"You are the most inspiring person I know. And that's just one of the beauties you are to me."
How did he react?
He has not yet.
How did I feel?
He hates when I call him dad by choice. He says it makes him feel old. No, he is not young. Last week he even turned another year older. It must have been his least favorite day of 2105. Now he is sixty.
I don't care. He could be 45 or 86, to me it would not make a difference. Stephan represents everything but a number of years to me. Anyways, happy birthday, Stephan. No worries, I'll shut up about how many summers your body has seen from here. Promise.
Instead I shall focus on everything else. I want to seize this opportunity to share what you are to me.
Did you know you have a fan club? You do. A big one. No, not your readership. Not your colleagues, nor your students. All those people admire you, too, but I'm talking about a different group. There are about fifty of them who have never met you but are dying to do so. They live in different parts of the world. They speak different languages and are of different age. At the end of the day they only share one thing: Me. I am either their friend or family. I have talked to them about you. They have seen the way my eyes glow and my gestures grow when I describe you. If you ask them about Stephan, they will say, "That guy Rosa told me about? Yeah, he sounded like one amazing person! She's so lucky to have him in her life." And they are right, I absolutely am. Why?
Because you bring back life. A few months back I was going through a rough time. Spirals of thoughts blocked my view of people's hearts and life's ease. One night I went to a talk of yours, it was a lecture about education innovation. For two hours you proclaimed change. Change in teaching, change in learning, change in the system. I did not agree with everything you said -- But that did not matter. It was not the content, at least not for me, that took my breath away. It was your vibe. The endless joy, hope and motivation you stirred. The continuous "We can (make this happen)!" in your eyes, even though you had heard "This is impossible." from countless people before. Your enthusiasm and your certainty. You spread so much zest for life that evening so that when I left the intense look on my face before had made way for a smile. It was like you had been beating the drums whose rhythm said "Let's arouse education!" for two hours. Their sound had not only made critics of yours stop shake their head and instead get up and dance to your music, it had even blown away my overall doubts in life and made space for delight. This brings me to the next:
Because you are the most inspiring person I have ever met. The lecture-night uplift was not a one time experience. In fact the moment I entered the hall I saw it coming for it had happened countless times before. Words can't live up to the feeling you trigger but I'll give it a shot nonetheless:
When you talk to me, or we merely share each other's presence, it feels like you release a monster wave that catches me and absorbs me for a moment. That wave consists of light bulbs. A light bulb eagre. While I am surrounded by the bulbs everything inside of me is shaken thoroughly, every thought, every memory, every limitation. At the same time thousands of volt are pumped through my pores as the light bulbs' fluorescent brightness diffuses through my skin. Once our conversation is over and we part the light bulbs move on. And I am left with a crazy amount of volt vibrating inside me and my patterns of thinking mixed up. I remember the first time this happened I spent the next six hours after talking to you cleaning my apartment, running 20 kilometers, and biking another 20. I was bursting with energy and kept looking for a way to channel it. Until finally, that same night at 3 am, I sat down and started writing. It helped. I entered the same flow writing that consumes most of my time today and without which I could not live anymore. Afterwards I felt relieved. The amount of volt in my body had decreased to its average. By now I have understood: In order to release the light bulb energy you trigger I have to do something creative. In other words, you are my creativity gas station.
Because you manifest the impossible. You do not only trigger creativity, you live it yourself. And you dare to go through with your brain storms: While other people have insane ideas and forget about them again you have insane ideas and spark their manifestation. One of your favorite sayings is, "Everyone said, it is impossible. Until someone came along who didn't know. And he just did that which the others considered impossible." That person is you, almost. The only difference: You do know what everyone else says. And you go for the seemingly impossible anyway. You kick off a bad ass NGO, a high end internet page that makes peoples' lives easier, a tool that organizes one's brainpower- and those are just a few examples. Because your ideas do work. In fact you are probably the most successful person I know, holding chairs at two universities next to everything else you do. The sum of your activities and the fact that it is just one person doing all of those already is a way of manifesting the impossible to me.
Because you believe. In order to stand up for new ideas, you do the crawl through seas of resistance and stick out phases in which your ideas do not take off for whatever reason you have to have the strongest belief. You prove that every day, just by doing what you are doing. I admire how you neither take those down phases nor criticism, even when it is destructive, personally. You just keep believing and march on.
Because of who you see in me. At school I always speak my mind. I am not afraid to fire away questions, doubts, ideas, or associations, no matter if I am listening to a student presentation or a guest lecture of an academic star. The reason for that: You. Ever since I started studying at university I have never been afraid to raise my hand. Although only years before I would not have said out loud what I was not sure the teacher wanted to hear. Self doubt used to shut me up. You taught me that I have got something to say. All it took for me to realize that was one moment.
