Hello from a Polish dormitory room in Krakow,
Today was our first full day in Poland as a group. It was a busy and interesting day. We began the morning trying to square away things like having the internet in our rooms, seeing if Wifi is a possibility in our rooms, which seems more than likely to be a dream, and then getting to the university and the first day of one of the two classes as well as a sight-seeing trip around the city. I saw some things I saw last year on my stay of only a few days and I saw some other new sites. We were at Wawel Castle where I had the nicest time with Robert a year ago. I also tried to call him today, but have not successfully contacted him yet. I did enjoy the day for the most part, but as I walked around a bit on my own, I realized once again how solitary one can feel in the world. It is always an interesting thing. Because I do not know Polish, almost every banner, street sign or advertisement makes me feel as an alien. There are certain words I can figure out from my other languages, but it is a struggle for me when I feel so illiterate and wish I knew so much more. . . . It is now about 12:30 a.m. and not surprisingly, I am awake. This is where my hours are still a bit askew. The picture above is from the salt mine outside Krakow that we will be visiting. This carving of Pope John Paul the II, the only Polish pope is one of the amazing chapels in the mine.
This evening I thought about my own first trip to Europe, which would have been about 34 years ago. I went on a Interim Trip with Dr. John W. (The Pope) Nielsen. The interim has been mentioned before in my blog. I had to read books before I left by Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Mann and we visited a number of places they wrote about. We traveled from Germany to Denmark, going back through Germany (only the West then) to Italy and then to France, Switzerland and Spain. It was a significant trip for me because it was my first time to Europe and it changed my life. Second, there were a couple of interesting occurrences, including my getting ill and having to go to Germany on my own. Long story short, I ended up on my own for about two weeks and learned more Germany and got to visit more things than I could have ever imagined. For those of you old enough to think of the time period. I was in Germany when the hostages had gotten out of Iran, Reagan was just inaugurated, and the world still had some similarities. A disco in Germany was bombed at that time. As noted it changed my life. I learned how to learn. What I mean is that learning was no longer merely memorizing the writing the answers down. So many people are content to merely consider the surface or what is in front of them and they refuse to ask the tough questions. Today in the Eastern European History class, the professor, Dr. Annamarie Orla-Buskovska, who was phenomenal, noted that she wanted students to think critically and to be original in their thoughts when they wrote a response paper. I wanted to stand up and cheer.
What does it mean to honestly learn something? What does it mean to question the why? That is something that has always been a part of who I am. My poor mother. As I was merely walking down the street today in Krakow, my senses were bombarded from every direction by the sounds, the sights, and there was so much to take in. The culture is both similar and profoundly different at the same time. A couple of students noted that Krakow streets made them feel like they were in NYC, but it was so much older. Both the student who is working as a sort of tour-guide/helper, who is a college student himself and the actual tour guide who spent time with us this afternoon, were and are, so passionate about their town. There is so much history and once again, as I felt the very first time I was in Europe, I am walking through the pages of history, the centuries of what others experienced, struggled to build, died to change, dreamed to fashion, so that others can have a life they did not have. The lecture this morning about Jewish identity and what they have managed as a people to do, which is exist and matter when they are “a stateless minority,” was fascinating to me. When there are three students along on this trip (I think that is correct) who claim Jewish ancestry, I cannot imagine what it means to listen to what we heard today. As much as I have been accustomed to considering the Jewish history because of my previous life as a pastor or as someone who studied Holocaust, and still does, some of what I heard today made me think in ways I never had. That is exciting to me. I love when what I have become comfortable with gets shaken up and I have to rethink.
I took the time this evening to read the first pages of Paul Johnson’s book, History of the Jews, as we were asked to do. It was also intriguing and made me realize a number of things I could do with my Bible as Literature course, things I have not done. I have an entire couple lectures that I could do for that class that I had never considered and as literature would work terrifically well. It does not take much to make me happy sometimes. There is so much more to consider about the Old Testament and beyond the Torah or the history. There are issues of feminist writing in a patriarchal culture; there are other writings that exist outside the Bible about Biblical characters, if I can use that term, and that goes beyond Philo and Josephus. That is what I learned the most about in my reading this evening. What is also strange is I feel somewhat like I did when I was often up in my dorm room at Dana College. I remember classmates asking why my lights were on at 3:00 or 4:00 a.m. and I would tell them I was still studying. That is where I learned to honestly study and realize what it meant to actually learn something.
How is it we really come to know ourselves? How is it begin to really understand our place in a world that is so complex and difficult? I do not necessarily subscribe to the idea that the world is more difficult. I think it has always been so. It might be true that we are more aware of our interdependence on each other, but one can hope that would be beneficial rather than malevolent as it seems it is. From where can we find that soft inner voice that pushes us to do for others rather than for ourselves? Can we be selfless even some times rather than selfish most of the time? I am reminded of a song by Celtic Woman . . . It is called “The Voice” and I will add a link to it at the end of the post. How does the world speak to us? How does our history speak to us? How do we hear the voices we need so desperately need to listen to as we wander on our own paths? I think I am reminded of this every time I go to another place. As Americans we forget there is so much more to the world than our little corner . . . most of us are parochial enough we are not even able to understand our own country let alone the rest of the world. When I am standing in a castle that has a history of more than a millennium I am reminded there was a lot of world before there was a United States and the culture that comes with such a spans of time needs to be valued. Their language needs to be valued. What they have brought to the world long before we existed needs to continue to be celebrated. Now before you believe I am not proud or patriotic, put it away. I merely realize there is so much more beyond Texas where I was born, the Midwest where I was raised, or the East where I now live. One of the things most impressive about our country is its diversity, not only in its people, but in its landscapes. Indeed, in a scant 235 years +, the country has had an amazing impact on civilization, but with great giftedness comes even greater responsibility to the rest of the world. I do not mean that as a political statement, but rather an ethical one.
As it is now about 3:30 in the morning in Poland, I am going to try to get some sleep. I plan to be up in about three hours and I am looking forward to another day of learning. It has been nice to sit in my little room and ponder. Here is the link for the video.
Thank you as always for reading and I will be trying to post regularly as I travel with 3o amazing Bloomsburg students.