Against Calcification.

posted in: Luv, Tips 12
A sweets shop in Hamburg. Yes, I bought chocolate. Photo: Me.
A sweets shop window in Hamburg. Yes, I bought several items. Photo: Me.


Winter break is nearly done; school is officially back in session starting tomorrow, though I don’t have class until Tuesday. I’m so excited to return to school; homework is like my favorite thing.

There’s something I’ve been thinking about since I took my trip to Germany. All right, I’ve been thinking lots of thoughts, but this one keeps poking me in the ribs and I figure if a thought is hefty enough to reach down and poke my ribs (knock it off!!), I’d better examine it. Welcome to the PaperGirl exam room.

My reports on the Berlin trip have concerned the emotional landscape I discovered when I got there; I haven’t adequately expressed how much I loved the city itself, how I biked through the streets with Claus, ate the most phenomenal food — mushroom and salsify raviolis, I’m looking at you — absorbed the rich, albeit somber history of the city and felt very much at home as soon as I touched down. (I did say the other day how much I loved Hamburg, but that post was more about the heart than the vibe of the city and the effect it had on me.)

So, yes, I loved Berlin and Hamburg — a lot — and as I walked across the cobblestones and sat in the pubs and cafes with my friend, as I took the trams and the trains, the thought would flicker through my mind: “I could totally live here.” And that thought terrified me.

As well it should, right? Remember how I left my beloved Chicago? Remember how happy I was when I came home? Remember how I took a chance on love, on life, on a new address (okay, a bunch of addresses) and how hard that was? When I got back to Chicago after being in NYC and DC, and when I walk up Michigan Avenue — every time, even now, well over a year after being home — I ache with happiness to be here. But as beautiful as it is to know where I belong, I feel that I must, I must keep lit the tiny flame of “What if?”

What if I fall in love again? What if I get an opportunity to move to Paris, to Moscow, to Hamburg? What if I find myself quite sad, or empty, or utterly unsatisfied and unhappy in Chicago? Anything can, and often does happen. I’m old enough to know that. Well, what if

If you ask me right now, “Would you consider leaving Chicago again?” I would narrow my eyes at you and say, in a very even tone, like I’m on a cop drama, “That’s not an option we’ll be considering.” I really do believe that my home is here and that I will be a Chicagoan till I croak, hopefully a long, long time from now.

But if I say “No, never” to the idea that I might live somewhere else — if I say, “That’s not an option we’ll be considering” — a piece of myself calcifies. To be unwilling to think of another way, to be absolutely resolute about something so fluid as life itself… It’s so hard, but I have to allow myself to fantasize about living in a European city, even as the thought of moving around the corner makes me just about burst into tears, forget moving to a different continent.

We just don’t know. I don’t know what will be best at different times for my life or maybe in the life of someone I love, someone I haven’t even met, yet. And that’s the other point I want to make on calcification: As painful as love is, and it’s been hard lately, I refuse to be hard-hearted. I’m sentenced, I think, to a life of loving a lot and if I’m lucky, there’s lots of love coming my way. But I have to stay open to it. Otherwise, it’ll find me closed up and go knocking on another door, you know? There are lots of doors, lots and lots of people who need love and who are waiting with their ear to the door, waiting on tiptoes for the knock. If there’s a “Closed” sign on my heart because I let the blues get to me, love might stay away for good.

I liked the architecture in Hamburg. I like the German language very much. I liked picturing myself at some point in my forties, maybe, living and laughing and drinking a beer in Berlin. (Doesn’t that sound fabulous?) I have to allow myself to fantasize about these things, even if they scare me. Otherwise, a hardness sets in.

That ain’t gonna work, man. After all, I’m a quilter. I’m into soft.


