Arthur Pahl: Farewells

Farewells are as familiar to me as the course of everyday life. Get up. Go to the bathroom. Wash. Brush your teeth. Get dressed. Breakfast, etc. and… I’ll say goodbye.

Several times a day. We say goodbye to so many things, we barely notice it. Kiss in the morning, bye, see you later. Goodbye. Get in the car, the train. Out. Goodbye. To your place of work. At work all day long. In the evening – goodbye. No one knows when he’ll get to see one another again? We live in this world in a permanent standby mode of farewell. I call that the small everyday partings, which we do not even notice anymore because we put them on revocation. It’s things. Nevertheless, we should not forget that the Rag and bone man is always standing next to us and we know that when he appears, even the smallest farewell turns out to be the big one: Forever.

But there are the other farewells, the ones that shape us and never leave us again. They are farewells which, as paradoxical as it sounds, carry within them the phenomenon of permanence. I also call them infinite goodbyes. They are repeated continuously in our minds, and because they are full of emotions, they always come across with an exceptional feeling of sadness. Everyone knows this feeling of farewell. It begins in your stomach. Tears the eyes and fills the heart with pain. Goodbyes are no joke. No cause for joy. More like something to think about.

It’s like everything in life. Those who often have to say goodbye because it has been part of their life circumstances must recognize that they have something to learn. A lesson. That’s why it’s advisable to get this lesson over with quickly because otherwise it’s pre-programmed that life will go through many sad scenes with you for a long time.

Nothing has shaped me and my life more than this word “farewell.” I remember the first farewells in my childhood, during the 50s of the last centuries. Those farewells were a daily routine, and they hurt. Every day anew. It was called the post-war period. I had just turned five. Father had a job as a bus driver at the city tram. He often had to get up very early, and when mother cooked the latte and served the meager breakfast (which was nothing more than a slice of brown bread with margarine and some sugar sprinkled on it), dad had already left the house. Mother was busy too. She had a position as department head at the Neckermann department store in the City Centre. On the way to work she always took me to kindergarten first.

Mother took me by the hand. She left the apartment with me, and we walked together through the Chestnut Avenue. Past beneath thick trees and gnarled branches, up to Neuner Platz. I remember well, it was in October, and a chestnut fell right on my head. The chestnut was thick, and it hurt. I was just about to start crying when mother laughed spontaneously loudly and stroked my head with her tender hand at the same time. I looked up at her. Her wrinkleless face. Those beautiful blue eyes. The blonde hair in the autumn wind. I remember her loving look very well. It hit me like an arrow. And the magic of motherly love made the thick chestnut and the “autsch” on the head forget in no time at all.

“Come she said” and grabbed my hand a little tighter. “I’ll buy you a pretzel from the baker Fröhlich.” My little hand was embraced by mother’s soft hand, and I felt the warmth that came from her and so we walked hand in hand the stony path over the Schottenanger, which was not asphalted at that time. In summer this path was dusty, in autumn it was slippery, and in winter it was dangerously smooth. More than once mother took me there for a slide game on the way to the kindergarten. At that time my mom was still young, she was in her mid-twenties and sporty. She found the slide parts almost as funny as I did. It was unpleasant in November when the fog and the cold combined with thick raindrops. On those days, my mother’s attention was, particularly in demand. All along the way, I tried, again and again, to get rid of my anger by crying.

Whether winter or summer, whatever the season, when we came near the kindergarten, my stomach filled up with a massive lump that I wanted to get rid of as quickly as possible. As soon as we reached the kindergarten, the farewell ceremony began. Every day anew. I felt my mother’s hand holding me tighter. Looking in the other direction, she pulled me past the kindergarten, under the archway of the Deutschhhauskirche, onto the cobblestones of the Zeller Berg. Together we walked the fifty meters down to the baker Fröhlich. That’s where my mother bought me a pretzel. Thick and scattered with crystal-sized salt grains. That was something special back then. With the pretzel in my hand, I stood there as a little boy seeing my mom with weeping eyes in front of me. She bent down to me, gave me a kiss, took out her silk handkerchief, dried her tears and looked after me until I reached the archway of the Deutschhauskirche. Once I got there, I turned around again, waved to her, and she waved back. Then the little boy turned around again, went through the archway, into the kindergarten and as soon as I had entered the kindergarten, the lump in the section of the stomach was gone in one fell swoop.

In the evening, when Mother picked me up again, there were no tears and no lumps in the area of the stomach. Evenings, we were both happy to see each other again.

But as already said, these farewells did not stop there. I had to learn to deal with it for a long time.

My first conscious, painful farewell from home, which I can describe as such, was on the day I left for Switzerland. There I took up an internship in Nobel gastronomy. I was young, and I wanted to go out into the world. Mother had packed me a day’s food for my trip to Zurich. Bread. A salami. Some cheese, some cookies and a bottle of mineral water. Arriving in Zurich, I was overcome by hunger. In Switzerland, which was already very expensive at that time, I looked for an alley behind the central station in a residential area that is still known today as a workers’ settlement. There I sat down on a staircase, and when I felt the first bite of the salami in my mouth, I also felt the lump in the pit of the stomach at the same time. Suddenly I was overcome by the most intense feeling of homesickness I have ever experienced in my life. Never again have I been so homesick. And Mother, how might she have felt that day? I never asked her.

After that, there were many farewells, which I didn’t want to count any more sometime. If someone has spent 38 years abroad and regularly visits home, then farewells are inevitable. It was like each of those goodbyes was getting harder. I couldn’t get used to seeing my mother’s tears. As a grown man, I’ve gotten used to not looking back to wave. The little boy of the past, who could still wave at that time, tried to become a tough man. I didn’t succeed. Even today, when certain songs ring out, certain sentences fall or lyrics and books that I read draw my attention to the moments of farewell, then I still feel this lump in the pit of the stomach that I already had as a child when I see that someone must cry because of me.