CRASH!  At 4 a.m., I am up to feed the cats and to listen to German videos.  As I opened the refrigerator, a beer bottle fell out and shattered on the kitchen floor.  The cats scattered; I cleaned up the mess.  Now the kitchen smelled like a fraternity house on Sunday morning.  And I wasn’t sure I had gotten all the glass.

I listened to a long video, understood more of an Austrian accent than I ever had before, but I still missed a lot.  I have seen close to 1000 German videos, and I’ve understood both the plot and German in 9.  Nine.  I received feedback about a post I made on a language site about the verb “umgehen,” which was completely demoralizing.  I did more work and realized that the verb, which I had been told had 3 meanings, really had two:  One was the separable form, which means to go around; the other, inseparable, where the um and gehen always stay together, and  pronounced differently, means to manage or to care for or to bypass, out of fear or concern.  The third meaning was prepositional, one of the most common expressions in German. This meaning, howevert was gehen um, which is very different from umgehen.  Trust me.

I replied politely to the comment in German, ending with that it was perhaps time to leave and study something else.

I have worked  3-6 hours a day for 3 1/2 years to learn the language.  I know many language Websites; I’ve read many grammar books, I have three dictionaries and a lot of books.  Lately, however, I have made little progress.  I am self-taught, because my trainer wasn’t, despite my living in a large city where a trainer was “guaranteed” by a company to whom I paid a good deal of money.  She had lived in the US 27 years and had never taught German. I didn’t know this fact immediately.

I am moving to a smaller town with a university, and my upcoming interview with the department head will likely decide whether I continue or just keep alive what I have done.  Something had become wrong; the language, once fun, had become work, and I wasn’t seeing results.  English students I have taught have not put in nearly the work I have, and yet they expect to become fully fluent. My expectations are far lower.

That afternoon, after correcting some English submissions, which I find relaxing, I received a note from a German reviewer.  He was honest, admitting that he and other reviewers often could not explain their grammar:  they just “knew” what was right and wrong.  While it didn’t help me learn, I appreciated his honesty. The writer continued, telling me to put the grammar book away.  I had done that a long time ago, but he said something else very important.  While I had put the grammar book away, I still was in prison: I was forcing myself daily to learn lists of words.  I suddenly realized that I didn’t have to do this.  Nobody was forcing me, and memorization was part of the day I did not look forward to.

It was a breakthrough.  Some people I talk to, in Iran, can’t change their lives, because others forbid it.  Some people here, like me, don’t change their lives, because of themselves.  Nobody was forcing me to learn these words.  I could stop and do what I wanted.

It was liberating.  A weight came off my shoulders.  Suddenly, I realized I was freer than I had felt for a long time.  It’s worth letting oneself out of prison periodically.  Life becomes a lot more fun.  Some never do; some never put themselves in prison.  I did, but I process slowly.  It took a verb called umgehen, frustration, thinking, and the right letter at the right time to open the lock.

I wrote the reviewer, thanking him for what really helped me.  What he advised I didn’t do; what he did advise, however, gave me the piece I needed to unlock the door.

I watched another video, then took a walk in a nearby playground.  I really want to run again, and my knee, which was bothering me, is cleared to do so.  I enjoy the walks, however, and the thinking I do on them.  Before leaving, I checked my email and logged on to Facebook.  I had a note from a young woman from whom I had not heard in 2 years.  Three years ago, she asked to befriend me on the advice of a mutual friend.  We had lost touch.

For whatever reason, on the last day of 2013, I wrote her and told her I had been in her neck of the woods last summer, while I was traveling.  I was too far away to visit, but I was at least in her general region.  I said nothing more of note, and forgot about it.  Yesterday came the response:

I cannot tell you how much it meant to receive your message. I was so grateful, it came at the perfect moment when I needed a light in the dark.”

I hadn’t thought I had done much. I was obviously wrong.

I don’t know this woman well.  We’ve never met, and we may never will.  That doesn’t matter.  What does and did matter, is that something I said deeply resonated with her at a critical time and place in her life.  Maybe I gave her a key to something she needed, in order to unlock something that was holding her back.  I don’t know.

What I do know was I did exactly for her what hours earlier a young man, whom I will also never meet, did for me.

What goes around can come around.  While the connotation is usually used in a retaliatory sense, it need not be. Often, simple words from others have helped me greatly.  I hope that I have done the same often. I know now I have done it at least once.


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