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Johanna Sohn

A Self-Portrait

Photo of Johanna Sohn

A: Asked to compose a self-portrait I could only come to terms with the task by means of cinematography, like: What on earth is going to happen after The Revenge of the Sith?

B: Before Bahá’u’llàh (+1892 in Akko, Palastine; b. 1817 in Tehran, Iran) there have been amongst others Zoroaster, Buddha, J. D. Salinger, Lao tse, Pushkin, Jimi Hendrix, Krishna, Moses, The Doors, Beatles, Bach, Johann Sebastian, Bach, Dr Edward, Beethoven, Brahms, Jesus Christ, Mohammad, Karl May, His Holiness The Báb, Gertrude Stein, Ken Follett, my parents, the Danube, the Rhine, Nile and a longing to know all. Being the middle one of three sisters without a brother, but with a family-name that made us a little masculine to start with and a little doubtful about things as they were, I can now see myself at last about to go into shooting the vital scene, called “Endless Patience Stakes Her Claim”. Up till the age of 35 I had the definite Aquarian feeling of not being able to make myself understood; now it’s ten years after and things have improved by 180 degrees: a) because I have given up the ambition to be the only pizza south-west of Jupiter/the only unicorn north-west of Madagascar, and b) therapies, medication, vocabularies, et al. have improved so much compared to last century that whatever desire I ever had not to be, completely dissolved.

C: “Quos Ego…” was my father’s response to my question, what I should do with my life; me being his clone, and our blood being rather on the hot side: I had to translate that into female, and to what result? Aged 45, undivorced, no children, no abortions, a career as Sinologist, abruptly ended by 6/4/89; a career as a Reiki teacher, begun in 1991, including rewarding events like witnessing the storming of Parliament in Belgrade 10/5/2000 on the red couch of an all-time friend; starting to teach in fall 1998 in Hamburg, whilst His Holiness the Dalai Lama was present in north Germany for nine days (…Man! It was easy! What an Ocean of a person!)…Anyway, my father having passed on eight years ago, now I am able to understand from the bottom of my heart Bahá’u’lláh’s “Hidden Word”: about “those whose words exceed their deeds, their non-being is better for them than their being”. Descendents of word-people become word-doctors, word-healers or word-photographers, from which in turn the deceased can benefit. Returning to my place of birth at Xmas 2000 included the shocking discovery of a Persian Bahá’í family, who had a) attended United World College in Swaziland (me being an ex-student of Atlantic college), and b) sent their children to the same Gymnasium (secondary school) I had attended before college, namely where you learn Latin and Greek; also the lady of the household had been studying similar subjects to me (linguistics, interpretation, translational sciences), but in Heidelberg. Feeling a medium faint glimpse of His omnipresence, it felt like coming home to my very own elephants.

D-F: Doctors who fall ill are the worst patients, the saying goes; yet in alchemical/shamanic healing nothing is more familiar than suffering one or more painful, eventually fatal, sicknesses, like Dr Edward Bach (1885-1936), who whilst working as a pathologist was diagnosed something that would give him three weeks till the end. He spent them in his laboratory and discovered two homeopathic nosodes, which are still used today. When he took off to Wales – before he found his flowers – and opened his suitcase, only to find instead of the books he had planned to read, his shoes…Or Lady Di and the wife of one of her lovers complaining that “it was always three in our marriage”; but if that’s the means by which they knew they were married, why complain?

My family lived in a house of our own. Often short of money we had plenty of books, my father working as an archivist for the Protestant Church of Palatine; but the family had been farmers, my grandfather a saddler, so, when I was four years old I suffered a rupture, because I had helped my dad transfer Lot 47 of his books from downstairs up to the room beside the kitchen, which is where his room was. Before going to college I spent weeks and weeks in hospital, for neurological checkups, including hurtful things and millions of silly questions, preferring it to the hell at home: Dad drank and never was home, but Mom would not go away. Why had she not simply married some other nice man?

