Staying the Course
“I have only made this letter longer because I have not had the time to make it shorter.” Blaise Pascal
Peter’s Tug-A-War with Biene
His Letter – Part I
January 6th, 1966 Calgary
My dear Biene,
Tomorrow we write our English exam. Before in a state of utter confusion I puton the test paper a thousand times your name down and fail to write a satisfactory essay, I want to quickly take a big burden off my chest.
I would like to clarify just one more time our present situation for you so you have something to cling to when new challenges arise. I can understand your father’s attitude perfectly well, because he is indeed losing his only daughter. But understanding must not lead to self-sacrifice. I am standing on the left, your parents on the right; you are in the middle and can only go to one.
My dear Biene, let me recount one more time how everything has evolved. Perhaps it will help you. Last summer waiting anxiously for a sign of life from me, you became desperate and asked me to let you come. Did you then openly talk to your parents about our plans to get married? When after work I came home dead tired and often with bleeding hands, when there was no word from the university, then your parents would have perhaps persuaded me to return to Germany. Later on when during my studies one success after another made me feel strong and confident, I believed that it was time to think of your coming to Canada. You didn’t only joyfully agree, but encouraged me in every letter to ask your parents for your hand in marriage. How well they were prepared I found out in your brother’s reply. You too were surprised at the unfriendly reaction and yet should have expected it. Then you became admirably brave and said, ‘I come in spite of it all!’ I remarked to my brother Gerry that they can all respectfully bow their heads before you. That’s how proud I was of you.
Then I waited for a reply, even though it was very difficult for me. Nothing was forthcoming for a very long time. But what did I hear sounding across from England? ‘Don’t wait too long, Peter’. So then I went from the university to downtown Calgary and started the lengthy application process for your immigration. A lot of things had to be done, because they never had a case before, in which a student was going to be the sponsor. While I was doing all this, you were dreaming about our wedding. Is it possible that you wrote nothing about this to your parents? This would have been the simplest thing in the world. For what one writes with calm reasoning, becomes clearer and more distinct in one’s mind than if one had to present the matter face to face. I can only explain your parents’ consternation in the light of their lack of awareness of our wedding plans.
You write that I should apologize to your parents. I read my letter over and over again. I cannot take away one iota. It is correct. If I apologize, your parents will despise me for my weakness. But this does not matter. What is more important that you desire that I apologize and with that you indicate to me – tears are almost welling up at this thought – that you no longer stand completely on my side. For above all, these plans were yours and mine. I gather this from your request not to write about them to your parents. O Biene don’t you see that your battle is already halfway lost!
Letter to be continued
Peter’s Letter – Part II
Dear Biene, you are so sure about the future, yet you do not dare to tell your parents that you want to marry me this spring. I love you for your big heart in dealing so compassionately with all people. But you must understand that you will hurt your parents a thousand times more if you tell them the full truth only at the end. What will you say to them when the registered letter arrives from the Canadian embassy?
You wrote about the shocking experience of your mother in her youth. Did you notice in regard to us the unintended irony of this tragic event? She was so much in love with her fiancé that she wanted to force her parents by means of a baby to agree to the marriage. Did the thought not cross your mind that you could be at this time in the same situation? And Biene, I have to tell you this; I would have never done ‘it’ under any circumstances no matter how passionately my blood was pulsing through my veins. For then I would have taken your freedom away to follow me to Canada. I do not blackmail, I do not sweet-talk, and neither do I make any promises that I cannot keep.
Decide if you want to come in the spring or if you prefer to stay. in Germany. You know I cannot ask the immigration officials twice. They cannot change the immigration requirements and conditions. You agreed to them and your parents should know them too.
One more time Fate is anchored within you, not in the time or the circumstances. So write to me soon and openly how things are at your end and how accurately your parents are informed. Forgive me, if I only saw the dark and unexplained content of your letter. Forgive me too, if I used too harsh a word or two and hurt your feelings or if the cold facts gave you pain. But until you can courageously face the present reality, especially when talking to your parents, I will not have a single peaceful moment. Quite frankly our situation appears already doomed to me. Biene, don’t you think a man just like a woman may also prepare himself inwardly for the wedding and may look forward to it? Yet I suffer with a burning fire in my chest tormented by the worries about our future. It cannot go on any longer like this! Make an end to my pain. My heart is longing for an end, happy or unhappy, it does not matter. Do not write any more what sounds nice, but give a true account of how things really are in Velbert, what you have accomplished and how I could help.
