In Holland today, family and friends are saying goodbye to our friend Miriam. One of my oldest and dearest friends is delivering my eulogy for her in my stead. It’s only right; she brought us together. Hail and farewell, dear one.
UPDATE: My eulogy. The gentle joke here is that Valkenswaard, Miriam’s hometown, is a very ordinary city. It was Miriam who enchanted it for me. She had that way about her with everything:
When I was 14 years old, I lived in a tiny town deep in the American South. For a kid like me, who didn’t fit in, it was a lonely time, and a lonely place. To fight the despair, I read books, and I dreamed of what life must be like in the place I most wanted to go: Europe. Then I became penfriends with a Dutch girl named Miriam.
Back then, the happiest days were when my father returned home from his job at the end of the day, carrying in his pocket a new letter from my Dutch penfriend. They were full of adventure stories about teenage life in an impossibly glamorous city. Valkenswaard! Just saying the word gave me a thrill. In the pages of Miriam’s letters, I learned about the cosmopolitan delights of the Pyramid discotheek, and an exotic potion called Pisang Ambon. Believe it or not, they drank something called Pisang Ambon in this international hotspot, Valkenswaard, where my exciting and beautiful friend Miriam lived, with her exciting and beautiful friends Moni and Danielle, eating stroopwaffels and oliebollen, drinking Pisang Ambon at the Pyramid, and being the coolest people in the world in 1981.
There was the time she sent me a cassette tape of herself and Moni taking an audio tour of the thrilling Valkenswaard. I must have played that tape a hundred times. Miriam’s vivid letters, photographs, and mix tapes created an alternative world for me – a world of great music, crazy hair, cool clothes, and all the things I didn’t have.
If only I could get to Valkenswaard, I thought, everything would be okay for me. Miriam was my friend, and her friends would become my friends, and her family would welcome me, and everything would be right in the world.
When I was 17, I finally arrived in Valkenswaard, when my mom won a trip to Europe in a contest, and sent me instead. I was so excited to meet Miriam and the gang that I left the tour early, in Brussels, took the train to Eindhoven, and then a taxi to Karel Mollen Straat Noord 8. Poor Mieke gasped when she opened the door and saw me there. She drove me to the beach where Miriam and her friends were bathing that afternoon.
All the girls were topless, and even better, teenagers could drink beer in Holland. That’s how I knew I had been right all along: Valkenswaard really was the most magical place on earth.
Over the years, I moved to Washington, New York City, and other places far from my hometown. Yet wherever I lived, I would always return to Holland every few years to see Miriam. Through her, I came to love the Netherlands and the Dutch people. Her friends became my friends, and her family became my family too. Thirty years of precious memories.
This past summer, when I knew Miriam was dying, I made one last trip to Holland to see her for the first time in 10 years. She was very sick, but her smile was as beautiful as ever. Every moment with Miriam in those days was special. On the last day, we cried together, we held each other — and then we said goodbye, forever.
On that same trip, I went to Valkenswaard to visit old friends. I spent a couple of hours walking around Valkenswaard alone. The Pyramid, where Miriam and I once danced to Duran Duran together, was gone, and Valkenswaard seemed like the most ordinary place in the world.
I had never noticed that. The amazing Miriam, who was a creative artist from the beginning, made this town on the Dommel seem like Disneyland. Through her imagination, her love, and her extraordinary capacity for friendship, she could make anything special. She became a photographer; I became a professional writer. The first serious examples of writing I ever did were my long, long letters to that Dutch girl. She was my first important reader, and in that way, Miriam was my first inspiration.
I can never say often enough, or strongly enough, how much I owe to our dear Miriam. Though I am sad on this day, what I feel most of all is gratitude – gratitude for having been able to share in the life of Miriam Jeurissen, who lived and who loved passionately. Most of my oldest and dearest friends in the world are sitting in this room today; one of them is reading my words to you. These beloved people are also Miriam’s gifts to me. From the other side of the ocean, I say with a broken heart: Thank you, sweet friend, and farewell. Everything you touched was golden.