Is there someone who has left this world and continues to dwell in your memories? If so, then you need to spend a night in Lisbon.
A Night in Lisbon is a lesser known work from Erich Remarque. All Quiet on the Western Front is his more famous novel and deals with the futility and horrors of war. A Night in Lisbon is concerned with the fragility of immortality.
The story is about a Jewish refugee who has fled from Nazi Germany with his German wife. Her brother, an official in the party is pursuing them across France towards the Spanish border.
Eventually, he captures the main character of the story and plans to dispose of him, except that it is the Jew who strikes first. He kills his brother-in-law, steals the car, and flees with his ill wife to Portugal. He sells the car and has what appears to be a promising future. He has a visa for the United States and safety from the spreading war.
Instead, he goes to the casino in Lisbon where he meets another Jewish refugee. This one, however, has no money or visa. He has lost the last of his funds in the casino and is considering suicide.
He is offered money and the visa to safety to spend the night with the other. No, it is not a homo sexual relationship being offered. The man with the cash and the visa only wants to talk; and that is what they do throughout the night as they go from cafe to cafe.
In the morning, both go to the hotel room where the main character has been staying. The body of his wife is lying in the bed. She has died from her illness.
They prepare her body for burial. The beneficiary of this tale asks why the other is doing what he is doing. He does plan to return to Germany where he knows that his future is certain death, but he no longer cares.
The reason that he wants to share the tale about himself and his wife was to grant her immortality. So long as someone else remembers her, she will continue to exist. When her memory vanishes from the human mind, she will vanish from the universe for all time.
The tale was of particular potency to me because I read it shortly after my first wife died of cancer. I had to remove her name from various documents and clear the closet of her clothes. As I did, I felt as if I were killing her a second time as each act shrank her presence in the world.
The morning after her death, I awakened to the sound of birds on the tree just outside of the window. The traffic was passing as it did every morning. The world had not changed, except that she was no longer a part of it. She was there in my memory and in the memories of those who had known her. Eventually, though, we too would pass and she would vanish into the emptiness of time.
It is for that reason that I was determined to place her name on the cover of a book as a coauthor. That does not rely upon the fragile human memory. Years in the future, there will be a copy of that book on a shelf somewhere. Likely, it has been digitalized and will survive in countless electronic archives. There will be her immortality and I realized as I packed the last of her clothes to send to a shelter for women that it was the final gift that I could give to her.
So, if you have someone to remember, I urge you to spend a night in Lisbon. You will realize that you are not alone in your quest to grant immortality to another.
Felix Imonti is a retired director of a private equity firm and currently lives in Japan. He has recently published the book Violent Justice, and regularly writes articles in the fields of economics and international politics.