Seeing my physical therapist for the first time in her office (we had been working remotely), a happy memory came to me on the way out! She asked me if I could find my way. I assured her I could, I would just go in the reverse way from how I came in. What I remembered was the German word “umkehren”, which means invert or reverse or turn back. Marianne loved that word!
Let me explain. Marianne and I met through mathematics. I was a math professor and she was a math major. Years later I liked telling her stories, and one day when we were out for a walk I told her about how the German mathematician Jacobi discovered the beautiful properties of elliptic functions. Mathematicians had been studying elliptic integrals and not making much progress. Then Jacobi had the idea of looking at the problem backwards — investigate the inverse functions. That worked perfectly! Jacobi expressed the key concept that guided him in the maxim, “mann mus immer umkerhen”, which means “you always have to invert”. Or in the case of our walk, turn back!
Marianne was delighted. After that, whenever she wanted to suggest our turning back, she would say, “umkehren”. One day after she died and I was doing our familiar walk, I got the idea of doing it backwards! I remembered the word, and this poem came.
Umkehren You loved that word! And now I remember it As I took a new way On our beloved walk And I am seeing the same sights again Only now from the reverse direction! What happiness to feel a touch of the new In the comfort of the familiar This little change has brought A touch of tenderness to my heart.