Saturday, December 5, 2009

Alex and Elke

I'm staying in the London flat of my friends Alex and Elke - a lovely, slightly unlikely couple. Alex is an African-American actor from Los Angeles, Elke is a civil servant who works for the German Embassy. They met on an adult hook-up site, fell in love, and got married.

They've been in London for the past few years, and will be moving back to Germany this summer where Elke will divide her time between working at the embassies in Berlin and...Baghdad.

I took them out for dinner tonight, and we got into an interesting conversation about Purpose In Life.

Alex talked about how while he feels like he's here to make the world a better place, he's very non-political about it, and can't imagine engaging in a cause-driven life such as mine. He said that he's too much of an obsessive personality, and would end up pulling his whole existence, including his relationships and his marriage, into his work.

Elke said that she's very interested taking care of the people she loves, but that if she allowed herself to focus on the big issues of the world, it would just make her angry and incapable of functioning.

The remarkable thing is, though, they might not be cause-driven, but they're living examples of something really important.

Alex is devoted to his personal growth, and he's a loving, generous presence who brings a kind of peaceful music into the room with him wherever he goes. I guessed, and he confirmed, that when he's in a show, he's the go-to guy of the cast. When people have problems, they come to him. When conflicts need addressing, Alex is the peace-maker. When he's not in a show, he writes, plays his guitar, walks the city, and explores his inner life.

Elke loves her job - even though it's a fairly low-level clerical job. And she has no desire to go any further up the chain of responsibility. She's good at what she does, she finds it fulfilling, it supports her well, and she doesn't have to take it home with her. She's able to support both herself and Alex. While they do have a TV and a computer, they don't have a home full of extraneous stuff. They live a pretty simple, non-consumerist existence. And every few years, they get to move to a new country. After Germany, they're hoping for South Africa or Nepal.

I so admire the fact that they've created lives of such elegantly simple contentedness and deep personal devotion. Every time I visit them I feel like I've landed in a safe haven, a place of nurturing and relaxation. I can't help but note that
with purpose, but without ambition and drive, they live pretty lightly on the planet.

Perhaps this is an active, vivid part of the vision of the future that we're trying to create for ourselves. Perhaps it's not the toys in our lives but the tone of them, the music we carry with us, which will help us find our way.

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