“And how are you different now, since moving to Germany?” asked a long-time friend, three days before I returned to Kandern for my third year at Black Forest Academy.
“I think I’ve learned the most about living in a community,” I replied, thinking about the richness of the last two years in the intimacy of our village in the hills. “What it means to give of myself fully, to make my life availably and live honestly. Yes, I think I’m learning to live, really live, with others.”
* * *
It’s early Wednesday morning when Beckie picks me up in her red Volkswagen. Trusted small group leader and successful mother of two grown children, she has become an invaluable source of guidance for a few of us young women here in Kandern. Her advice ranges from the spiritual to the pragmatic, and thus she takes equally seriously questions about vocation and theology as my favorite question to ask genuine adult mothers: “Do you think I really need to go to the doctor?” The latter question elicits a prompt and serious response, I’ve learned; this morning, we’re going to the hospital.
It’s a long and foolish story–featuring natural clumsiness, freshly-boiled tea, a fragile paper cup, the backseat of a car and a bumpy road–but several weeks ago I scalded myself badly. And while I’ve made a fairly decent recovery, it wasn’t perfect, and I suspected that I needed expert advice. I casually–oh, so casually!–asked for doctor recommendations at a picnic.
The doctors in Kandern are away, I learned. There are two, apparently; they are married and, charmingly, on vacation together. This leaves the hospital, a thirty minute drive from here. I had sighed. I don’t own a car, and my German driver’s license disappeared, along with my wallet, back in Seattle six weeks ago.
I love not having a car. I love that I can get from one apartment in London to another in Kandern completely on public transportation, even though it takes eight hours on a subway, a train, an airplane, a bus, a tram and another bus to do so. I love the simple, quiet radii of bike and walking trails, places that I go because they’re in my reach, and other places that I don’t go, because they’re too far away.
I don’t love–have never loved–asking for rides. Anywhere, ever. Even to important places, like the hospital, from people who love me.
I thought about my reply, the week before, my claim to learning how to live in community. On the one hand it’s true: I find joy in seeing and helping to meet the needs of others. And yet, when it comes to it, I still don’t like being the one who needs. It’s uncomfortable and humbling, asking for things.
With another sigh, I swallowed the independent, oldest-child pride of “doing it myself,” and asked Beckie for a ride to the hospital the next day. Now we’re weaving through green cornfields and ripe vineyards, talking about the summer. Her second grandchild on the way and my adventures across America. She takes me into the hospital and helps me wander around the abandoned halls, looking for signs of life. She waits while I try to explain, in summer-rusty German, what’s happened to me. (“I have–I am… burned. Yes here, it heals good. But others, it heals not so good.”)
When the jovial doctor has seen me, filled my purse with gauze, tape and iodine gel, admonished me for not speaking a local dialect of German and sent me packing, we wend our way back home to the valley, conversation turning to future, heart, God. It’s a good journey, feeling longer and deeper than its hour and a half, certainly better for the company.
* * *
I’m humbled by this reminder that I’m not an island, and shouldn’t be. This is community, both giving and receiving, this great exchange of love and service that Christ asks us to enact in our world. I’m thankful for the means to give; Jesus, continue to teach me to receive with humility and joy.