You have too much feeling. Oh, if you were already mine!
Biene’s Urgent Plea for Understanding
January 11th 1966, Velbert
My dear Love, I am a bit exhausted and my nerves are on edge. But don’t be afraid. I never lose my confidence and courage, whatever happens. Nothing can prevent me from coming to you.
First I must tell you this. The letter from the Canadian Embassy arrived today! I filled out the form at once and it is now on its way back to Cologne. But Peter, I had to do something you may not understand. But I had to do it to take a burden off my mother’s heart. I have asked the ambassador whether it will be possible to grant me a visa and a work permit for one year, before I will come to you forever. I have arranged with my mother to go to you till Christmas and then come back home to make the final decision. It breaks my mother’s heart. She cannot bear the thought that already this step I am going to do might be the final one. She must get acquainted to this thought by and by. Peter, please understand I have to grant her this favour. I must try everything to leave her at least in the hope that I am not bound to stay with you if I should not be able to stand the new life.
Peter, once together with you, I can reassure her in everything and she will get acquainted to the thought that I will stay with you. Peter, believe me, I only want to do the best and therefore never let doubts enter your heart! I need courage and I only can get it through you, when I know you are not troubled. Look, Peter, I come to you, I think, in April by airplane taking only small luggage with me. Coming back after Christmas I will take everything with me, for then I will stay forever. Peter, understand this change of plans, if the embassy should grant me my wish.
In one point I won’t be able to grant my mother’s wish and that is that I want to get married to you at once. Don’t think that I was not sincere with my parents. O Peter, I was! They knew everything of us for a long time and all the same they reacted like this. I cannot be frank anymore, because the more I tell them, the worse it gets. O Peter, understand my situation. I cannot bear their tears, I cannot see them suffer and they are so downhearted, because they love me so much. Although I love you more than anything in the world, I suffer too with them and I cannot help it and yet I am happy, because I love you. Peter, it is so difficult to understand.
Sometimes I really wish I could hate my parents, because everything would be easier. I have to work because my father won’t give me a penny. Nothing can move him, although I have told him everything. I cannot bear the thought to take our last money you have here. I want to be able to pay at least the fare. Besides I learn a lot. I have nearly the function of a secretary. I have to type, to write letters and to translate many English letters with many difficult technical terms. It is a real good experience for getting a job in Canada. Don’t you think so? Have confidence, Peter, because nothing is hopeless as long as we love each other.
I love you so much! Your Biene
A few days later she added …
My dear Peter, I only now realize with a great shock how my last letter must have created a storm of anxiety in your heart. O Peter, I hope you remained calm at the exam. Peter, I was not aware at all what I had done to you. See, there so many things that I have to deal with, but yet you must never doubt that I am coming to you. Even my parents know that. They only want to make sure that I keep my freedom as long as possible, because they cannot believe that I will be able to endure life with you in Canada. Nevertheless I am going to be your wife as soon as possible. And when I am with you and my parents sense that I am happy, then they will find it easier to bear the separation. When I come to you without bringing anything, later on we still get eventually something. At least I want to be able to pay for the fare.
Dear Peter, I am asking you now just for one thing, although my letters do not always radiate confidence, you must not lose your trust in me. Unfortunately, I cannot describe everything. It is always way too much. But I love you so much that it would cost me my life, if I didn’t come to you soon.
Peter Strikes a more Conciliatory Tone
January 13th 1966, Calgary
My dear Biene,
Much has been happening on my side, and if you hadn’t written so quickly, I would have sent you a letter anyway in the next couple of days.
