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Eva-Maria Simms: Letter from my 60th Birthday

17 August, 2019. Siegen, Germany.

Dear Mike,

It is my 60th birthday, and the conversations with you over the last 2 weeks were a life-line – thank you for being my loving and faithful companion.  I only realized today how difficult it has been to be here.  I am sitting in the kitchen in my brother’s house, which has become my light-filled office while he and Antje are on vacation (will return late this afternoon).  It is strange to plan how to celebrate my 60th birthday by myself, but I think I will take a jar-candle with me to the nursing home (no open flames allowed) and perhaps some flowers and invite Mia and our friend Emma, who are both 90 years old, for coffee and cake in one of the smaller gathering rooms. A strange preview and reminder for the next 30 years…..

Germany was very solitary and it seemed that I stepped into a time-warp between my work in the mornings (I listened to my Beltzhoover violence interviews – amazing  people…) and the strange boredom of the nursing home, which permeated everything in the afternoons, even when Mia and I took little trips.  Coming back she was always disappointed to see me go, but I had a very hard time sitting there on the red sofa by the aquarium among the octogenarians who were nodding off waiting for the evening meal.  Some days I went to the cemetery on the hill above the house, where my father is buried beneath a tall wooden cross.  Remembering him was very joyful and insightful, and I had a strong sense that he is with me in my work against violence and racism (which became so clear in the interviews I listened to on the way to his grave).  But everything had too much death around it this time……

Attached two photos I took at the monastery of Marienstatt, where I ended up by chance on my day off.  I walked down a long straight path lined with ash trees leading up to the portal of the abbey.  Every single one of the 50 trees was dead or dying and had a different poster on it explaining the extinction of trees.

Here is my translation of the poem by Hildegard von Bingen, which was posted on one of the last ones:

The lament of the elements

And I heard how the elements of the world cried with a wild scream:
‘We cannot run anymore and complete the path
as determined by our master. As in a mill
humans turn us upside down
with their evil deeds.  We stink
like pestilence and perish
with hunger for full justice. (…)
But now all winds are filled with the decay
of leaves, and the air disgorges dirt
and the people don’t dare to open their mouths. 
The greening life force withers away
through the godless insanity
of the blinded human soul.’

Hildegard von Bingen (1098 – 1179)
(Der Mensch in der Verantwortung/Liber vitae meritorum)

I broke into tears before the great abbey door because the lament of the elements had overwhelmed my heart.

Sorry that my birthday missive is so dark, but I am actually looking forward to my time with Mia and Emma this afternoon.  And I am looking forward to your arms and your voice from close by (and naturally also Josie’s wet nose and youthful aliveness….)

With love


Text, translation, and photographs copyright 2019 Eva-Maria Simms

8 comments on “Eva-Maria Simms: Letter from my 60th Birthday

  1. Mike Schneider
    August 23, 2019

    Yes, thank you. While I can’t evaluate the original, the translation is a stunning poem, remarkably timely & fresh-sounding for being 1,000 years old.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Miriam Levine
    August 19, 2019

    Wishing you many more birthdays to come! Many thanks for your poignant letter, Eva.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Martin Braun
    August 19, 2019

    Liebe Eva,
    danke für diesen Post, und nachträglich herzlichen Glückwunsch zum Geburtstag !
    Viele Grüsse aus Billerbeck,

    Liked by 1 person

  4. John Samuel Tieman
    August 18, 2019

    Thank you so much for this loving piece and moving translation.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. Naomi Shihab Nye
    August 18, 2019

    Very very moved by this letter. Thinking of you, Eva. Happy birthday! Your older friends there are lucky to have your friendship. 60 feels like a big number but very rapidly – it seems youthful again. Love and care.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Eva Simms
      August 18, 2019

      Thank you and all the other people who commented on my post. 60 does feel also youthful, as you say. Soon my life working a job will be done with, and my time will be my own, which is hard to fathom after more than 40 years of being an employee. Scary and exhilarating….

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Sarah Gordon
    August 18, 2019

    How very lovely. Thank you for sharing this with the rest of us. The translation of Hildegard is stunning.

    Liked by 1 person

  7. jfrobb
    August 18, 2019

    Thank you!

    Liked by 1 person

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