Autobiographical Essays

Beate Caspari-Rosen, MD (1910 - 1995)


The definition of happiness according to Roget's Thesaurus is, among other things, beautification, bliss, contentment, delight, rapture; senses of happiness is eudamonica. I would add complete well being without any reservation, Usually, when one looks back at one's life one realizes that it must have been happy at certain times, but the feeling is often mixed with some anxiety or even fear of the consequences that fate may have in stock for you. I can remember only a few times in my life when I could say I was completely happy and if I had have died at that moment, life would have been worth having lived These moments are very private moments and cannot write about them. But once I was happy seemingly without any apparent reason. After my husband’s death some twelve years ago [1977, hence essay was written c 1989], I would travel every summer for several weeks with Betti Alexander, a cousin who lived in Lyons, France. We would meet somewhere in Europe and travel leisurely in the region we had selected. About five years ago we decided to meet in Sorrento, Italy. It is a lively small resort city situated on the Amalfi coast south of Naples on the Mediterranean sea. Excursions from there are manifold; south along the Amalfi Drive, to visit lovely villages or to take a short boat ride to Capri with all its beauty and picturesque exciting sights; father north is Naples. We had two modes of transportation: to  hire a taxi per day, which was inexpensive at that time and drive to out-of-the way places or we would take a train,  since the station was in walking distance from the hotel. And so one day we took a train to Pompeii. I had visited this ruined city with my husband many years earlier and found it most exciting to walk in the ancient city streets and excavated homes and gardens. Before it had been covered with the ashes of Vesuvius the town had been a suburb of Naples, where well-to-do I citizens had villas; their houses and gardens mirrored their wealthy life style. New areas of the city had been excavated since the time I had last been there. We wanted to see them. There is a trick when visiting the areas or monuments that are overrun with tourists dropped off by the busload.  To avoid them side roads are used. We walked leisurely through the impressive Roman funerary monuments that line streets on the city’s outskirts, visited home opened to the public after finding a guide, who for a small  gratuity would open gates and allow us to wander through the rooms where we admired wall paintings which often depicted daily life, historical narratives or in some instances erotic scenes. We arrived at the Forum at lunch time when the sightseeing groups had retired to restaurants outside of the ancient city or had returned to their buses. Only a few visitors were walking around and suddenly I was overcome with such a feeling of absolute joy that I embraced my cousin and kissed her. She was extremely startled: such an emotional outburst is not her style and she asked me what was the matter? "I am perfectly happy," I replied. I don't know what caused that feeling. Passersby looked at us questionably. My cousin Betty recoiled somewhat, but I for a moment I felt completely satisfied with the world; I have never forgotten that emotion of the time when it occurred.


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