Unexpected Travel

Hello from the Capitol of Canada,

In spite of many travels, and a couple of previous journeys to what I have referred to as “East Detroit,” more accurately called Windsor, I have never really been to Canada. However, on a cold winter night, that seems somewhat reminiscent of a Wisconsin or Minnesota January, I am in Ottawa to help judge the CFA tournament being held over the next two days. My suitcase had little time to collect any dust, even though it was a wee bit chilly when I reclaimed it from the attic steps last evening. We are staying at a Fairmont Hotel, which is stunningly beautiful. We had three different universities represented on the bus, and one student had also just returned from the Poland winter trip, so talking a bit about our Central/Eastern European experience was enjoyable. It is interesting to listen to a student perspective on an event, especially something that lasted almost a month and covered almost 15,000 miles.

The bus trip today was pretty basic today, though we had two drivers. This necessity was because one of the drivers did not possess a passport, so entry into Canada was not an option. I know from past experience, both sides of the border have gotten more intense about their border security and I am quite sure the Americans would probably be the tougher of the two sides. Nevertheless, we arrived at our accommodations for the tournament and I was pretty stunned by the beautiful castle that appeared in front of us. The Fairmont Chateau Laurier was unlike anyplace I have ever stayed anywhere in all my travels. The picture above is one I took walking back from Friday night’s dinner. While in Ottawa we had the opportunity to visit and tour the Parliament Complex. It was beyond words in terms of beauty and the majestic aura that enveloped is as we walked the vaulted halls to the Senate Chamber or the Library of Parliament. The reverence that was shown by the people touring was also impressive. One think I could not help but notice, whether it was during our trip in Canada or throughout Central/Eastern Europe, how people stood on corners an obeyed the walk/do not walk signals. Seldom, more likely almost never did someone walk without the appropriate signal. Certainly in Bloomsburg and most anywhere I go in this country, people do what they want with little regard to what is proper or with minimal respect for what is deemed reasonable. I see it in terms of which side of the steps people walk on, which door they will exit. And heaven forbid you look at them questioningly. They will look at you like how dare you judge their actions. A couple of years ago I was walking on a campus sidewalk and a group was coming toward me. They were spread across the entire walk and all on their phones.i moved as far to the right as possible, but it was soon evident that I was going to get run into. So I stopped and stood motionless. When the young man realized he about to run into someone, he looked led up from his phone and stared at me. I merely stared back. He walked around, but muttered that I should get the fuck out of the way. My response to that was not vulgar, but I let him know that his lack of respect was neither reasonable or would it be tolerated. I asked his name and told him that I had no problem turning him into the Dean of Students. The group looked at me like I was the unreasonable or disrespectful one. One thing that continually boggles me is the growing lack of decorum that continues to become the norm rather than the exception in our society.

We are taught please and thank you from very early and I believe there are certainly few parents that would be prone to encourage disrespect in their sons or daughters. I have written before about how my grandmother impressed upon me around the age of 8 that I should always strive to be a gentleman. At eight, I thought that meant I should always remember to say please and thank you. I would learn that it would mean so much more, and there are times I failed to keep the promise of an 8 year old, but the older I have gotten, the more I realize the profound importance of that admonishment. I strive hard to be that person. As I have noted again, there are persons to whom I own an extreme and serious apology. For me it took a lot of soul searching and work to realize that I was worth more than I was told. It took a great deal of hard work – and at times I still fail – to realize I do not need to build myself up by taking advantage of others to be okay. I did not need to drink to the point of drowning my fears or hurts to be able to make it past that next crisis I could create. When I look k back, again as noted in earlier blogs, I spent probably two decades walking a fine line between managing quite well and a next time I drank way too much ending up either dead or in treatment. In a regrettable situation or maybe in jail. I am not sure I have ever stated it quite as starkly I am here, but I think perhaps it is time to do so.

I watch students and I want to warn them, but I know all too often they need to figure it out for themselves. I see stupidity, but I was that person, and long after I was 21. Sometimes it takes something tragic or life-changing. I had both instances and I still did not figure it out. I think for if it took age, some significant luck, and God’s grace. I am quite sure that there are people from my past that would be, or perhaps are, flabbergasted I have gotten to this point. I always tease I a slow-learner, but there is more that a small bit of that is true. Slow or stubborn or both. I think one of my most difficult things is admitting I am wrong, or that I have made the same mistake again. The place I am most likely to make a mistake is in trusting people. During the summer I listened again to someone who felt they wanted to reach out an share their story. Perhaps it is my narrative ethics background and my own propensity for story telling. Perhaps it is because I have this innate desire to help, particularly when it makes sense because of my own background. Again, I believed the best intentions of the other. Then they needed help, I was willing to help. When they needed an ear, I was willing to listen. As is generally the case, I will go above and beyond, but somehow I am still surprised when the same thing happens. I should begin to realize that I must be more guarded, but then I am afraid I would lose myself. Still, more often than not, people are genuinely grateful. In the case at hand, common sense, which I do not always pay attention to and that is the bane I must manage, would tell me even though they are complaining about their situation, it is their situation and it is who they are. You cannot change it or them. I do not believe I am trying to change them, but rather help them to manage whatever that issue is. Again, a learning event.

