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"No one lives forever, we are vulnerable, not invincible. It is so long ago, my dear friend -
Niemand lebt ewig, wir sind verletzbar, nicht unbesiegbar. Es ist so lange her, mein lieber Freund."
(Pass auf auf Di - Take care of yourself, Georg Danzer, 1996)
To a Friend
There are moments when it feels even more important to appear positive, optimistic and seemingly light hearted. Hoping that the attitude, the spirit influences others to gain hope and strength, rediscover happiness. What I did not expect when creating this page was a serious illness of a friend since school days, just as it had been with my teenage cousin almost exactly 10 years earlier. One of the saddest parts was that we saw each other more often than in the years before altogether. "Mich hat's voll erwischt - It really got me," were the first words to me after being transferred back from intensive care to a regular sick bed. And I remember all the optimism one week after surgery and attempts to walk again. Back at work after half a year, he would point out parallels between himself and Lazarus... But as the saying goes, the devil never sleeps. A Banaroo hit single "Coming Home for Christmas" had been hummed so often by the kids, to others it may have a completely different meaning. On New Year's Day he whispered into my ear that he was not afraid of dying. On Epiphany we saw each other one last time. In German we have a greeting in the name of the Lord, an unmistakable way of saying it will always remind me. This is a last "Grias Gott".
Here's his entry into the guest book of our old website, shortly before it all started. One of those little humorous stories...
26-08-2004 - 08:07 "Hallo Leute, hier kommt ein kleines Rätsel für alle, die der burgenländischen Sprache mächtig sind: Wous moucht da Feiaweamaun, wauna nix zan leischn hout? Ea ziacht si an Pfeifarouni eini, wäu daun houta wous zan leischn. (Vielleicht findet sich ja irgendein Idealist, der das Ganze auf Englisch übersetzt, damit das Rätsel allgemein verständlich ist.) Viele Grüße Leo"
Here is the requested translation: "Hello folks, here comes a small riddle for all, who are able to speak the dialect from the Land of Castles: What does a fireman do, if there is no fire to fight? He eats a hot pepper, for then there is a fire to fight. (Maybe some idealist will turn up, who translates the whole thing into English, in order to make the riddle generally understandable.) Many greetings, Leo"
I had a dream one of these nights. No, I am not getting ready for a Martin Luther King speech now. Just reflecting some thoughts that came to my mind one early morning. I had a dream that I was in heaven, but they sent me back for 2 weeks as I was not good enough yet. That would mean I would die in 2 weeks time. Waking up, I felt disturbed. Was it a nightmare that wouldn't imply anything? Or was it a real perception, a presentiment of things to come? Driving down to work in the early morning, I listened to a John Fogerty song with the lyrics: "I dreamed I walked in heaven just the other night. There was so much beauty, so much light. Don't you wish it was true?" Then I thought, how would you live, if that was for real? There are so many people with severe illnesses, who know they are running out of time, with their clock ticking, loud. If you knew, you had only a few weeks left, what would you want to do? Whom would you like to see one last time? We have to be prepared every day to go. Live a life, we can we proud of, up to a certain point at least. Be ready any time not to go in conflict with others and ourselves. Half a year after my friend died, we still didn't get it that he was gone. His time had not come yet, he was too young.
Are we still young? Back then as kids everyone over the age of 30 appeared as old as Methuselah to us. Maybe just acting as a wanna be youngster, trying to be hip, while starting to turn grey or to lose hair. Although people are more active these days, also traveling a lot up to a high age, there is certainly a decline. And they all usually have one thing in common. No one wants to think about his own expiration date. But sometimes you can't help these thoughts coming up, thoughts of leaving our life on this planet behind to go to a hopefully even better place. Those thoughts of the own transience often make people sad. They see how unimportant they are in a bigger picture. "Maybe before you were happy, but now your thoughts aren't of this place," as Tommy Bolin would sing in his song "Dreamer" a year before he had to go. Listening to it, I had always understood "But now your thoughts are a disgrace." The true adventures happen in our heads, as they say. Drifting thoughts, going other places in our wandering minds, travelling far away and meeting people in our dreams. Until we wake up on another brand new day, back in our reality or what we perceive it to be. Reactions I received on my dream were varying. "Don't you forget, you promised to always be here with me," a friend reminded me. "Don't lend him money," a colleague joked. "You'll survive," my wife concluded. Let's see for how long.
"It's the first thing in the morning, the last thing late at night.
I get overwhelmed with sorrow, I know, I won't survive."
(Last Day of My Life, Doro, 1993)
Three Friends left.
