Maire Vieth is the mother of three grown boys. She arrived in Auckland from Bavaria via New Jersey. After chasing local news as a reporter for years, she now writes daily memories.
I returned to university in my mid-twenties. I had tried out chemistry and German literature right after school but left after a semester of each. Then, after three years of earning money as a sound technician at Munich’s public radio station, I had assembled the self-confidence to give uni another go.
But I arrived with my old ideas about the shape of knowledge. I thought it was a kind of ocean, or a lake, at least an Olympic size pool of facts. My father seemed to know them all. I thought I was ready to swallow them, sip by sip, and store them in the filing cabinet of my brain.
Each morning, I walked to my lectures past the buildings on Ludwigstrasse, imagining the day I knew all their architectural styles, the historical events that occurred in and around them, all the dates.
When a professor in American Studies visiting from Chicago asked us to interpret an historical event in an assignment, I honestly didn’t know what he was talking about.
Today, I would probably google it, but then I only remembered, from seven years of school Latin, that “inter” means “between.” I smiled, nodded, and prayed no one noticed that I was only pretending to understand.
I took the subway home with Christa, a fellow student, younger and smarter than me, happy, light and fun. Perhaps a little naïve, I had thought to myself earlier in the day.
As the train came out of the tunnel and headed into the suburbs, she and I stood in the middle of the aisle, both of us holding onto the same pole, slightly swaying, legs slightly splaying.
I asked her about the assignment and told her I was lost.
We talked. I don’t remember what she said but all of a sudden it hit me like lightning. This professor was asking me what I thought. About the American Revolution!
I remember exactly how the light shone. The late afternoon sun came from the West, through the scratched window behind Christa, touched me, and disappeared out the other side of the car.
And I knew. That knowledge was not absorbed or swallowed or stored or regurgitated, but made and created, added one spoonful of spice or pinch of salt at a time to a pot constantly on the boil. And I knew I was ready to stir.
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