back to: personal storyteller
Prelude: When I was nine years old, in the 4th grade, I was sitting in a class room at the Nichols school in Detroit when a particular thought came to me. I suddenly became aware of myself sitting in that classroom at that particular time. Closing my eyes and memorizing where I was, I took a mental snap shot of the situation. I thought that, wherever and whenever I would be in the future, I would always retain the memory of being who I was at that moment. It would anchor my consciousness. Now, after a gap of twelve years, I remembered that occasion while sitting on a bus in West Germany.
As I was sitting the whole day in the back of a bus, journeying home from a trip to Berlin at Christmas time, it occurred to me that my 21st birthday would be in less than two months, and I did not want this personal anniversary to pass without some celebration. After all, this was the year I officially became an adult. So far my life had counted for little; I had been too much a spectator of events, with the days of my adolescence now drawing to a close. I wanted something to mark this period, so that my memories of it might touch upon something substantial.
For a long time I had entertained the notion that events happening to a person during the years of his existence are more firmly within his possession than the structures of worldly accomplishment which he leaves behind. The latter will disintegrate in time, but a life once lived has a certain worth which can never be taken away. To consecrate my own life, therefore, I hit upon a plan to conduct a ceremony on my 21st birthday which would pay tribute to the fact that I exist. In one sense this would be a meager and fictitious occasion because its significance would have been contrived entirely by a philosophical-poetical fantasy, but in another sense the ceremony would be based upon the plain reality of my existence, making no further claims. No matter what my life represents to the world, it would for the moment stand in the sheer beauty of itself, blooming like a flower.
What I had in mind was to arrange a certain sequence of motions to go through during the ceremony, and when the proper time came carry these out precisely. The more difficult it would be more me to complete these motions, the more intense would be the ceremonial experience, and the more satisfying its accomplishment. For instance, I might resolve to jump over a 20-foot cliff at a certain moment. This would probably cost me a sprained ankle, but it would prove to me forevermore my powers of determination. Or else in a public place I would remove all my clothes, recite a poem, and them put my clothes back on, before anyone summoned the nerve to interfere. The worst consequence of this action would be my arrest for indecent exposure and much personal embarrassment, but, again, without much harm to anyone it would prove my courage and resolve. The ceremony would demonstrate the fact that this aggregation of flesh is able to bind itself to a narrow course of action, and then execute its decision, with a precision rivaling that of causality.
The details of the ceremony would have to be worked out during the next few weeks. I knew already that I would stand upon a certain mountain peak in Austria on my birthday, and there conduct a ritual, bearing witness to myself both as a member of the human race and as a particular individual. First I had to decide what were my salient characteristics, so that these could be reflected in the ritual.
The mere fact that I had thought of consecrating my being in a ceremony was the greatest decision. Somewhere in Limbo I could imagine a dead man’s soul bitterly regretting that during his many years of life he had never once realized that he was alive at the moment that it was true; he had never once had expressed this joyful awareness. Indeed most people die having never done what sets a human being apart from all other mortal creatures - they never fully exercise their unique self-consciousness.
I had intended to compose the ceremony as soon as I returned to Munich, but, with the deadline still many weeks away, it did not seem urgent enough. Even so, in curious fashion, I began setting the stage for the grand event by arranging my other activities into a pattern which would reach a focus on the appointed day, the 21st of February.
To me it had always seemed that February 21st, apart from being my birthday, was a day for special events and milestones: It was exactly two months after the winter solstice, a month before the beginning of spring, a week after St. Valentine’s Day, the day before Washington’s birthday, five weeks before my father’s birthday, etc. There was always some election to a school board, or important announcement by the President, or assassination of a Civil Rights leader, or long-awaited lecture or concert, which was taking place on that day. This year especially it seemed that important events in my life were happening on even intervals from my birthday. I embellished these with conscious references to the planned ceremony so that the events reflected and kindled my anticipation of the ceremony wwith a burning intensity, in the same way that mirrors positioned inward around a circle catch the sunlight from various directions and concentrate it into a fiery beam.