12 Responses

  1. Ursula
    | Reply

    My late mother and sister lived in Hamburg! Germany is a beautiful country

  2. Uli
    | Reply

    Dear Mary,
    you are very welcome in Germany. What about a bit of teaching in Germany? There are quilters here and we wood really appreciate it to learn from you and as a paper girl reader I would be thrilled to meet you.
    You don’t have to move to Germany in order to drink that beer in Berlin 😉 By the way….drinking beer in Munich would be even more cool than in Berlin and we have some fabulous fabric shops here! There’s one shop that sells only Italian silks, but until now I haven’t been brave enough to start a silk quilt.
    So how about a teaching trip every year and you can stay being citizen of Chicago

  3. Maribeth Woolsey
    | Reply

    I visited Berlin twice when I was going to school in Germany. It was a long time ago but I could easily live in Berlin. It has everything you could ever ask for! 5

  4. Lauren
    | Reply

    I think it’s healthy to dream, to have bucket lists, to stay open. The line is when it creeps into ‘plan unfulfilled’ territory. But going somewhere new – the thrill of hearing some exotic destination announced for boarding and knowing that means you, today – and trying on cities like hats before zooming home (alone among the public transit crowd, so unaware of what you’ve been up to) to process the experience, well that’s one of the great joys of life.

  5. Joan Elkins
    | Reply

    To use Libby Lehman’s words: Courage and Kindness and Don’t look back, you’re not going that way <3

  6. Johanna
    | Reply

    Really soothes my heart, mary, how beautiful you write about being from Chicago and anything. But as I am German I am also very pleased the way you talk about this country. And just a little tip: visit Bremen. It has become my most favourite city over the years (not even Munich makes me feel that home-y).
    Just wanted to tell you this, I love your blog!
    Bis dann,

  7. Kathy
    | Reply

    Your writing is beautiful and so is your heart!

  8. Linda
    | Reply

    One of my favorite quotes is:
    “It’s a funny thing coming home. Nothing changes. Everything looks the same, feels the same, even smells the same. You realize what’s changed is you.” Scott Fitzgerald
    I love to travel and I love this quote because I believe its true that travel changes us, When you stand in a market place that was a market place a thousand years ago, or stand in a cathedral filled with gold and silver and grandness and you eat new foods and find love you can’t help but come home changed. It makes you a better person. A stronger person. A person who will be ready when a new door opens.

  9. Barbara
    | Reply

    You have so much love to give Mary, when the right one comes along. I always felt that way about my son. He finally at 40, met the one person who he just knew would make him happier than he’s ever been. And yet, she is the one who said to me, “he is the nicest guy I ever met.” Keep your door open Mary.

  10. Sally
    | Reply

    I lived in Berlin for 4 years (when the Wall was still there) and loved it but it was wonderful to come home!

  11. Neame
    | Reply

    I still miss Chicago, now 30+ years since I last saw it. I miss the way it feels and looks, and how Chicago folk act and talk and are. I miss that it is a 24-hour city in a 12-hour world. I miss the life I had then…long story. But I also know that now, so much time has passed, that neither I nor Chicago are the same. If I came home (yes, it is still home), it would be similar but not the same. It would be a return to a shadow of that place and that life. So (she said wistfully) I allow myself to feel nostalgic for what was but not to dream of something that will never be. And also, I do love where I now am, so that helps. But keep writing about Chicago. Please. It feeds my Chicago places. Oh, and about quilting, write about quilting too. Geez…write about it all…I love it all. Neame

  12. Kate
    | Reply

    I moved to Chicago because of a parade. I stood on the corner of LaSalle and Washington like Mary Richards, gazing skyward at confetti pouring from the sky, whirling on the echoes of the cheering crowd and thought, “I HAVE to live here.” I’d come with a friend to find her an apartment, and we signed a lease on a two bedroom on the fringes of Old Town that afternoon. I went back to Ann Arbor, quit my job and hired movers. Thirty years later, it’s been a fun ride, but it’s time to go. My heart literally aches to leave these streets and buildings that have become a part of me, but changes are nudging me toward the next chapter. Like Neame, I don’t think I’ll be back because it won’t ever be the same city that shaped me. It’s been a grand ride, and I’d like to remember it like it was.

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