I got to know Paul van der Heuvel in 1989, when he moved from the Netherlands to Slovenia, started a new teaching career, and changed directions of many young people’s lives. Also mine.
Through the years, I realised he is the person I most often quote. To your memory, Paul, here are a few of your maxims that still evoke my courage when needed.
Nee heb je, ja kun je krijgen – ‘A ‘no’ you’ve got; a ‘yes’ you can get
Even though Paul van den Heuvel was officially my Dutch language teacher, my main learning lay elsewhere. From the very start to the very end of his Ljubljana career, Paul gave birth to a number of projects that still thrive after 25 years. He often engaged students into co-creating new initiatives around the Dutch language, literature and community; and served as our informal ‘project management coach’. When we (the children of communism/socialism) got sceptical about potential supporters he wanted to contact, he’d simply say: ‘A ‘no’ you’ve got anyway; a ‘yes’ you can get’ – that is, if you ask. Simple and sufficient (even for my shy soul.) I still evoke this when I need to gather my courage for asking.
Alles op een A4'tje! – Put it all on one A4!
Another gem from my Dutch language teacher: ‘When you have a project proposal that you want to share with others, make sure that you can present it on one A4 page.’ If you can’t, you haven’t thought it out well enough yet.
Wow! In Yugoslav times, the longer the treatise (of anything), the more seriously it was taken – even if the reader understood nothing of it. That was the socialist/communist lore. Now there was a man who constantly taught us simplicity, shortness and directness. Not only in project management, but in all spheres of life.
Hier wordt geleefd! – There is life here!
Paul was among the first people who visited me after I gave birth to my son. I was 24 at the time; a fresh mother constantly lacking sleep. The flat we lived in was therefore quite a mess – which I realised as soon as Paul entered. I soon started apologising; upon which Paul said with a big, innocent grin: ‘Marjeta, this place is truly being lived in!’ In an instant, I saw it all differently: where before I saw nappies, kitchenware, unmade beds – I saw signs of Life sprouting; and got thankful for the baby, the family, and the precious friend that kept supporting me in these times of transition.
When I see a Mess of Life around me, I still often grin, and quietly say to myself: ‘Marjeta, hier wordt geleefd!’
I am writing this on the day I heard that Paul made it to the other side. As they say: with you there, heaven must be a better place. And for some of us, knowing that you are there, the threshold will now be easier to cross. Tot ziens, beste vriend!