These were some of the “mirrors” which I set: Exactly six weeks before my birthday, being on a skiing expedition in Austria with a group of German students, I climbed the Zwolferkugle, which took all afternoon. On the way down I picked a sprig from a wild herb, intending to use this in the ceremony atop the other mountain. Exactly a month prior, I went skiing for a day at Garmisch-Partenkirchen with a girl friend I had known in Munich. Four weeks before, on January 24th, I spent my last evening with the same girl, just before she returned to the United States. A week later was the last night I slept in my room at Knorrstrasse 21 before moving to another address. The two-week milestone marked no unusual events, except for certain important ideas which came to me on that day, while daydreaming. February 14th, however, was the night I had my first date with another girl who became my preoccupation for the following months.
As the time drew near, however, I realized that I still had not done much work on the ceremony, which was like having ring without the jewel that it is supposed to adorn. My intentions were to hold it on a mountain top at Reutte, a popular ski resort with students, after fasting for a period of twenty-four hours. The ceremony would consist of a prose statement solemnly declaring my existence, together with a physical ritual such as taking off my clothes, anointing myself over the head with oil, and covering my wet body with a cloth before breaking the fast. Perhaps I could also devise an original combination of motions with the arms and feet to be part of the ceremony. These plans were passing idly through my mind one Sunday afternoon, just ten days before the event, when I happened to be walking though the Bavarian National Museum. Certain thoughts occurred to me at that time which altered my entire scheme.
The Bavarian National Museum contains numerous specimens of porcelain dinnerware and other furnishings which used to belong to the Bavarian royal family. The tiniest piece of china or wood carving bears witness to the many hours that some craftsman took to create it. To see room after room containing many such objects, each requiring the exquisite attention of a skilled artisan, is a staggering experience; it makes a person wonder why any workman would choose to expend so much time and care making a fork or spoon, which its owner, possessing hundreds of other equally beautiful objects, would hardly notice. Would that single glimmer of appreciation which might pass through the king’s mind as he picked up the fork have made it worth the silversmith’s time to fashion its designs?
I then realized what great significance it was that the fork or dish belonged to the king’s own collection. The mere fact that the article was part of the spectacle of royalty was enough to make it worth the craftsman’s effort to do his work well. If you were a craftsman and knew that your products were going to be handled by President Kennedy personally, would you not be extravagant in your labors? Such figures as kings and queens, presidents, and other famous men and women represent fixed positions within the universal order around which the lesser personages can arrange themselves and from which relationship they derive worth.
Monarchy as an institution was fully able to exercise its capacity to command respect and veneration. In our own day we tend to view the persons who most nearly fulfill this function, such as the heads of governments, with a more austere appraisal. We will concede less to the mystique of the office, because we realize this dimension of its power is only what we ourselves accord to it.
The thought then occurred to me that mankind might still confer upon an individual a position of regal authority, though everyone knew that his office existed arbitrarily and his powers were unreal. The idea arose of a thoroughly modern, democratic, and human institution, serving the same purposes as monarchy did in feudal days, but on a world-wide scale and without the capacity for becoming despotic. This new ”King of the World” would have a strictly ceremonial role. It would be his job to award prizes and bestow honors on persons who had accomplished great things as an official recognition of their accomplishment. The King might be a completely ordinary person, but if the entire world recognized him as a man solely authorized to confer such honors, the recipient would feel flattered at being so recognized by him.
No doubt the authority of this man would be more firmly guaranteed if he possessed other powers than the power to perform ceremonies, but the price of giving him real political control might be more than the world would be willing to pay. A ceremonial chief would be ignored at first, or become an object of ridicule, if the world misunderstood his role; but if this were clear, and if the man were earnest, competent, and imaginative in the exercise of his office, he might build a tradition which would carry real weight in public affairs.
