Waiting for a Sign of Life from Biene
“The nature of the epistolary genre was revealed to me: a form of writing devoted to another person. Novels, poems, and so on, were texts into which others were free to enter, or not. Letters, on the other hand, did not exist without the other person, and their very mission, their significance, was the epiphany of the recipient.”
― Amélie Nothomb, Life Form
A Unique Kind of Love
Looking back at our story of over fifty years ago, I do not hesitate one moment to assert that the kind of love between Biene and me, evolving at a snail’s pace over a period of four years has been rather unique among the more common ‘boy-meets-girl’ relationships. Before Biene broke lose from her parental ties and finally joined me in Canada to become my wife, we had met only six times. These were very short visits not longer than half a day for most of our encounters.
In the judgment of society’s accumulated wisdom on love relationships there was not enough time to really get to know each other. The verdict on our chances to succeed would have been abundantly clear. Considering that we did not have the time to test the turbulent waters of a future joint venture such as marriage, our plans to marry would have been declared as doomed to failure right from the very beginning. Being confronted with a seemingly insoluble mystery, one feels compelled to search for an explanation.
Hundreds of letters have been travelling back and forth, first within Germany, then between Canada and Biene’s hometown, then between Calgary and Didsbury, and last but by no means least again between Canada and Velbert. I published a few of these heart-felt letters to give my readers a sense of the nature of our most unusual epistolary relationship.
In April of 1965, Biene’s parents gave her permission to see me one last time, before I emigrated to Canada. It surprised me at the time that they were so generous as to grant her several days to be with me. Later on, it dawned on me that they were not counting on our relationship to last with such a long period of separation that lay ahead of us. So a little bit of generosity would help to sweeten for her the farewell, which they expected to be the beginning of the end of her relationship with me.
Our rendezvous gave us the last opportunity to be close together at my mother’s place, to feel each other’s presence on our walks over the greening fields, and to hold hands while contemplating our future in blissful anticipation in front of the historic mill in Watzenborn-Steinberg. Experiencing the pleasures of an occasional kiss, given shyly, yet so passionately generated a deeply felt longing, which was to colour and penetrate the sentiments in our correspondence during our year-long separation. But for their ultimate fulfilment these tender feelings had to wait on the back burner of Father Time, while our fervently written letters brought us nearer to each other on a much higher plane than possible in any other way.
When problems suddenly and unexpectedly sprang up from parental opposition to our wedding plans, our love as if by divine order was tested to the very limits and almost to the point of despair. The crisis also brought to light the two different ways of handling a given problematic situation. Biene was always trying to see the other side, feeling empathy even for people who opposed her decisions, and showing flexibility and openness for alternate solutions and compromises. By contrast, guided by a mathematical mind set, I perceived in human relationships the need to connect two events in the shortest possible manner, deciding on a carefully planned course of action, and once perceived as the right path pursuing it tenaciously and yes, I admit, often stubbornly. While each way has its own peculiar strengths and weaknesses, containing a recipe for rocky and often turbulent times to come, the benefits far outweigh the negative aspects. As it turned out in the end the two opposite characteristics merged in a complementary fashion to pave the way to a successful marriage.
Waiting for a Sign of Life from Biene
During the long wait for Biene’s first letter from Germany I jotted down a few ideas, bits of advice and the latest news from Canada Immigration. I intended to compile my notes and send them to Biene on the first sign of life from her. But there was no sign of life, not even a Christmas card, and I was increasingly getting more worried as the days were dragging on.
December 15 My dear Little Bee, I know, you will experience a hard time when you will have returned to Germany,, and if you don’t mind, please take my advice. There is only one argument in support of your coming to me, which is that we belong together as husband and wife. No matter what the conditions here in Canada will be at the beginning, no matter how poor the prospects will be for me being still a student and having no professional income at all, no matter how insecure the future seems to us or to your parents, the only reason, which remains powerful regardless of all these obstacles, is that we love each other. We are convinced that this love is true and, therefore, all the obstacles can be overcome by the strength of our love in marriage. Consequently, please, when you arrive at home, argue with the sincere and great power of your emotions, because in them you are completely safe. Reason is – in the minds of your brother or your parents – not used to show you the right way to reality, but is a vital instrument for their own emotions. Thus, actually, emotions are fighting against emotions: theirs to hold you back, because they want you to stay, ours to come together and to get married. You must have this in mind, when you come home. For we talk about emotions on both sides, and ours are morally on a higher plane and should, therefore, win the victory. Thus, stand firm on the ground of your emotions and don’t venture out into the field of reason wrapped in the skilfully disguised emotions by your relatives.
December 18th My dearest Biene! So many exciting news I have for you! Oh Bee, love without being able to love is illness. Believe me, I need your healing presence. I am terribly excited, because my mission is finished on the Canadian side of the ocean. Now it is your turn, brave girl! First of all I have to tell you about the last events at the Calgary Immigration Office. To some extent I feel sorry for your parents. For your time left in Germany must be cut short to a maximum of three months. Here are the details: The officer was a really friendly man and helped me portray our situation in a most positive light. Each aspect of your coming was shown in a favourable light: you had become a stenographer, the money I possess here and in Germany, the money you would probably bring with you, the money I would earn next summer, everything was summed up and spoke in favour of your coming. Even the fact that my brothers and my sister will support us was stated. Finally came the great surprise when the officer asked me, ‘When do you want her to come, in two or four weeks?’ I was struck as by a thunderbolt and answered that I didn’t know that your admission to Canada would go that fast and that I really expected you much later when I would have finished my first university year. The officer was not very pleased to hear that, because all the facts, which we have stated, wouldn’t be up-to-date in May any more. Now listen, dear Sweetheart, we finally compromised on the end of March or beginning of April and he gave me 45 days to marry you.
This will involve a lot of new problems, I suppose, because I didn’t really expect you earlier than May. But actually, the problem starts right here in Canada. For you will have to live at my brother’s and assume a good job, maybe in a household for the beginning, whereas I shall be completely involved in the final exams of the winter term. Thus, it will seem as if you have come into a strange, cold (March, April) and unfriendly country where even your dearest Love will have no time for you. I have to confess to you something; I am even studying on Saturdays and Sundays in order to cope with the requirements of the university. A few hours a week will be all we can spend together till the exams will be over, and our wedding will be only possible four weeks after your arrival maybe with yet unfriendly weather. If you see the hard work at my studies before the exams in terms of love, that is, if you recognize in each hour I spend for the progress of our future my great affection for you, as the warmest kiss would ever show you otherwise, you will have fully understood me.
Dec 26th My dear Sweetheart, I felt a little sad when I got no Christmas greetings from you. I spent Christmas Day with my brother Gerhard and his wife and their little son Wayne. It was really a nice time though I would have preferred to celebrate Christmas with you under a genuine Christmas tree.
I thought it was a good omen to get the final decision concerning your immigration to Canada on Christmas Eve. I enclose this letter to show you how far things have advanced by now. Since I cannot meet you in Montreal because I still study in March and April and I don’t want you to endure the early spring storms on a passenger ship, I would like you to come by plane and fly directly to Calgary where I can meet you at the Calgary Airport. Put the most necessary things into your suitcase and all the rest especially heavy things into a wooden crate, which will come by ship and train half a year later. Every travel bureau will advise you what steps to take.
Although I haven’t had any news from you for such a long time, I will no longer wait and send you all my letters off to you.
Hoping that all is well I send you a thousand kisses. Your Peter