I am in love. Again. Walking two feet off the ground held in the embrace of a love without fear of betrayal or needed talks about “the relationship.” My love is unconditional for she who I love is beyond conditions. She demands nothing, she expects nothing, she withholds nothing and she gives everything. just by being herself. Her name is Salzburg.
What is this life but a series of openings and closings, awakenings and slumber, peaks and valleys? The peaks are the places we leap to when the heart bursts open or slowly saunters up a winding path and is suddenly dazzled by the view. We open to a world larger than the one we previously inhabited and everything is changed forever. Or if not forever, at least as long as we keep that fire somewhere smoldering, ready to burst into flame again, bookmark that true north point on our compass to find ourselves again.
You know what I’m talking about. That first love of your life. That first trip to Europe or Africa or the other side of the tracks. That book that carried us beyond our known world and set us down in Bhutan twenty years later. All those “firsts” that have an electrical charge and enlarged presence far greater than they will ever have again, those magical moments when everything is new and green and Spring, all buds and blossoms, all songbirds that carry away the heavy loads of our skin-bound sense-of-self and dissolve us into the surrounding world. And as firsts, so much of it happens between the ages of 10 and 30.
But I had a second chance when I came to Salzburg in 2003 for six weeks teaching my first “Special Course” at the Orff Institute. I lived in a farmhouse in the small village of Anif and every day, walked the 45 minutes or biked the 20 minutes through winding wooded paths under the watchful eyes of the surrounding mountains. The ears serenaded by distant church bells, the legs pumping needed exercise, the eyes drinking in beauty, the lungs welcoming draughts of fresh air, the nose filled with the scent of wild onions, the heart opening and opening and opening yet again. Quite the opposite of the stressful freeway commute!
Each day, I stopped to greet the lions in the zoo by the path, careened through Hellbrun Park, pedaled down Hellbrun Allee where Julie Andrews skipped so gleefully and now I knew why. Arrived at the Orff Institut to teach the very classes I was born to teach, lingered in the nearby park for a 2- hour picnic lunch in company with the students, taught a bit more, biked into the Old Town or the New Town or along the roaring Salzach River. Then the reverse commute with the moon rising over Untersberg Mountain, the day’s joys carried on my back, returning to the solitude of my cozy room without laptop or e-mail. Just a delicious book or tasty journal writing to finish the day—and then up the next morning to do it all over again.
I was 52 years old. And felt like a 22-year-old just starting out in a new life. The exquisite architecture of the old town enveloped me in a historical past, the groundbreaking work at the Institute sowed seeds for a glorious future and the omnipresent trees and fields and hills and mountains and river and ponds put me in the center of a timeless present. Never before or since have I felt such a perfect balance of work and leisure, of exercise and rest, of community and solitude, of the old and the new, of the beauty of the natural world and the beauty of the well-wrought city, .
Today, with three hours between my last afternoon class and my first evening one, I had the good sense to get out into the sun and warming weather and walk the old path back to Anif. The lion cage at the edge of the zoo is now a gorilla cage, but beyond that, not a single thing on the path has changed. I walked transported, recalling all those old feelings of those notable six weeks. Salzburg threw everything it had at me back then— biking home at night in sleet and rain, restaurants closed and eating a dinner of Pringles from a local gas station, feeling frustrated trying to communicate with my landlady about my desperate need for laundry, but none of it made a dent, it was all a part of the grand adventure. And yes, sometimes the people I passed seemed a bit too grim in comparison with the beauty of their surroundings and occasionally I thought about the ghosts still lingering from the Nazi horrors, but mostly I felt only enchantment and excitement and adventure and love and a sense of deep belonging. I was a little boy exploring new places, I was a teenager smitten by puppy love, I was a young adult dazzled by the beckoning world and the unlimited possibilities of who I might be and what I might accomplish. And today, at 63 years old, I could feel it all stirring to life again.
And it is glorious.