Clearly it would be desirable for a man of great personal prestige to become the first King - perhaps some aging political or spiritual leader. Petitions might be circulated throughout the Earth, calling for his appointment to the office. These might be signed by numerous people and be gathered in a central vault where they would be tangible evidence for his authority. In addition, the legislatures of nations might pass resolutions supporting his claim to the title, chiefs of state might receive him as their equal, monarchs might abdicate in his favor, or the United Nations might grant him the privilege of convening the General Assembly. In these and other ways the world order might contrive to appoint a ceremonial head of itself.
Once the first man was in office, the problem would be to find a method of choosing his successor. In the past, monarchies have simply picked the reigning sovereign’s eldest son, or whatever other relative was available down the line of succession. This would probably not be colorful enough to suit people today, nor might all the races and nationalities on Earth consent to be governed permanently by a family taken from any one of them. Perhaps, then, there might be elections every ten years (or whenever the incumbent dies) to choose a new monarch. These would add the color and excitement, but it would be too expensive to have frequent world-wide election campaigns to an office with no substantive power. Candidates would have too few issues for claiming that they could handle the office better than other candidates.
Rather than set a definite method of succession, it seemed better to me for the present King to be given complete freedom in determining his own successor. (In the event that he failed to specify the method, or that the method failed to appoint a successor, the next man would be selected by the means previously used.) For, it is clear that in many cases whatever powers a man possesses may be delegated to someone else; how the first one gains his position is the real problem. Allowing Kings to choose their own manner of succession would mean that the Kings would come to office in a great variety of ways, either through simple appointment or through elaborate contests created and supervised by the present officeholder. All this would enrich the traditions of the institution and increase interest in its current proceedings. Each reign would be judged in part by how well it had managed its own succession.
The King of the World might live in a magnificent palace, filled with luxurious artifacts like those in the Bavarian National Museum. A beautiful, spacious lawn would stretch out in front of the palace, where special ceremonies would take place; and in back there would be a maze of formal gardens. The whole royal compound would be enclosed by enormous stone walls, with a single gate for visitors to enter. To the side would stand a small marble building containing all the petitions which supported the claims of the first monarch.
Behind the palace would be another building made of exceedingly thick granite rock. Twice in his lifetime the monarch would be permitted to enter this building for a period not to exceed 24 hours - once just after he assumed the office, and once more before leaving it. No one else would be allowed inside. Three separate keys would be necessary to open its heavy doors. The King would have one on his person, a special constitutional officer would have another, and the third key would be kept in the royal vault in another city. On the day when the monarch entered this Inner Sanctum, he would be accompanied to the door by a garrison of soldiers, who would stand guard so long as the King was in the building. They would escort him back to the palace when his visit was ended.
Throughout the centuries the outside world would be kept ignorant about this mysterious chamber and what happened inside on those occasions, for the monarch would be forbidden, on penalty of death, to divulge the secret of the place. Presumably the King would perform a private ceremony which was written down on a scroll. Perhaps the successive monarchs would keep a diary, sharing their regal secrets with each other across the ages. However, no one outside the royal lineage would know for sure, since the tradition carried on there would be withheld permanently from public view, even as the kingdom of death hides its secrets from the eyes of the living.
As the glories of this new realm unfolded before my imagination, I aspired secretly to become the first in the line of kings. I would endeavor to make myself worthy of that title. I would pile up accomplishments on Earth unprecedented in scope. I would alter the course of world history, so that men might recognize my stamp upon the age and through it my claim to the throne of the new order, which would be a source of mystery, joy, and wonder.
I thought of the need for such an institution. In our unromantic age science has effectively punctured all of life’s brighter illusions. The realm of the universal, which once gave moral instruction and breathed personality, now appears in the form of statistical data. Human hearts are starving or something of the old simplicity and passion of a monarchy. Somewhere in the future I could see generations of men holding fast to it for a thousand years.
