Deep friendships are independent of time and space.
We met the luck of such friendship at a crossroad in the north of Portugal, in a beautiful, tourist-free landscape. At the last moment preventing a collision between our cars blaming each other without batting an eyelid. Piet and his wife Anneke were on their way with an ancient Renault Transporter that had a Dutch license plate and had been converted into a motorhome. We just came from Berlin to the Iberian Peninsula with our red Polo packed to the roof. Although nothing had happened, we unspokenly assumed that each other had acted wrongly. After a moment of horror we became aware of the comedy like situation: far and wide no vehicle, not even a donkey cart.
Anneke suggested driving the cars to the side of the road, and she invited us to a fresh cup of coffee, which we enjoyed albeit standing up. After a few minutes, it became apparent that we wanted to spend a few days together, somewhere in the wilderness. We pitched our tent at a brook, Piet and Anneke parked their mobile coaster next to it. It was as if we had known each other for ages as if we had experienced together what they had told us about themselves.
At the next opportunity, we visited the two in Holland. They sat on packed suitcases, ready to emigrate to a small Canarian island where Piet wanted to grow avocados, expand his bonsai breeding, and make sculptures from natural materials. We talked about God and the world, listened to their plans – without fearing the end of our friendship in the slightest distance.
Our visits to the island always ended with the words tot ziens, hasta la vista. Goodbye. Goodbye.
When the couple had to break off their tents on the island due to Piet’s severe illness and return to Holland after 25 years, we knew that from now on our farewell formula had a suggestive, even a pleading aftertaste: we hoped and wished to see each other again.
From year to year, with every visit, we saw Piets progressing, physical decay, but his mind was as clear ever. His thoughts and words, and as far as possible his actions, were concerned with ecology, politics, and society. He analyzed, developed ideas and enthusiastically took up promising approaches.
He didn’t complain, he didn’t argue. Never! Never! Every now and then a drop of sarcasm crept into his words, but humor kept the upper hand.
At the beginning of September 2018, a trip to a seminar in the Lüneburger Heide was scheduled. We thought about linking it to a trip to Holland. Anneke was unusually cautious when we reported on our plans and suggested that we call Piet directly the following day. She implored us not to say anything about our need to see him again. We knew that he was in bad condition; cancer had spread in his body, Piet was almost immobile, paralyzed from bone cancer, suffering severe pain.
During the phone call the next day, Piet replied to the question of how he was doing: “shit! He had set everything in motion to leave earthly life behind him by the end of the month, on September 27. It’s fortunate that in Holland euthanasia for the seriously ill is possible. After his announcement, we talked about this and that – as always. Climate change, genetically modified food, nuclear energy, trouble spots – everything that worried us and where we thought we could start to make the earth a little better.
Now it became severe, we wouldn’t see Piet again. I sat down and wrote a suicide note to both of them. Reminiscent of shared experiences, revived feelings and yet brief, anxious to emphasize the essentials and thank both for the beautiful friendship.
One day before Piet’s death, we spoke on the phone for the last time.
“We both cried when your letter came, thank you very much. Adios!” The conversation lasted only a few minutes, Piet had severe pain and was exhausted.
A few weeks later we received his farewell letter which he had written in the last hours of his life: “I thank everyone for the understanding and the wisdom I was able to share with you. I was allowed to enjoy a very beautiful and adventurous life. …See you later, Piet.”