Tuesday, August 18, 2015

February 8, 1940: In Love

Original Letter from Patti to Opa

Translation by Helene

Grenoble, February 8, 1940

My dear Henschenbrother,

I wrote to you a few days ago, but everything has changed since: I got engaged. That’s to say, not officially, it’s not the right time now for that, but between us. I’m still too dazzled about what has happened to me to talk to you about it with all the details, but if you could see me, you’d see immense happiness!  I spoke to you in my last letter of my friend, but since it got sent by ordinary mail, you will surely get it after this one, so I’ll make an effort to speak to you about this now.

It’s true that I still see the child in you, but since Maurice is exactly your age (he was born on May 22, 1920!!), I hope you’ll understand me.

You know, we always seek a soul mate, we ardently wish for one and we suffer not to know him or her. I’ve often been in love, but it’s never been like what it is now, this unbounded happiness, this unlimited confidence in one being whom I admire and I love more and more. Truly, the more I know him, the more I am convinced of his value, and the more I feel enriched. It seems to me my happiness is extraordinary when I look around me. We have such great affinities, Maurice and myself, that I believe that there will never be the slightest difficulty, never the slightest argument. Don’t take me for childish or illusionary! The last two years have brought me too much experience for me to be wrong. I’ll admit to you that I had begun to doubt a bit regarding the existence of this true and great happiness, yet without losing all hope for it. And here it is, now that I’ve been feeling so alone and sometimes quite discouraged, that this happiness comes my way, and I can’t tell you what it feels like.  Maurice is so much more mature than his age, so different from all the other guys who rather disgust me with their egocentricity and light and superficial ways, that I consider Maurice’s love a rare and precious gift. I’m going to be strong now, we will both work, we will share all our experiences, we’ll live together, and it will be marvelous. But for how long? We have to expect that he will be called to war. What an absurdity this war is!  For the moment, we are ignoring it as much as possible, yet we nevertheless cannot forget or neglect our friends at the front.

I’ll speak to you about Maurice a little now, even if I know it won’t be enough for you to get to know him. He is studying higher mathematics so he can teach. He’s only in his second year, and even without the war he still has 2-3 years to go. But that doesn’t matter at all. We want to live, work, and experience as much joy as possible and not lead a quiet life in the bourgeois sense. We met at the youth hostel. We got close during a ski trip, and during conversations and little discussions in my room, at the Student Co-Op, in that casual young-people environment, we found our love in the mountains – so, why would all those practical questions matter? We can plan excursions, we can get the books we love, choose our friends, set up our little room so that it is pleasant – isn’t that all we need?

But there’s still the war…. Yet I won’t finish on that note, our love will surely survive. As soon as I have some photos that I took during our 3 days in the mountains, I will send them.

So, until my next letter.
I’m letting you know about my happiness,

This letter is from Patti to her brother, my Opa. She is in love.  When I’m reading these letters, it’s hard for me not to impose old age and wisdom onto the authors of the letters. I have to remind myself- Patti and Opa are in their early 20s. Patti is swept off her feet by this love that provides her something that has been missing in her world of fear and isolation: companionship and hope. This gift is the kind of thing that allows you to wake up the next morning and be happy. That is no small thing. I love this passionate side of Patti, she has a beautiful idealistic vision of her new love. We have seen her serious and meticulous, and now we get to see her in love.

I think back to my early 20s, and I think about my dreams and fantasies then. I remember falling in love and feeling like I was being swept out to sea by a tidal wave of love. It was simultaneously frightening and awe-inspiring. I didn’t know which end was up, but I knew that I was in love. I had a lot to learn at 20- but even now much of what Patti’s 22 year old self is saying rings very true: “We can plan excursions, we can get the books we love, choose our friends, set up our little room so that it is pleasant – isn’t that all we need?” I love the simplicity of this. Underneath all the complexity of life in its mix of mundane functions and ever-changing international upheaval, there is this simple undercurrent. All we need is our small niche, a simple home. To some extent this is true- it is all you need. The obstacles that try to get in the way of those simple needs are surprisingly plentiful and harder to scale than we could ever believe.

I wrote about the self-censor of hope or fear that everyone consciously or subconsciously had in their letter-writing across borders and situations. Everyone had a need or obligation to encourage and lift up the other. How wonderful it must have felt for Patti to be able to say with all sincerity: I am in love! She had found a genuine happiness in a stark world and she was so anxious to share it with her little brother. She knows in the back of her mind though, “… there’s still the war.” Yet she begins and ends the letter with love. “So, until my next letter. I’m letting you know about my happiness, Patti”

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