But now, as I rode home from the Bavarian National Museum on a trolley-car, it seemed to me that this latest, idle fantasy bore a close resemblance to the ceremony which I was planning for my 21st birthday; and in both it seemed that I had gone too far. Jesus once said of such intentions: “He that speaketh of himself seeketh his own glory: but he that seeketh his glory that sent him, the same is true, and no unrighteousness is in him.” Who was I that I should be preparing so earnestly to glorify myself?
Suddenly it became clear that this whole line of thinking constituted a denial of Christianity. The New Testament prophets had spoken about persons like me who would attempt to set themselves up on thrones over the Earth. My monarchical order was predicated upon the absence of established religion. My royal vault and all its ritual smacked of some ancient, evil Egyptian cult, which had built pyramids and embalmed Pharaohs. It could well be that instead of winning a celebrated place in history I was positioning myself to become the Anti-Christ, and through my aspirations to become “King of the World” was consigning myself to eternal damnation. For I knew that no God had given me the authority to assume such a role.
In full panic now, I doubted that I should proceed with the ceremony. I did not have to create a private incident to commemorate my existence on the assumption that all other situations were transitory. Surely God would see to it that my life was redeemed if I would be obedient to his will. Religion in the past has been sufficient to sanctify kingdoms, and it is still ample to handle the ceremonial function in the world. That was the trouble: I had merely assumed that religion was untrue, without really knowing. If God were this moment sitting in his Heaven, which was a distinct possibility, my whole scheme would be undermined. My ceremony would be seen to be a blasphemy.
I was back to the same problem which no one had ever been able to solve to my satisfaction, namely the apparent non-existence of God. Perhaps it was better to be on the safe side - to try to believe that God was real and then obey his commandments. If he did exist, that would help avoid damnation. If he did not exist, it wouldn’t matter. However this was the cowardly way out. Why does God never reveal himself positively to mankind if he does exist? What is his purpose in remaining concealed? What is our virtue in believing, against all appearance, that God exists? If he does not, surely religion is a chronic curse upon mankind, which causes people to live by erroneous purposes. it would be an act of heroism and benevolence to find out for once and for all time the truth of this matter.
I knew that the ceremony as I imagined it was inordinately sinful. Its whole meaning was to appoint myself to a status within worldly existence which I did not enjoy before. I wanted a position of tenure as if life had not given that already. Obviously God, if he existed, would not allow such an insubordinate act to go unpunished. He would probably strike me dead on top of that mountain in the middle of my self-proclaiming ritual. That would then be a positive demonstration of God’s existence.
The more I thought about this monstrous scheme, the more it seemed to have the right things going for it. The lesson has been brought home to me many times that intellect alone is powerless to establish or disprove God’s existence. Neither are cunning experiments designed to provoke God into some action. God is no so starved for recognition that he would perform miracles every time that a non-believer snaps his fingers. The Gospels record how Jesus disliked this aspect of his divinity. He would never quite refuse to perform a miracle, yet he made it clear to those who demanded a sign from him that they were on the wrong track.
At first sight my ceremony would seem to be another such petty trick to make God betray his existence. But I would try to purify my heart and purge it of unworthy intentions. My ceremony would be a commitment as well as an experiment. How else can one expect to reach God except through ceremony? In those heroic days when men saw God, they were frequently performing ceremonies in his name which bespoke their present purposes. These were not longstanding, sealed-off rituals. To go back to the source of religion would be my best approach to the existence of God.
Though the ceremony itself was sinful, still I felt that, as one of mankind, sin was my fate, and God would forgive it. Whether God would forgive one who deliberately set out to perform a sin was a different proposition; however all things are possible to those who believe. Beforehand, I would attempt to remove the blemish of my sacrilegious aim through prayer and fasting. For, once when the Disciples were unable to heal a sick child and they asked Jesus the reason, it is recorded that Jesus replied, “This kind can come forth by nothing but by prayer and fasting.” I would pray for God’s blessing upon my mission. I would fast before the ceremony, so it would not be undertaken lightly. Then, in full faith and expectation of meeting God along the way, as he chose to manifest himself to me, I would begin my ascent to the top of the mountain.
