitted as student in the Faculty of Education. I was deeply worried, since I had only a month to prepare myself for this decisive moment in my life. Every day I wrote for practice a paragraph, sometimes even an entire essay on the topics I had gleaned from my brother’s old high school English text. I was afraid that if the standards were nearly as high as they were for essay writing in German at my high school, I would most certainly fail. I was clearly standing at the crossroads. The thought repeatedly crossed my mind to return to Germany and enrol at the University in Erlangen near Nuremberg, Bavaria, for the beginning of the fall and winter semester. Proud as I was, I rejected what was to me like an open admission of surrender of all the plans that Biene and I had made for our future in Canada. Going back to Germany would entail six long years of postsecondary education and an equally long waiting period, before I would reach financial independence. By comparison even one year’s delay here in Canada seemed preferable to me. So I boldly stuck my neck out and asked Biene to come as early as the following spring regardless of the outcome of the test on September 10th. In case I did not succeed in passing it, I would take night classes in English 30 and work during the day to earn more money for my studies in the following year. No matter what was going to happen, I thought, I would be teaching within three years. Biene and I would be navigating through the uncharted sea of an unknown future with the unshakeable trust of reaching eventually the island of a secure and happy life. The dreamer in me was temporarily getting the upper hand. Perhaps it is a good thing to lose oneself in one’s dreams every once in a while. As it turned out, there was no need to ask, to beg, or to entice Biene to come. Her reply was swift and passionately written.
August 7th Velbert
My dear Peter, How auspicious your letter already looked from the outside! When I opened it full of expectation and the color photos and the little mountain flower fell into my lap, I already felt that it would contain only good news. And really, from one line to the next I felt warm and happy all over. But when I came to the ‘most important part’, I lost all my composure. My heart leapt for joy and in my excitement I had to read twice before I could comprehend that you meant next spring.
O Peter, you don’t know, how much in the last little while my heart was sinking! I could not and did not want to tell you, because uncertainty lay heavily on your shoulders. You know, Peter, my thoughts about you and our future did not offer any calm. How often did I lie awake at night searching desperately for a solution! And always at the end I came to the same conclusion that if you stayed in Canada, I should come to you as quickly as possible. I wanted to write you this only when a decision had been made. Dear Peter, can you now feel what your question means to me? It feels like being liberated. To me it is as if you read my most secret thoughts, and I always have to think of the lines in the Chinese poem, which a poet had written to his wife over a thousand years ago.
‘I have read your silky characters
and distinctly saw the letters cry.
Hundreds of rivers and mountains block your path.
Yet in thought and desire we are one.’
…Over and over again, since you were gone, I had to think, how much better it would be to bear right from the start all our initial hardships together. When we are so far apart for such a long time, even the beautiful things we experience make us feel sad, because we cannot share them with each other. Isn’t that so?
See, dear Peter, I lived through some bad times after our flight as refugees from East Germany, and so I know that one doesn’t have to be unhappy in times of need. One just has to have confidence. Imagine, like you I thought of renting a room at the beginning. How more easily will we be able to work and learn, when the constant yearning is no longer eating away at our hearts!
Dear Peter, the main thing now for you to do is to write my parents and tell them what your thoughts are on all this so they can put their trust into our plans. When they notice that we thought this through maturely and prudently, they will find it easier to let me go …”
I was delighted, no, more accurately put, I was absolutely ecstatic about Biene’s affirmative response. We two were one heart and one soul with the same sweet wish to join forces to embark on life’s journey as one. However, I was realistic enough to realize that writing her parents at this time would do nothing to convince them of a stable, happy and secure life for their daughter in the light of the current uncertainty over my academic endeavours.