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Monday, July 1, 2013

Relativity by John von Daler

                In the early 1970's I played a charity concert at the Danish Refugee Council, violin sonatas with a pianist friend. I was still an amateur musician and I studied literature at the university. My wife worked three days a week as a physical therapist. We were not wealthy, but I wanted to help these troubled people pass the time. One of them was a little, dark man who had escaped from Poland.
                After the concert he and I got to talking and we found each other interesting. He wanted to know more about the U.S. and Denmark and I was interested in hearing whatever he had the desire to tell about Poland, though I knew without asking that the trauma of his escape probably was better left untouched. I invited him to come to our apartment for tea the following weekend.
                My wife and I lived in the suburbs of Copenhagen above the garage behind a large mansion on the coast. Our two room apartment was meant to be the chauffeur's dwelling. We  paid part of our rent by working in the garden, cleaning in the big house and by driving the owner to and from parties. His cars were parked in the two garages beneath our rooms and the vapor from the engine came up through the floor when he started one of them in the morning.
                As you can imagine we pinched and squeezed to make ends meet and got by with small wages and lots of work. On the day of my new friend's visit my wife bought a Danish pastry and some flowers to make our little, dark apartment look cheerful. We cleaned up and pounded pillows.
                At about three p.m. he came up the stairs and knocked on our door and we ushered him into our combined living, dining and study room. We took his coat and gave him a seat in front of our fold-out coffee table. He seemed subdued and ill-at-ease.
                When we had poured out the tea in mugs and served the pastry, I tried to revive our conversation from the concert, but our new friend seemed unable or unwilling to answer. He poked around at his plate, sipped from his cup and stared at the floor. After ten minutes of monosyllables he finally spoke.
                "I'm very sorry," he said, still staring at the floor. "I can't stand this, all this wealth and luxury."
                My wife and I must have looked slightly confused.
                "Yes, your life style makes me feel ill at ease." He stood up and looked around. "All this extravagance," and he pointed at our used, plywood sofa with pillows hand-sewn by my wife, "I can't stand!" He picked up his jacket and ran out the door. And I never saw him again.
                That day maybe I learned something about Poland - but I am certain that I learned to understand the theory of relativity a lot better than I ever had before.

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