Thus were my plans diverted to an opposite intent. The week ending upon my birthday I designated as a personal “holy week”, to be devoted to composing and carrying out the ceremony. During this week I intended to read the Bible frequently and ask God for guidance. I expected that the details of the ceremony would come to me in this way through direct inspiration, so that by my birthday the program would be ready.
The first few days of “holy week” I found it hard to apply myself to such an arbitrary undertaking. Life went on amid familiar circumstances while I, possessed by a demon of my own making, made rude attempts to prepare for the ceremony. People who were normally my associates now had to be sealed off from what I was doing because I did not dare confide my secret to anyone. On other occasions I used their company to formulate my decisions, pretending that these familiar persons were, for that week, divine messengers to show me signs. Saturday night, for example, I went to a small theater near the Sigestor with two friends from the ski expedition to see “Waiting for Godot”. The only communication I would have with them that night was to discuss my interpretation of the play as an anti-Christian allegory, and to watch their reaction. By that time I was far advanced into the world of my own fantasy.
The first task, though, was to gather and prepare the materials needed for the ceremony. I rode the streetcar to a shop on the Kurfurstenplatz which sold health foods. Here I purchased the most expensive bread I could find on the shelf, plus a packet of rock salt. My reason for choosing this particular store was that the items sold here would be more nearly like the raw foods which were eaten in Biblical times. Consequently they were more fit for a meal that was part of a religious ceremony.
This motive was typical of the foolishness I exhibited in my attempt to be guided by divine revelation. In selecting honey to go with the bread, for example, I was not content to buy honey in a jar; it had to be in a honeycomb. So I went to a number of stores asking for honeycomb, which none of them had. Finally, after asking a woman on a street car where I could buy honeycomb, I found a store which carried the product. Fortunately no one asked me why I needed honeycomb instead of honey in a glass container, for I could not have given a plausible answer.
In a store on Maximilianstrasse I bought a bottle of the most expensive Burgundy wine I could find; the owner assured me that would cost much more than 17 marks back in the United States. The reason I chose Burgundy rather than Bordeaux wine was that that Burgundy as a district of France seemed much more ancient and holy to me.
I wanted some kind of ceremonial oil to anoint my head, but was unsure where to buy such a commodity. Ordinary hair oil would not do. The closest way I thought to explain the product I wanted, without betraying my lunatic purpose, was to ask for skin oil. I went into a perfume shop near the Hotel Vierjahrzeiten, and would up buying a small bottle of Mennen’s baby oil. This I knew would be inappropriate, but it was inexpensive, and it permitted me to leave the store without further conversation.
It gradually became clear that I would never find oil on the market made to anoint kings. Therefore, I would have to manufacture my own. The basic oil might be squeezed directly from olives, and I could add other ingredients which had the proper symbolic significance. I searched all the markets and supermarkets on Romanplatz but could find no raw olives. Instead I bought three different kinds of vegetable oils, which came in half-gallon tin cans, and three or four lemons.
Back in the kitchen of my own apartment I prepared to mix these ingredients together in an old whiskey bottle. The whiskey bottle at first disturbed me as a container for such a precious fluid, but then I decided it would be sufficiently holy if I gave my neighbors the rest of the whisky in the bottle, worth at least two dollars.
Each of the vegetable oils had its own symbolic meaning. The largest tin had a bullfighter’s picture on the front. It was the Manolete brand from Cordoba, Spain. This I decided stood for physical courage, which would surely be required in climbing a tall mountain after a day’s fast. The second kind of oil was made in Genoa, Italy, and the can had a picture of Dante on it. To me Genoa has always suggested Christopher Columbus. Both he and Dante were explorers of vast realms - one geographical, the other theological - which added to the scope of man’s knowledge. Therefore this kind of oil would represent man as an adventurer into unknown regions, which I would also be doing in my quest to find God. The third tin contained a brand of peanut oil called “Howi-gold”, which came from Krefeld, a middle-sized industrial town in the Ruhr-Niederrhine section of Germany. This oil scarcely suggested anything noble, but I made it representative of modern industry, whose luxurious civilization enabled me to spend a week or two in such a frivolous enterprise as composing a ceremony.
