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  • filipvk

Fragments of a life

Updated: Sep 21, 2023

Treasures keep popping up from my father's closets and drawers as we move forward with the estate and clearing out his apartment. Fragments of a life are hiding everywhere, because my father does not appear to have been a systematic archivist.

Administration is mixed with the most personal memories in envelopes, boxes, pouches and covers, scattered among the piles of books that fill every cupboard.

But this is one of the most special treasures so far: a pile of letters that my mother and father wrote to each other at the beginning of their relationship.

My father performed his military service as a doctor in the military hospital in Leopoldsburg, where my mother was a nurse. Before they got married and moved to Lier, A small city near Antwerp together in 1955, they apparently still spent a lot of time apart, as my father's home was elsewhere, and he apparently also had to do an internship in other municipalities in the country.

I wondered if it was allowed to read these letters, if it wouldn't be a transgression towards my parents. After all, these letters represent the most personal and intimate communication between two beings, and it might also be inappropriate for me, their son, to break that intimacy, even though those letters were written so long ago and my parents are no longer in this world.

But my heart told me it was all right and I had permission.

I have only read two of the many letters, one from my father and one from my mother, both written in 1955. It is a very special experience.

These letters are beautiful, sensitive, tender, respectful, looking with anticipation to the future.

Here are two young people at the beginning of their relationship, most of life is still ahead of them, and most of the disappointments, pain, injuries, and hard life lessons are also still ahead of them.

They look forward to life together, and express their desire to make the most of it. They are candid, somewhat philosophical, and very open in sharing the nuances of their feelings.

In my father's letter there is already a fear or suspicion of what will come: somewhere in the letter he expresses his concern that life as a physician will become very difficult, and he indicates that he hopes and wishes that he will be able to give his future wife what she will need to grow and fulfill her life purpose.

And he indicates what is most important to him in life: the true feelings of two people, and the radiating power and beauty of poetry and art.

Looking back with the knowledge of what was to follow, it is a moving and somewhat prophetic concern. And so it often is: it is not uncommon to have a idea or an intuitive hunch of what lies ahead in life.

Life as a physician has indeed become very difficult for my father, and for my mother.

They certainly had many happy years, as evidenced by the many memorabilia and photos my father took on their many travels.

But gradually the heaviness has certainly come that my father apparently feared early on. I also experienced that heaviness as a growing child and young man.

But the importance that art and poetry and beauty already had in the early years of my parents has been perpetuated throughout their lives: they surrounded themselves with beauty, with literature and poetry (in endless volumes it now appears), with music, with aesthetics in all its forms. They visited the most beautiful places in Europe and enjoyed that beauty to the fullest. And they certainly passed on that love for beauty, poetry, art and nature to us, their children.

It is now a very beautiful experience to 'hear' them both with their more original voices, in love, hopeful, full of energy and zest for life. It makes a story whole again, provides a view of a beginning where there was previously only a middle and an end, and allows a different connection to their lives.

And it also allows a different view of aspects of my own life, and so it feels like an enrichment and a kind of tribute to connect in this way with the hearts of my parents when they were so young and 'innocent'.

It feels like a part of an amnesia being lifted, like a reintegration of important aspects of myself, which were also lost in the storms that hit their and our lives and turned them upside down, as they do in everyone's life. It's a missing piece of a puzzle, part of the mystery that is their life and ultimately the lives of all of us.

And in that sense it feels like an important 'work', the reintegration of these 'lost times'.

And even though I actually had very different plans for these months, it doesn't feel like wasted time to reserve this time for 'work' with these fragments of my parents' life.

In the fall I was busy working on my website, which I thought would be ready and online this spring anyway. I pondered many possible projects, of which I believed I would already be realizing one or two by this spring of 2021, even though it would probably have been just in the early stages. I thought to move forward, efficiently and as quickly as possible, to begin to accomplish things that I deem very urgent, for the benefit of the planet.

It turned out differently. When my father became ill in December, work on all possible projects was put on hold and I tried to be with him as often as I could.

When he passed away at the end of January, the process began of saying goodbye and mourning, and of the inheritance with all the practical and administrative concerns that come with it.

My father's farewell brought an abrupt end to the haste with which I was constantly working.

And as it turns out, that's okay.

This pause, this review, this integration, is exactly what was needed. As is often the case.

Hurry is rarely good, even and perhaps especially if it is for the planet.

And the silence and space that have now arisen in the early absence of my father - and of my mother, whose absence is much older, but therefore not yet fully felt and understood - allow a new assessment of my own intentions, and the ways in which I try to shape these intentions.

As this pause comes to an end, perhaps, I feel or hope, there will be a dimension added to the way I try to shape my intentions.

Perhaps - hopefully - it will be more honest, with more heart, more humble and grateful, perhaps a little slower, and from a more heartfelt awareness of my own roots. And more in connection with my loved ones, those who live, those who no longer live, and those whose lives are still in the future.


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