Our house had been a hotel in the 19th century and in our days people still came to it like there was no other place in town; a little fortune also was spent on stamps, because beside God (who we did not talk about) and friends, letters were the most holiest of holies. By now I can appreciate very much that he died in her presence and spent the last eight years with her in a wheelchair, but talking and writing till the very end. We were rather like their sisters till his death; so now that I am engaged to be married in October, a lot at last falls into place and makes sense and feels good after all.

E-T-P: Now for the difficult topic called <<<<travel<<<< and when and where do I like to lead and/or be guided? Well, in my life this includes serious attempts at emigration, inter-railing as a teenager and some trips to Africa and Russia. Never to China or the Americas as yet; and never with a sound or reasonable plan about funds or finances. Now as Mr Herrhausen, the good banker who died about six weeks before Mr Ceausescu in 1989, had promised in his great promise: “we will abolish money again, like in the stone ages, when there was no money; we shall substitute it with information” – well, me being a very humble and ignorant person concerning matters of economy, finance, stock-exchanges, share-valuing, and integral mathematics, I could then only make a note of this profound vision and decide instead of chasing after money, job career, children, etc. I’d bide my time and see what time would do to my “informations”. Remember, I am the middle of three sisters: always sharing/being shared: how was I supposed to decide but for all or nothing at all?

By now finances have become winning fields, also because Zoe Peterson of Christ Church Meadows told me that “enough work; enough matters of the heart: it’s time for your spiritual life!” Good.

I went home, my mother a widow, and began life as a Bahá’í. Now the Bahá’í faith knows no clergy; the spiritual and administrative centres are in Haifa and Akko, Israel, and we all are asked to teach ourselves and others about Bahá’u’lláh and His Dispensation. One of His names, by the way, is Blessed Beauty. Now a self-portrait should not turn into soliloquy about one’s spiritual leader. However, once you fall for B. and seriously dedicate yourself to the tasks He set us (for instance, the importance of systematic learning and teaching) it grows more difficult to generate purely personal/private plans and preferences. And as Macedonia has been allotted to the German community for “pioneering” (the basic difference between our faith and the older ones is: a) we are younger; b) it has been advanced not through charisma/brains/money/distinctions of individuals, but through the means of consultation amongst members of elected bodies; but I can hear the yawning, what has all this to do with travels? And how do I consider the relation between the sexes? Yes, the reason I sound so incoherent is not that I ran away out of a play by Woody Allen and I am also neither Kaspar Hauser nor Blanche DuBois; but: a) I don’t care anymore whether cats like me; b) I am flying to Haifa at the end of November on a three-day pilgrimage; c) there is simply nothing more passionate to me in any language than Bahá’í prayers; d) I am as happy about Yesses as I am about Nos – the latter just take a little longer to hear; e) “hating You was more difficult than falling off a chair…”; f) the famous banker Herr Herrhausen, who was killed about the same time as Ceausescu, had explained that they were going to abolish money, because in the stone age they had no money either and they would substitute it with information…Macedonia…land of certitude…

I like repetition, occasionally. One of the two abiding interests in my life has been: a) to make the world a kinder place, and b) to die for a good cause…Yes Macedonia is where we German Bahá’ís are supposed to go (why not? Remember the Importance of Being Earnestly Systematic!) and where I want to build my datscha for when I start work as a retired person: growing an avocado plantation which will come with me in a greenhouse; reading into Balkan languages and geography, historically-wise, too, yes. My true homeland. Balkans are born schizophrenic, like for instance people from Belgrade: they don’t start counting 1, 2, 3 but 17, 18, 19…Since Europa is at last eventually starting to go into labour there is absolutely no doubt in me that the baby will be a memorable one. My body has not made it beyond Ljubljana as yet, but there is a honeymoon ahead and I read Greek, and in Vienna I was once, too.

M-Z: I like music, languages and walking; movies, tea and rising early. There goes my train, with my back facing ahead, the happiest person west of Mississippi, guess who.

August 2005