Together the three oils represented man in different aspects of his experience - moral, spiritual, and commercial - which added up to the richness of his heritage. To offset this element, I introduced a smaller portion of lemon juice, squeezed directly from the lemons I had bought in the supermarket. Lemon juice is acidic, suggesting the corrosive, weak, or sorrowful streak in human life, which I thought would make the ceremony more acceptable to God if it were included.
For the final ingredient I wanted something more precious, yet something appropriate for the entire ceremony and for what it was celebrating. In the end I chose pure water, distilled from what came out of the faucet. Purity of heart would be difficult to achieve during the ceremony, yet this would be the most essential ingredient for the success of a religious enterprise. Likewise distilled water, though basically the commonest of the substances used, proved to be difficult to obtain.
In concocting the ceremonial blend, I tried to compensate for my haphazard and arbitrary manner of choosing the ingredients by mixing them with laboratory precision. This meant scalding all the equipment which would touch the sacred liquid, even the punch that opened the tins. My system of distillation left much to be desired. I heated up water in a coffee pot, and held a cold teacup near the steaming spout, so that the moisture could condense and drip into a glass underneath. Unfortunately the teacup become very hot. Not only was a towel necessary to hold the cup but also it took a long time to accumulate even a small amount of water in the glass.
When this water was ready, I poured it into the bottom of the whiskey bottle. Next came the mixture of vegetable oils, which had first been measured in equal amounts in another pan. The lemon juice was last. However there was too much oil in the bottle, so that I could not add the lemon juice without having it run clear to the top. Instead of screwing on the cap, I decided to seal the bottle by dripping wax from a candle into the bottleneck, placing a 5-pfennig piece snugly inside, and then dripping more wax on top of this until I had a thick seal. The 5-pfennig piece raised the total cost of the ingredients used in the ceremonial oil to exactly seven marks. With this, I had the most important material for the ceremony.
For the first three days of “holy week”, I did not start the actual work of composing the ceremony, but buried myself in the Bible, hoping to find clues for what I should do. Thursday I read St. Luke’s Gospel, plus several historical selections from the Old Testament. Friday I continued my readings from the Old Testament, focusing attention upon the lives of King David and King Solomon, and then read St. John’s Epistle, and started Revelation. Saturday I finished Revelation. At other times I read variously from Ecclesiastes, the Psalms, and other Gospels and Epistles.
My immediate purpose was to locate passages clarifying the authority of Jesus Christ. These largely confirmed what I had already thought. Jesus invariably played down the miracles as evidence for his divinity and emphasized instead that he was fulfilling Scripture. Once, when asked by what authority he taught, Jesus asked in turn by what authority John taught. Not only does this illustrate how characteristically Jesus evaded the baited questions of the Pharisees, but also it implies that his source of authority was the same as John’s - namely, prophetic revelation - and secondarily that his authority was based upon prophecy itself. The Jewish people might know that he was the Son of God because he fulfilled the words of their prophets. Jesus said his only sign was the sign of the prophet Jonah, that he should be taken away for three days and then be resurrected.
I now attempted to find a corresponding prophecy in the New Testament which would lead into the present age as the New Testament came forth from the Old. Apart from the things which Jesus himself said, which are recorded in the four Gospels, the Book of Revelation is our principal source of New Testament prophecy. Reading through St. John’s work, however, I was unable to comprehend its message or decide what pertained to my own case. Revelation seemed like what I imaged to be the ravings of a mad man.