Warm thoughts about you flow again through my heart. Although truth sometimes hurts, it is never as cruel as nebulous uncertainty. Many people don’t manage to bear the tragedy of life with assured hearts. They actually prefer to indulge in fuzzy daydreams and attempt to escape the challenges of life. You know now that I don’t belong to this kind of people and would not want to be categorized as such. Dear Biene, please take these philosophical considerations seriously; especially as they relate to our own experiences.
But first of all let me tell you what I think about what you have written and then let me know whether you agree. I would congratulate you very much, if the ambassador would grant your request for a work visa. Please don’t count on a positive response. For he knows the regulations and he cannot change them. If you cannot support our original plan and wish to spare your mother any more grief, then the only way out is to make a new application from you end.
But now to your plans! Believe me, it would turn out to be a heavy burden for our entire future, if you were going to fly home and then come back after your final farewell. Not even a rich man would throw so much money out of the window and yet at the beginning we will belong to the poorest of the poor. You work and sacrifice your health to pay for the flight, then again you work throughout the summer just to fly back home and would not have any money to fly again. Did your mother not consider that they rob you of your youthful energy, which should be devoted to us both? Is this true motherly love? I really don’t want to get angry again, but I am facing a human puzzle. What grief will you cause all over again, when you have to say your final farewell! And as my wife you will fly back to Germany. Your mother will feel like having been deceived, and I will be disappointed that you rank your love to your parents higher than your care for our challenging start in life here. Your parents want that you can make a free decision. Why not? Here is a new suggestion. I go one more time to the immigration office and ask for an extension of our wedding date so that you can freely decide whether you like it or not. In case you cannot stand it or the strange environment drives you back home, then take my money as much as you need and fly home again. I am prepared to give my word to you and to your parents even in writing if necessary.
The chest with your belongings may be shipped after you have made your decision to stay. Biene. Is this not a good suggestion, if the deadline for our wedding is extended to three months? Would you be so kind and make your parents aware of this proposal? By their reaction you will know if they really want your best or whether they are simply trying to keep you near them for the foreseeable future. They pay nothing for your wedding. Do they also want that you pay for the return ticket? The $500.00 could furnish our apartment or house, if I was going to remain and teach in Calgary. Enough of it!
At Gerry’s family (Fyffe Road) a little baby girl by the name of Jaqueline has been born. My brother voiced his opinion in his humorous manner and said, ‘Now Martha has got what she wanted and hopefully from now on she will let me sleep in peace.’ I had to laugh at the way he said it.
Always in love
What Biene had Arranged with her Mother
January 14th ,1966,Velbert
My dear Peter,
Finally I can take all your fears away. My mother is looking at my departure in a calm and collected manner, because she now knows – which wasn’t clear to her before – that I can return any time in case of an emergency. She had been in the mistaken belief that I would commit myself to some sort of obligation, which would not allow me to come home so soon. My dear Peter, do not take it as my giving in or as a sign of weakness that I promised my mother to come home for Christmas. That way saying goodbye will not be so difficult. She can now hope to see me again in the not so distant future.
Also she has now gotten used to the idea of us two getting married. Only my father remains unbending. He says that he does not want to cast me out, but he would not financially support me in the least. My dear Peter, this is in complete contradiction of what my parents have promised me in the summer. I can only explain it by their desire to console me in my desperation, but they never counted on all this becoming a reality. I know now that in private they believed that while I was in England I would take my mind off our plans.
See dear Peter, I gathered from remarks that my father will write you a letter. I hope he will not hurt your feelings. That’s why I prepared you for it. Whatever he may write, don’t let him offend you.
I enjoy my work at Yale & Towne, an American company, located here in Velbert. Because of my knowledge of English, I do a lot of translations of mostly technical nature, but also take care of my boss’s correspondence. So in a way I perform my duties almost as a personal secretary. Once I am in Canada, I would like to work in an office and later, when we are doing financially well, I would also like to enrol in a university program to obtain at least the lowest possible teaching diploma.
My dear Peter, I only hope that you are calm again and you have forgiven me. Certainly everything will turn out good in the end.
Will a Passionate Poem make a Difference?
Picking up the pieces of a shattered dream is better than having no pieces to pick up at all.
Poetry to the Rescue!
