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2005-12-10 - 10:32 p.m.

...If only in my dreams...

It was a cold cold December night in Jena – a Sunday, I believe. I had been working late in the Zeiss building, trying to finish a manuscript, trying to keep my head above water. Sometime after 11pm I had decided to call it quits, and so had called a taxi to bring me home. It was a cold winter day and I was feeling oh-so strongly the sense of endlessness – when your career is science and academia, the only stops to your work are an artificial halt for eating, sleeping. No time clock tells you that it’s time to go home and stop thinking about work. It really could go on forever and ever. I really could work endlessly and never achieve everything. I was trapped in one of these horrible spirals where I lose perspective like this, where I lose the sense of stopping work for sake of starting my life.

I don’t remember the reason, but I knew it was to be one of those years where I would not be going home. I would be spending Christmas away from my family. I stood by the Zeiss guardhouse and waited for my taxi. The snow began to fall, and the guard was happy for a few minutes of company. He rattled on about his life, the cold, the times before, as the snow came down…I smiled and pretended to understand his every meaning, as I often did in this strange country. and then the taxi arrived. I climbed into the front seat of the taxi and had that strange feeling of the heat from the car radiator combating the cold air trapped inside my coat. We drove quietly down the cold, snowy streets of Jena, towards the old town center, towards the darkened lights of the Christmas market.

I was feeling sorry for myself, and hadn’t the energy to chat with the taxi driver. He seemed to recognize this, and stayed respectfully quiet, with music whistling softly on the radio. As we turned the corner onto Westbahnhofstrasse, a crackly, painfully familiar recording of Bing Crosby crooned quietly in the background, “I’ll be home for Christmas, You can plan on me…please have snow, and mistletoe, and presents on the tree” and I started singing along. The taxi driver glanced my way, and reached to turn the recording up. I continued to sing with Bing as the taxi took me home, with tears falling down my cheeks. As we reached the top of Ebertstrasse and turned onto Beethovenstrasse, the recording ended, and we continued in silence to my door. I paid the gentleman, and said, “Danke, sehr.” He looked at me with quiet understanding and said in a thick German accent, “Merry Christmas.”

When I heard that song in Jena, I felt a beautiful sadness, and a longing for home. And now it transports me back to that special taxi-ride in a little snow-covered German town.

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