The second lesson I took from the Bible was the great chasm that separated divinity and royalty. It is plain that God did not favor creating a king in the first place but agreed only because the Hebrew people cried out so strongly for one. God’s treatment of King Saul betrays his animosity toward the Jewish monarchy. David’s righteousness seems somewhat to have won God over, and Solomon’s reign was like an experiment by God to present the monarchy at its best, yet the old antagonism was never fully overcome. In the end it was too strong.
God seems to have enjoyed an enormous private joke by leading the Jewish people to believe that their Messiah would be another glorious king, like David or Solomon, and giving them Jesus instead, whom they despised because of his humble appearance. God’s humiliation of them was complete when the Jews crucified Jesus and hung a sign over his head, which said mockingly “the King of the Jews”, not knowing that this was their true king, the last they would ever have.
Early Sunday morning I awoke without the aid of an alarm clock, and took the streetcar to the train station, where I purchased a ticket for Reutte in Tirol. Forty-five minutes later the train pulled away from the station. I spent the whole trip reading the Bible and the latest issue of an American magazine. Life at that moment seemed altogether marvelous and strange. If the ceremony were only a silly daydream, why was I then traveling on a train through the mountains of Austria?
Upon arriving in Reutte I had first to find a lodge to stay through Wednesday, which was my birthday. I was torn between taking an expensive place, to reinforce the importance of the occasion, or an inexpensive place, to save money. Once more I resorted to direct revelation. My readings in the New Testament had persuaded me that excessive splendor in religious ceremonies was not in the Christian tradition. Therefore, I checked in at the Gasthof Mohren, an inexpensive but comfortable inn near the center of town. The woman in charge gave me room 309.
In the late afternoon I took a walk through the town of Reutte, which is situated in a deep valley at the intersection of two mountain chains. The streets were narrow and hilly. Snow was stacked up against the curbs. I passed rows of gingerbread shops, and several blocks down the street came upon a large Baroque church. I went inside to meditate. The church was cold and damp, and it was completely deserted except for someone moving about in the choir balcony. It was the first time in four months that I had set foot inside a church. After twenty minutes on my knees, I walked quietly out the door, dropping a small coin into the poor box.
That evening I had supper at the Gasthof Mohren. The elderly woman who had checked me in was also the waitress in the large eating room downstairs. She seemed to take a personal interest in me, and I regarded her as an angel sent by God to look after me during my stay in Reutte. At my table in one corner of the room were eight or ten men of various ages, all Austrians, who kept up a lively discussion among themselves. Opposite me sat a maimed young man, quietly playing music on a tape recorder. I kept to myself at first, but upon being asked several questions, I gradually entered into the conversation.
As the hours passed, the dining room cleared until all who remained were myself and another young man with brown eyes and dark curly hair. His name was Rudolf Zagler, of Hungarian descent, and he worked at a small factory several kilometers outside Reutte. He suggested taking a walk down the road to that factory, and I agreed although I had intended to spend that evening writing the words to be spoken during the ceremony.
The night had become chilly. I did not take a jacket along and began to regret how far we were walking. Rudi and I talked about life in Austria in contrast to life in the United States, about our own backgrounds, and other such topics. On the way we met a group of drunken Austrians who worked at the same factory, and we walked a short distance with them. It was an enjoyable evening, which would have been still better if my conscience had not been nagging me that I should be working on the ceremony. In the end my newly-found companion and I said “goodbye”. I promised to write from Munich.
The following morning I did gradually pull myself together. After a short breakfast I went back to my room and began writing the self-declaration, starting with Walt Whitman’s words “I celebrate myself --.” This first section went well. Then I wrote several sentences in German, which were to express the immediate circumstances of the ceremony. As the writing proceeded, however, I grew uneasy at the feeing that I was engaged in a sacrilegious act, which God would certainly punish. I therefore endeavored not to overstate the claims in declaring my own existence. If everything said were the plain truth, my guilt would be kept to a minimum.
What disturbed me the most was the insinuation that I would somehow gain an imperishable identity from undertaking the ceremony.