"Reading your newspaper for two hours straight you radiated with peace and tranquility. I was thankful to be sitting next to you and catch your serene vibe. It really calmed me down."
How did he react?
"Oh, thank you! Thanks very much!"
How did I feel?
Berlin is a race against time. How many activities can you squeeze into 30 minutes? How many gallons of coffee (or mate, since we're in Berlin) can you drink? And how many nights can you go without sleep? Some of us book flights while texting ten people at once on our way to lunch, I have friends who take speed after Yoga - "It's gotta be party time at some point!", they say - or before late night work, and riding my bike I catch myself cursing cars I can't overtake while the red light says stop.
Yes, I hear about opposite trends, too. Slow food, slow travel and yesterday I read an article about slow sex. And I do wish those will turn into more than a fad. But for now I don't see them in the city much. Actually reading that slow sex article was procrastination- I should have worked on an essay for school. Or did I just decelerate for a minute there? Either way I was sitting in the Mensa, my school's massive canteen, a military dude in my head who kept firing gun shot rhythms in the air, shouting: "Start the essay! Now! Immediately! Do it!"
Turning my head to the corner I spotted Joachim. He sat afar from it all and ignored the student's hurry scurrying. In front of him: A hot beverage, two bananas and the daily paper. Nothing but that for 150 minutes. Except for turning pages and raising the cup to his mouth he sat still. From time to time he gazed over his lively surrounding, then returned to one of the articles. If he moved he did slowly. At first I thought he was a professor waiting for a colleague. But after an hour I realized he was still there doing the same thing he had been sixty minutes ago- basically nothing! I was stunned. From then on I enjoyed his presence consciously. Taking in the calm he radiated with I passed it on to the military man in my head an whispered: "Hey, man, chill!" in his ear. The man lowered the gun and looked at me bewildered. It felt good. Whenever he got ready to fire again I looked back at Joachim and took two, three deep breaths. This way the man remained silent for good.
90 minutes later, headed towards the exit, I passed Joachim's table and said thank you. His reaction to the compliment changed his way from calm to animated. His face lit up, he started talking and vividly gesturing.
I learned that he comes to the canteen a lot and that he enjoys hanging out in the hecticness. The reason for his being there is his daughter: She uses a wheelchair and studies at FU. Joachim, after 44 years of work, decided to go for early retirement and drives her to school and back home these days.
This compliment was an opener. Allured by Joachim's calm I got to see more beautiful traits of his once I had approached him. He told me about some of the challenges his family had to overcome raising a handicapped kid. I was shocked: Six years of pointless fighting with their health insurance over a gadget they needed for Joachim's daughter not to be completely dependent on her parents! Six years of writing letters, receiving declinations, writing more letters and going to court. Six years of his daughter being dependent on her parents when she had already been fully grown. And that was just one of their battles. When Joachim talked about his resistance there was fire in his eyes. When he referred to his daughter there was pure bliss and pride. If he does not read the paper he rides his bike through the forest and collects wood for his families wooden stove. He even had to do credits for that! They taught him you should chop wood on aluminium because that is the only metal wood is not likely to splinter on. He talked about what it was like for him in Berlin (he misses his home, the Ruhrgebiet), how he feels towards life and his family (gratitude) and what he hates in traffic (people who ignore the rules and blame others).
Between his statements, every now and then, Joachim would throw in a "....but I want to say thank you for that compliment again, really, so nice, thanks!.-..."
And I would smile at him, happy to see his joy and to learn from him, an say:
"You are so welcome!"