Sunday, September 30, 2007

Nurnberg: City of Old and New Friends

After our magical day in Heidelberg, just as Elisabeth and I were getting ready to drift off to sleep, the “handy klingelt” (the cell phone rang). It was Lionel, Geoffry’s son, and Elisabeth’s new friend.

Elisabeth listened, a huge smile came over her face, and then she hesitated. “I’d really love to go, but I have to talk to my mom. I don’t want to just leave her…”

“No discussion necessary, m’dear,” I assured her. “You can’t not go!” Elisabeth and Lionel had discussed the possibility of going to Oktoberfest together and now Lionel, the charming, connected and debonair Pied Piper of Party had found a way to make it happen… with the popular German reggae band and his good buddies, Jamaram, no less!

A flurry of activity followed, from cancellation of a hotel room in Wurzburg to a call to my friend Thomas, to research into train times. Elisabeth would head to Munchen the next day to spend time with her new friends and I’d go to Nurnberg to spend time with Thomas– and to finally meet his wife, Petra, with whom I had spoken on the phone and to whom Elisabeth had grown close in 2005 when she lived with the family for a few weeks, but who I had still not met.

Elisabeth and I took a train together to Stuttgart, then parted ways, planning to see each other late the next day or early on the day after – depending, in large part, on how hard she’d party at Oktoberfest. As I boarded the train for Nurnberg I was hit by a sudden case of butterflies… as always happens when I see Thomas after years apart.

In 2001, when I went to Germany with Mom and Thomas came to visit us in Ruhpolding, my butterflies were especially persistent. I was 25 when he’d last seen me and now 20 years had passed. Would we still share the close connection that that we felt immediately when we met in 1980 and that had persisted as letter-writing friends as we both married, raised children and settled into our very different lives on very different continents? As it turns out, we did maintain our connection of close friendship, both in 2001 and later in 2004, and during both visits we gabbed on and on, in a smattering of German and English (but mostly English), reveling in the chance to connect again in the friendship we’d nurtured. Although our friendship has been a completely platonic one for 26 years now, there is something about seeing an old lover again, and I found myself combing my hair and refreshing my make-up as the train approached the small station in his town. A candle that burned as brightly as ours did so many years ago is never absolutely and completely extinguished (admit it; you all know this!), and I couldn’t help but wonder whether my turning 50 (yes, I was the older woman) would cause him to look at me this time as just an old lady acquaintance instead of as a deeply connected friend.

The friendship, it turns out, is healthy and Thomas and I connected as we had during my visits of the past six years: we shared stories of our families and our careers and our children and our very different lives on very different continents. And this time I knew I’d finally get to meet Thomas’ wife, Petra, and his older daughter Katarina (his younger daughter had stayed with us two summers ago).

The butterflies came back at the thought of meeting Petra. What if she didn’t like me? What if we had nothing to say to each other? What if she decided that she didn’t want Thomas keeping in touch with me? I knew logically that my concerns were silly, as I’d spoken to Petra on the phone and liked her very much each time. And Elisabeth had spoken so highly of her, assuring me that she was loving and kind. But still, when it was time to meet her after a day of drenched sight-seeing on a particularly rainy day in Nurnberg, the butterflies were swarming. As we entered the house, Petra first saw Elisabeth (who she calls “little Carol”) and drew her into a long hug, speaking (in German) of the fond memory she had of Elisabeth’s visit in 2005. Watching Petra’s genuine kindness and fondness for my daughter gave me an immediate sense of kinship and I liked her immensely even before she opened her arms to me and we hugged, truly happy to have finally met.

That evening, Petra and I laughed heartily together, greatly enjoying each other’s company. I knew I’d made a new friend, and even now as I sit in the Copenhagen airport as we await our final flight home, I know that my connection with Petra, after all these years and all this trepidation, is one of the highlights of my trip. I know that I have made a new friend who, like her husband, I will feel connected to for many years to come.

I know – I’m lucky. It’s not often than a passionate romance mellows into a true and sincere lifetime friendship, and it’s not often that future spouses are so accepting – and even encouraging – of that friendship. But it’s also not often that people like Thomas and Petra come along in one’s life. I am truly blessed.

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