(I wrote this post two day ago, but was only able to get around to typing it up and posting it now. I wrote it on the train as I left the home of my German host sister after having not seen her for fifteen years. Her family hosted me as an exchange student 28 years ago. This is part of an ongoing reflection on memory.)
Last night I was kept awake with strong feelings of inadequacy related to gaps in my memory. Just now, I said good-bye to C. and P. at the train station and am filled with astonishment at the durability of early threads in my life. It is not just that I can speak fluent (more or less) German after a fifteen year hiatus, or that I picked it up easily in the first place. Though this is a source of pride and surely is one currently useful thread of my life, it is relatively insignificant in meaning.
This question keeps presenting itself to me: How is it these people not only came into my life, but continue as part of it? How is it that our connection is not just an affordable place to stay while vacationing or a tepid forbearance, but is real and lasting and nourishing? How is it we speak not the same language, but share so many of the same sensibilities: spirit, politics, creativity, sense of service.
During this visit, she told me stories from my past that were lost to me. Our time together surfaced other memories as well as the impulse to see ourselves through her parents’ eyes — people who were deeply important to and highly influential on me. I heard both their voices, phrases they would say, how they laughed. In C.’s face, I saw her mother and even the foreshadow of her grandmother. It is so many years – decades, really – since these memories have been this visceral.
C. and I call each other sister. I did not grow up with a sister in my family of origin; C. is the closest I have ever come. This may not be a miracle, but it is what her mother once called me: ein Gottesgeschenk.