Monday, July 18, 2005

Walking Through Frankfurt

I wrote this during my trip to Germany last April, but never posted it. Coming across it in my files, I decided I wanted it to be out here:

Walking across a footbridge over the river Main this afternoon, I listened to a saxophonist playing a familar jazz tune whose name I can't recall, accompanied by the incompatible oompah of an accordian. It was the aesthetic highlight of a pleasant yet uneventful day; I made sure to leave a Euro in the player's hat.
I ended up in Frankfurt a day early for the conference I am attending, due to the mysteries of international airfares. To leave and return on the appropriate days would have cost my company an extra thousand dollars.
And so, after sleeping until 1 pm -- the flight over knocked the wind out of my sails more powerfully than I would have expected -- I spent the afternoon wandering the city in solitude. That kind of solitary exploration is something that helps my soul. I think about virtually everything. I regain perspective.
Today, as I wandered, stopping here and there to finish up my reading of the novel Extremely Loud and Incredibly Close, I thought about the connections in my own life, the relationships, and how I want those I love to understand my feelings for them.Like the characters in the novel, I want to leave behind messages that explain how I feel. Like them, I know how hard it is to express love to those you really love in a way that doesn't seem prosaic or insincere or both. We say "I love you" to our spouses and children and parents as a matter of course, but if we were gone tomorrow, would we really leave behind enough evidence to convince them that all those words were true?
Most days, we get caught up in the trivia of life. We struggle to make a living, put food on the table, get to where we're going on time, and in the course of doing that we often seem to resent the people and activities that are most important to us. How dare they get in the way when we are doing the things we do for their benefit.It's not just an idle wish of mine to be able to focus on what is important. I would do it if I knew how, and if I knew that an effort to do so would not backfire on me.
For example: Would it make sense to quit my job and move my family back to Florida, where my wife wants to live? Maybe in one way, and yet it would put us in much too close a proximity to the man who molested my daughter, who denies it and goes unpunished because of a lack of evidence. I'd have to find a new way to make a living, as the kind of 50-year-old white man who is not really in demand in the job market. I fear I'd be trading one problem -- my wife's dislike of living far away from her family and home -- for a myriad of others.If I acceded to my daughter's wish to live at the beach -- which I tend to pooh-pooh as the idle wishes of an idle teen, but which I know are also part of that struggle we all go through to find a fresh start in ideal circumstances -- I'd be putting myself in financial straits and putting my wife in a place where she had even less chance to do the things she likes to do.
What I do now -- working at a job that is not unpleasant but is far from stimulating, which pays well but is not making me financially independent -- seems like a compromise for all of us, but maybe the best compromise given our circumstances.We have a lot of problems, but we are a loving and caring unit. My wife complains endlessly but is always there and always doing; my daughter is working through a slew of emotional issues, but gives evidence every day of being the fine, thoughtful, caring person that I have always wanted her to become. I have time to read, and to write (at least in my blogs) and to think about the world around me.
So while I wish I could focus more explicitly on the things I care about, I know that at least they are never out of my thoughts. I get through the trivia and have time to care. I want to do more, but I hope I am doing enough.
Fankfurt is a pleasant enough city -- not really interesting, nothing compared to the European capitols I love, like London, Paris, Brussels, Stockholm, Rome, but certainly worth a spring afternoon's stroll. I had coffee on the old central plaza, the one you see on the postcards, I strolled through quiet neighborhoods colored by the unmistakable bright green of spring emerging, I crossed bridges and railroad tracks, looked up at skyscrapers and listened to conversations in a language I know virtually nothing of. I had a good Thai meal in a basement bistro I stumbled up to, and talked to colleagues back in the states on my mobile phone, which works amazingly well while wandering the streets of a city thousands of miles from home.
I was distant and alone, and yet connected. That's an important feeling for me. I don't know when I'll get to post this essay -- my hotel isn't equipped with high-speed Internet in the rooms -- but I'm glad a got a chance to meander on paper in something like the way I spent the day meandering on foot.
Guten Nacht.