It was the summer of 2010 and Germany had just lost its semi-final soccer match against Spain. I was pissed. I was also in Germany where we have a soccer culture that will sweep you off your feet. Women can suddenly explain offside play and give you the lowdown on each player’s astrological compatibility. When it comes to soccer, we stand behind our team as one. Every time. And always stronger.
So I was pissed because we lost and I had just moved from Spain back to Germany. It’s funny, but in terms of soccer, there are no excuses. You stand with your country (in a friendly, peaceful way), no matter where you live. And I needed to distract myself, so I went for a walk along the Hansaring (one of the circular streets that make up Cologne).
My mom had mentioned her former colleague Paul a few days back and the fact that he lives close to me. She probably never thought I would go and meet him, but curiosity always kills this cat, so I went. My memory isn’t too clear on what or how it happened, but I believe we spoke briefly, he informed me of his address and invited me over for a glass of wine. It was the beginning of a friendship that I could never explain in its entirety and would never want to miss.
Remember when I wrote about “something that you miss”? And I mentioned “meeting new people”? Paul was one of those encounters. Not that it can ever be repeated because there is only one Smelly Paul. Yes, Smelly… with a capital S. I’ll make the U-Turn back to this, I promise.
He invited me into his apartment and we had a glass of wine (as promised) on the balcony overlooking the city. I was comfortable from the very beginning which surprised me. There was no agenda on either side, it was just two friends having a conversation, which with our differences, a lot of people wouldn’t think is possible. It has never crossed my mind. It’s been 7 years now and he has been with me (mostly via Skype and Whatsapp) through tough times in Cologne, good times in the US, and all the times in between.
Oh, Smelly, right… He earned that nickname when he was an Aromatherapist. He can tell you what oil is good for what and where to get it, the concentration, where to rub it and for how long. That alone is impressive, but he did that on the side. His main field of expertise lies in Aircraft Technology (as an Aircraft Electrician) – (I was never one hundred percent sure, but I asked… just in case… so sorry if I’m messing this up, Smelly, please correct me); he has a degree in Biology, Physiology, and Biochemistry. Oh, apologies, I stand corrected: He also has a degree in massage, anatomy and aromatherapy. When my parents made it possible for me to become a fitness trainer, I had to learn human physiology and anatomy, among many other things. Paul always had an answer. And if he didn’t, he knew where to look for it.
He worked for the Royal Air Force (oh, Paul is a Brit, so we speak English, and he was more or less a neutral companion in the Germany-Spain incident), then became a design engineer in Automotive with Ford in Germany and China, and a lot of other things that I cannot even begin to understand, but you get the picture. He did more than would fit into one lifetime. And people like him (which there are very few) fascinate me.
What I admire about him is that he has been through so much, worked hard all his life to achieve different things in different areas, always eager to learn and master a new craft, but makes it look and sound so easy now.
He inspires me because he encourages me to keep going, persist, push through, but also stand my ground. He is the kind of friend who stays with you until the end, but also doesn’t sugarcoat anything. Still, he’s on your side. If you have a friend like him, you can consider yourself very lucky.
I look forward to the day that we get to meet again, maybe… or hopefully in London next time. I’d love to see the houses that he’s working on (now that he’s retired) and just catch up in person. He has also rowed over 1 million meters and is one of the few people who virtually follow me for all my half marathons. I know I’m lucky to have someone like him in my life. And I’m deeply grateful.
Day 20: Write about someone who inspires you