For three long months Biene had to endure the assaults from her parents, twin brother, relatives and friends on our plans to carve out a niche for our future in Canada. No doubt, while the arguments were partly driven by selfishness and the fear of losing daughter, sister and friend, they were also motivated by love and concern for her happiness in a distant land. Biene, endowed by nature with a big heart and a keen sense of perception felt empathy especially for her mother’s despair. Thus, she made compromises, which deeply affected me and touched a very sensitive nerve.
While Biene was struggling with real people, who were bent on imposing their idea of happiness on her, I in faraway Canada had to fight a different battle. Having no one to talk to and argue with, I battled with phantoms breaking through the crevices of my beleaguered mind, where dream and reality once so intimately interwoven were drifting apart with each new letter from Germany.
Then I remembered that two years earlier I had written a novella entitled “Carthage” (yet to be translated into English). The book written for Biene was my desperate attempt to declare my love to her and to win back her heart after the engagement with her Dutch fiancé had fallen apart. So as a prelude to a very long letter I composed a poem. It was written in the spirit of German classic literature and poetry that I was studying at the time and was definitely inspired by my worries about all the troublesome changes made to our plans. The poem was to remind Biene of our hopes and aspirations, which we had recorded less than a year earlier in our book of dreams.
In Part II of this chapter I will publish the original poem in German and for my English speaking blogging friends I will add a translation with no attempt to preserve rhyme or rhythm. My hope is that not too much of its emotional impact is lost in translation.
Sorge um einen Verlorenen Traum
O lass noch einmal jene Stunden
der Zweisamkeit vor Dir entstehen,
um die noch ungebrochene Blume
des stillen Glücks ein zweites mal zu sehen.
Ob du noch weißt, wie ich mit ungeübter Hand
Dir gold’ne Zeilen in das Buch der Träume schrieb,
den zarten Schleier, der versprach, ein ganzes Leben
in sanfter Milde zu umspannen, wo er verblieb?
Süße, schwere, einst entschwundene Wonne
drang in unsere Herzen mit dionysischer Gewalt;
denn wir als Glieder in der Kette, Ahn und Enkel eingereiht,
schicksalstrotzend, hoffnungsfroh fanden unseren Halt.
Mit ernstem Blick seh’ ich des Tages letzte Strahlen
in eisigen Höhen sich vor mir entfalten.
Wenn auch ein fernes Herz für mich noch schlägt,
Ich spüre Angst und Sorge in mir walten.
Fragend schau’ ich, den Hauch des Vergangenen suchend,
zum Abendhimmel hoch hinauf.
Teure Biene, komm und eil in meine Hütte
und schlag das Buch der Träume wieder auf!
Worry about a Lost Dream
Oh let once again those hours
of togetherness arise before you,
to see the still unbroken flower
of quiet bliss a second time.
Do you remember how I with inexperienced hand
wrote golden lines in our book of dreams,
the gentle veil, which promised to span a lifetime
in tender sweetness, where it remained?
Sweet and heavy bliss, once vanished,
penetrated our hearts with Dionysian force;
for we, as links in the chain of ancestor and descendent,
rebellious and hopeful found our strength and support.
With somber glance, I see the last rays of the day
in icy heights unfold before me.
Even though a distant heart still beats for me,
I sense fear and worry reign within me.
While seeking to catch the aura of the past,
I look questioningly up to the evening sky.
Dearest Biene, come and hurry to my hut
and open the book of our dreams again!
Peter Offers Three Choices
January 22nd 1966, Calgary
My beloved Biene,
I passed the exam, also the one in English. But this appears unimportant to me in the light of your coming this spring; I will write you the details of the exam some other time.
I fear that a few things I wrote must have hurt your feelings. I am sorry and apologize. You are in the least responsible. Rather the causes for all the troubles rest with me. That’s what I think; for I have critically examined myself. You know, when I am separated from people and I am sitting for hours at the same spot and study, then painful loneliness takes control over my heart. It comes from nowhere, from the silence of a tortured soul. However, I am aware that this pain can be alleviated by a sociable life and above all by the giving and receiving of love. You see, dear Biene, in our separation I often did you wrong, when unexpected news and such moods came together in a perilous brew. From now on I will make an effort to separate the two from each other.