The Birthday Intrusion
On the occasion of the birthday of our late friend, the weekend before two friends came up from my hometown. Crossing the city together through heavy traffic was one thing. Finding out the unlighted cemetery had closed already for winter opening hours until 5 PM another. We were half an hour late, the gate was locked, disappointment among us, we had not made it. Almost giving up, then circling around the block with the car, way down at the other end we found a hole, two loose slats in the wooden fence. Sucking in our stomachs, we could just fit through. In the dark, one friend found the family tomb including names of aristocrats unknown to us, pretty close to the grave of a composer. It took us a while to discover the inscription of our friend's name in the pedestal, where we then put three candles in front. One of the most touching moments for us. We hadn't thought we would any more, but we had made it. Relieved, later that evening we would clink our glasses in his memory. Recouping, at some point I thought, ten years ago I would not have done that, maybe twenty years ago I would have. Too young to know, too old to care!
In the following year I went to a John Fogerty concert in the Vienna City Hall together with a colleague, a huge Creedence Clearwater Revival fan. Hearing "Don't you wish it was true", I couldn't help thinking of that morning, driving down the dark, wide Michigan road and playing the same song. Even the newer songs such as "Broken Down Cowboy" blended right in with the older material (like us) from the 1960's. Among all the great performance I especially enjoyed his live version of the CCR-classic "(It ain't me, I ain't no) Fortunate Son". Which is a very subjective perception, for there are people much worse off.
In the end grief would strike again. You would find yourself once more mourning this morning. One of those indescribable feelings is walking from door to door in the neighbourhood, where you grew up, passing out a death notice and collect these disbelieving looks in return. Reading on the dark framed paper: "Das Sichtbare ist vergangen, was bleibt, ist die Liebe und Erinnerung - The visible is gone, what stays on is love and memory." Discussing changes in the area with the flower lady over ordering a funeral wreath with sunflowers and a matching yellow ribbon saying: "Auf ein baldiges Wiedersehen - See you again, soon." Sitting together to reflect past stages of a life and provide input for a sermon, as in a distant movie flickering by in front of tired eyes. Later like in trance doing the reading at the requiem. It felt so unreal. Could it be true that the person you sat on the lap of while watching Vicky the Viking is gone forever? Who had played those Laurel & Hardy finger tricks with you that you still fondly remember? Who had made you a bow from a hazel switch like Robin Hood and a neatly painted wooden sword & shield like Prince Valiant? Who taught you how to ride a bicycle or play chess? Who as an authority in the family could be very strict and demanding, while still protective and supportive in front of others? Then thinking of his favourite saying about life being a playhouse, about fate and hope. Remembering the good times, once in a while even better than they had been. The strong hands that had held you as a kid, how lean were they during the last handshakes. Then drivíng back to reality, listening to the song "Last Day of My Life," while discovering that you were a fortunate son, really, without knowing.
Sometimes you may feel depressed and frustrated, disappointed from being passed over. Being left out somehow excludes you from providing more or less valuable input to influence a direction before the decision is made and it is too late. When people are put down as outsiders, for not being that good in one discipline out of so many. Just as the group of outcast students in the 2007 movie "Sydney White (and the Seven Dorks)," a modern take on the Snow White story in the college sorority and fraternity milieu. "Last train's eleven, it's now quarter past...," the starting lyrics of the UFO song "I'm a Loser" are burned in my mind. As well as the Austrian dialect song "I gspia, I verlier (Ich spuere, ich verliere - I feel that I lose)." How does the old tune go, still sung in Wine Taverns aka "Heuriger" once in a while to an unlucky fellow: "Einer hat immer das Bummerl, einer muss immer verlier'n..." Translating into something like "Someone is always the loser, someone always got to lose..."
Last Family Picture.
As we approach the end of this page, I would like to remember the late father of a friend, who before a most critical surgery said to his children that whatever comes after this life can only be a thousand times better than the remainder of this one. A teacher at home in the afternoon, I will always remember him for serving me the first peppermint tea with milk in my life, when I was over learning Maths with my classmate. And they usually stopped at a hot dog stand close to my old apartment after classical concerts and English theater visits in Vienna. Later, when it became a Turkish kebab food stand instead, they would take a cancellation of their season tickets into consideration. Anyway, in those days the father ordered some grilled sausages, when they heard him energetically repeat their last name. The kids asked, whether hot dog stands now also had a customer loyalty registry, but their dad explained that he was about to receive the wrong mustard - spicy instead of sweet one, by chance a translation of their family name. Much later, the parting words he selected as a posthumous advice were: "Behaltet mich so in Erinnerung, wie ich in den schönsten Stunden meines Lebens bei Euch war - Keep me in memory, as I was with you in the best hours of my life." Let's try that and once more recall the favourite saying of my grandfather...
"Life is a playhouse. Fate assigns the roles. Happy is he who played his role in such a way that when the curtain falls, he feels no remorse -
Das Leben ist ein Schauspielhaus, das Schicksal teilt die Rollen aus. Wohl dem, der seine Rolle so gespielt, dass, wenn der Vorhang fällt, er keine Reue fühlt."
Hop on to the next page about those Ol' School Days.