This particular story begins in February 1997, in the Foreign Languages Building at the University of Illinois Urbana-Champaign, more specifically in the tiny retangular room that served as the graduate student lounge on the second floor, right off the reception area. I was in a conversation with some other graduate students in the Department of Germanic Languages and Literatures when another of our fellow students, a young lady whose main focus of study was foreign language teaching, if I recall, entered the room. She greeted all of us by saying „Anybody want to go to Vienna?“
You do. Came a voice in my head, so loudly and clearly that I nearly shouted „What?“ in response (which would have been weird). It was an insistent voice, masculine, and definitely not my own or any voice I had heard anywhere or anywhen but moments when the Holy Spirit had spoken to me. Like in Hamburg. Or Bloomington. So, hearing that, I asked my fellow grad student, Kristen, what was going on.
„No one applied to be the Graduate Assistant to the Austria-Illinois Exchange Program this year.“
„No one? Really? That’s odd,“ I responded. Then I added, musiing aloud, „I did my undergraduate exchange year in Vienna…“
„Well, if you’re at all interested, you should go talk to Kalinke about it. You’ll probably get it if you ask. They need someone for next year and the deadline passed last week.“
„Kalinke“ was the Department Head. She was also a world-renowned expert on Old Norse Literature and one of the reasons I had transferred to UIUC from IU. We had a good working relationship, and so it was not at all surprising that Kristen’s prediction proved right. I went to Dr. Kalinke’s office, expressed my interest in the position, and was told I had it if I wanted it.
„Ja, würde ich gern machen. But have to talk to my fiance, Susan, about it first,“ I said. „If she has no objection, then I’ll take it.“
That conversation had to wait until after I had taught my afternoon class, done my afternoon raid on the library, retrieving the Hoffmann von Fallersleben edition of Theophilus: Niederdeutsches Schauspiel aus einer Trierer Handschrift des XV. Jahrhunderts, and taken the 503 to the corner of Green and Neil, from which point I hurried down the shaded sidewalk past the row of aging three-story Victorians to get to the aging three-story victorian that held my garret apartment. Eager to call Susan and discuss the possibility of going to Vienna for a year, with all it would entail for our relationship, I dashed up the stairs into the dark-paneled and sharply angled confines of the third floor of the house- a converted attic, really-deposited my bookladen backpack on the armchair, grabbed the phone from its charging station and dialed Susan’s 812-number. She picked up quickly and to my surprise, after the initial pleasantries, the moment I said, „There’s some thing we need to discuss,“ she said in reply:
„You’re going abroad, aren’t you?“
„How did you? Never mind, I know how,“ and I explained to her the opportunity presented by the events of that afternoon, and concluded saying, „But I will only go if you have no problems with it. It will mean we can’t hold the wedding until next year, when I get back, but we can take time and pray about it.“
„I don’t need to. I think this is from God, and that you need to do it. You said the Holy Spirit already told you that you should go. What else do you need to hear?“
She was right. What else did either of us need to say? The Holy Spirit’s leading was already clear, so we wound up the conversation clear on the decision. I would tell the Department that I’d take the position the next day. Then, in September, I would leave for Vienna for a year. And we would get married in August of 1998.
We knew it would be difficult, and it was, but the hard part came not in the countdown to my departure that summer, nor when I left from Indianpolis to Vienna (through Chicago O’Scare) but when Susan came to visit in December.
And that will take some more telling….