Three years ago, I was 20, I sat in on a meeting you held. I had just started working for you as an online researcher, straight out of high school I had been lucky to get the job in your office. The day of the meeting you discussed a matter you were going to advise German chancellor Merkel in, together with well known scientists, professors and other specialists. When you told me I was invited to sit in I burst with excitement. I had never experienced people like the ones present live before. I entered the room, grabbed a chair and hid in the back. Shortly after you and your guests sat down around the table. You looked at me and said, "Please, Rosa, come sit with us." For a moment I was not sure you had meant me. But since there was no one else in the room I got up and tiptoed to a free seat. Then you started. For the next hour I soaked in every word. The atmosphere was positive, each person's contributions were considered and appreciated. At some point, during a monologue of yours, I was so hooked by the discussion that I forgot about the context and my position. For a split second my hand went up. As soon as I realized I put it back down. But you had noticed the movement, interrupted your speech, turned to me and said, "Please, Rosa, share your mind with us." Your eyes were an invitation. Please, Rosa, share your mind with us. I will never forget that. You, my boss who I admired immensely, considered me worthy of speaking up in front of these people. You did not care that I was not even an undergraduate student yet. You provided space for me to unfold whatever thought construct I held inside, and you trusted that there was enough to hand over to me.
Following that day, when there were times in which I found it hard to trust my intuition because big names shut me up, your image has risen in my mind and reminded me, "Please, Rosa, share you mind." Even if it meant ignoring hierarchies and openly expressing doubts towards authorities present. Because of that statement of yours in the back of my head I am never alone speaking up, no matter how big the room. You are there, somewhere, reassuring me. So I contribute.
Over the years you have insinuated over and over again that there is potential in me. Little of what I have the confidence to do today, and maybe nothing of the way that I am doing it in, would exist without you.
Because of your selflessness. Being generous is one thing, being selfless is another. Whatever you offered me you always made it clear that there is no potential disappointment from your side attached. Pointing me in a direction you would stress every time that it was my decision to take that road or leave it; That supporting me was about me, not you. I consider that an outstanding trait of yours.
Because you are there. Staying in touch with you is a challenge. Months can go by without hearing from you. You are a busy man. But if worst comes to worst you are there. Instantly. There have been international calls, emails and messages during emergencies or life changing decision moments of mine. No matter where you are, you find the time to talk if necessary. Again, it is hard to find the right words for my gratitude other than: Thank you.
Because of your love for your kids. I was not there when they were little, neither am I around when I am not there (crazy, right?). But I know the look in your eyes when you talk about one of your children. Gentle, deep, endless love. And pride. Every word you hear from them echos in your heart. That's what I sense. If I ever will be able to display and communicate the love for my kids the way you do I will pat myself on the back. Big time.
Because you have the coolest family ever. Being father to an amazing family is an achievement. So congratulations not only on loving your kids - who by the way are two wonderful, talented, open-hearted people - but also being married to the strongest, smartest and most impressive woman. Most of all though, and this goes to all four of you, hats off for the vibe you guys spread when in the same room: Clarity, a down-to-earth sense of humor, openness, curiosity and honesty.
Because of your genius. When you listen there are at least two hundred ears wide open inside of you. Two hundred ears with two hundred intertwined auditory channels that lead to two hundred different points of view (or points of ear, for that matter). Those channels don't just exist. Instead there is content dashing through all of them at all times at the speed of light. Whenever you can you unite information from two different channels and build new connections between them. In short: You pick up complex theories instantly. Within a split second you integrate them into your ways of thinking. Finally, just a breath after taking a new theory in, you offer a bunch of perspectives using the smallest amount of words and the clearest language. I learn more from watching that process for a few seconds than from one entire semester at school.
Because you stick around. It has been four years since that first time we met. You are still there. Spreading your greatness, inspiring me, helping me out, showing me new parts of you and me every time we meet.
It is easy to take a revolving door in and out of someone's life, especially in our age. A moment of mutual inspiration, impressing each other, being your best self. I love momentary encounters, obviously. Look at this project. However I believe that staying and making a difference over time is the real deal. There might be nothing I value more highly.
Because of the journey that lies behind you. Sixty years are quite some time. I don’t know much about where you started back in 1955. However I do know enough to figure that your journey has been anything but struggle free, and a long one. No one starts out where they are at sixty years later, but there is only a few people who evolve as continually and rapidly as you do. Thank you for keeping going. Not just for your own sake but also because the work you do with yourself is a gift to the world; As are you.
Because you connect me with eternity. We don’t do it often but when we meditate together you ground me. I give in to processes and pain I don’t have access to when I sit and close my eyes alone. Your presence is the phone I pick up to have a juicy chat with the universe.