O Biene I appear to me like a stubborn grumbler, because I must voice my objections all over again. I worked out with my brother that as a typist in an office you will barely earn enough money for the flight back home. And how do you propose to get to Canada, if your father is not willing to pay a single penny for the fare? Biene, forgive me please, if I seem to be so harsh; but you appear to dream about a happiness that still needs to be acquired with all our strength. The wedding is just the beginning of a lengthy struggle and not the final station of perpetual bliss. Whether we stay in the basement or whether we move (by the way I found a three-room apartment with a balcony, shower, bath etc., which will become vacant in the spring), we will be lacking everything. I am still eating from the plastic plate my mother once gave me when I was a boy scout. We will need tableware, cooking utensils and a few pieces of furniture. My brother is willing to pass on a few things to us. But it goes without saying that he can’t give away everything. I got to know many student couples, who started like this and have been quite happy all the same, because they could watch their day-by-day progress. But they did not start with debts, which would be the case, if we worked all summer not for our apartment, but for your return flight.
I see only three solutions out of this miserable situation: EITHER you follow completely your mother’s advice, come here for the summer, make your decision and work in a household, where you don’t have to pay for room and board, OR we get married after a certain waiting period and we let your father pay for the flights to and from Germany OR in case he doesn’t, you stay in Canada and we invite your parents to come. Later when we are financially better off we could fly together to Germany. I think this is a reasonable and responsible suggestion and I wished you would think it over during a quiet moment.
Peter’s Pleading Letter and Biene’s Reassurance
Dear Biene, I also want you to have your freedom to decide. During the first six weeks here a double burden will rest on your shoulders. I have no choice any more, since I have made mine already in December. So your yes will also be my yes and your no will be my no. Look at everything carefully when you come including the things that might shock you and then decide whether you can bear the absence of your relatives and friends for a long time. If you think you can, then throw our love onto the scales for the final decision.
The poem expresses the worry that dream and reality are no longer as close together as they once were in Michelbach and that the role in a family as wife and mother would no longer mean as much as then. How can I possibly explain that later after a few years, when we will be doing better, you would want to study from morning till evening and to withdraw as wife and mother from the family just to obtain a diploma? Biene, please understand me correctly. At the university there are many inspiring individual courses, which offer opportunities for intellectual enrichment. I would be the last one to oppose such desires. But a full university program as you desire indicates that you have begun to look at life, love, and marriage with different eyes. The goal that I once vaguely and exuberantly set in our book of dreams is still worth striving for and has already taken on clear and concrete forms. Yes, we evolve and we must work on us, but we should never ever attempt to change our character. Actually I don’t worry too much about you. For I know how much you are exposed to your mother’s influence. She planted contradictory ideas into your heart. Here her endeavors for your security are going too far. Perhaps in her fear about you she believes that one day I could abandon you or we could separate and then you wouldn’t have a profession to fall back on. Please reexamine earnestly if such wishes in you are genuine or if they merely represent a favor towards your anxious mother. For me this is a question of utmost importance and I hope it is for you as well.
Again I seem to be so stiff-necked, and it hurts to be like that. Just follow that one path that once had been the right one for both of us. In fact I am not commanding you to do anything Rather I am imploring you not to deviate from our life’s ideals. Even if we cannot reach them completely, the work and the endeavour towards them will provide sense and purpose of life. In an active and meaningful life true happiness will not be very far.
Give my kindest regards to your parents and your brother Walter
For now be lovingly embraced by your Peter
January 31st, Velbert
My dear Peter,
just a few lines! How much I feel for and understand your worries! Have no fear. All my dreams about our future are still the same. And I will try everything to realize them with you, believe me. As to the money my parents (my mother actually) are prepared to pay the return fare. But I will do it only as you suggested, because I know my father has enough money. If only I were already with you, then everything would be easier. I am waiting for more information from Cologne. At the moment I am completely exhausted; but I will soon answer all your questions. I am so happy that you passed your exams. Peter, I shall always be, God willing, a good wife to you.
I love you.