However, I did digress from the travel. Canada was amazing and the city of Ottawa was beautiful. The one thing that did catch me a bit off guard was number of homeless people I encountered on the streets. The caring part of me is always wondering what happened for a person to be in this situation. Was it their own bad choices? Was it things beyond their control? When you meet them on the street, the difference in what created their problem is not apparent. They are sitting on a cold sidewalk with a cap, a cup, and an outstretched hand. I think of a former colleague who ended up in such different place than when I first met him and how difficult it was to see and manage all the emotions and other things that created so much of our response to him. What causes the spiral? I know this in my own family. I see it in other families. Back to my initial thoughts and notes about traveling. A person told me some time ago, the best money you can spend is on travel. I could not agree with them more. Travel changes you. Travel allows you to reconsider who you are; it allows you to reimagine the world in which you live; it provides you an opportunity to learn so much more about others and yourself. Each time I go somewhere I am compelled to look more broadly, more deeply. I know that each time I am confronted with a new circumstance, a new culture or language I find myself pondering where I fit in all of this. There is so much to learn and the more we soak it all up, the more open, willing, and able we are to imagine life beyond our own little confines. I think that is what life is about. Seeing beyond. It is why I take the chance to listen to and interact with students. There are times it seems the effort is inconsequential. There are times it seems the effort is merely taken without any regard for what is given, but ultimately, it is about helping others see more than they are able to see in themselves. I believe that is a fundamental part of being a professor. It is not what I do, but who I am. It is what I profess; it is what I live it is how my life will go on long after I am gone. With that in mind, I offer the following song, part of the new Homecoming album from Celtic Woman.

Thanks as always for reading.

Dr. Martin

Three Cities, Three Countries, One Day and Almost Done,

Hello from our bus,

I have always been amazed by outstanding drivers and our current bus driver, who has spent time in Canada, but speaks fluent Polish, might be one of the best I have ever experienced. As our group is 54 people with all included, we need a very large bus to keep people comfortable. Combine a very large bus with some incredibly narrow European city streets (remember some of these roads have been around for centuries, and long before motorized transportation was imagined) and you have a recipe for some possible tight maneuvering. Well, you would never know that to be the case because he is so capable and smooth. Whether it was making his way down a nine percent grade in the dark on snow covered roads or backing the bus down narrow confines, he managed both with relative ease. On two separate occasions he has had to make significant journeys on two lane roads, but he does it with such ease and efficiency that many of the group are able to catch some sleep along the way, and he is always on time and gracious as he managed the luggage for the entire group. Why begin a blog focusing on a bus driver? Without him, none of this would have been possible.

Bratislava was unlike any other city we have visited. It is the capital city of Slovakia, but it is quiet and rather small-town feeling, During out tour on a Tuesday, mid-morning and early afternoon we covered a great majority of the historic city and never ran into a great number of people. On Monday night, after arriving around 8:00 p.m., trying to find a place to eat was a bit of a chore. Yet, the city is also incredibly beautiful and the architecture stunning. Yet, there was a constant as there had been in every city we have visited. Once again, the profound mistreatment of the Jews was noticeably evident. I remember my first visit to Buchenwald over thirty years ago. A large oak tree stood outside the gate. I picked up a leaf from that tree and kept it in a Bible for many years. I tried to imagine what that tree would say if it could speak. Then I found my way to Dachau, not realizing that I would someday know someone who had both escaped and survived that place. Finally, I found my way to Auschwitz. I have been there three times, but each time I find myself as overwhelmed as the first time, perhaps more so. During the last three years, as students with either relatives who lost their lives in this hell-hole or students, who are Jewish become overwhelmed with emotion, I am forced to question on a more profound basis my own specific denominational faith background as many who belonged to what was known as the Reich Church supported this loathsome, hideous, and unpropitious plan to erase an entire people, another monotheistic faith, from reality. Certainly, Karl Barth, Dietrich Bonhoeffer, Martin Niemöller, and others who formed the Bekennende Kirche, the Confessing Church, would stand up against the Final Solution. Some would lose their lives for that position. When asking many of the students what experience was most altering, Auschwitz comes up far an away the most profound experience of their three-plus weeks here in Central/Eastern Europe.

The second thing that comes up in their conversations is the different personalities of the countries and places they have visited. I think that was particularly evident as both L’viv, Ukraine and Bratislava, Slovakia were added to the itinerary. Each time a new place is visited, another language, another culture, another gastronomic experience is added to the tapestry of events that make each of us unique. Each time someone finds an opportunity to be that sponge, mentioned in an earlier blog, they are forever changed. Their understanding of what it means to be a student is transformed because they are now a student of the world. Their understanding of what it means to be an American will be re-examined because they are forced to see and hear that English, while still the lingua Franca, is not always going to get them by as easily as they might imagined. Their understanding of how the world works is altered because they now must consider in a new more concrete manner what it means to live in a globalized world. What all of that means is not yet apparent. There is no recipe card that will help them in making that transformation, increasing that understanding, or managing that new found perspective that must now be considered. What has occurred in a mere 25 days will take a life-time of unpacking. What might happen? For some it will create a newfound wanderlust, a insatiable desire to travel again. For others, they might never come to Europe again, but either way, they are changed.

This month-long transformation, which began with a flyer, word-of-mouth from another student, a heart-felt request of parents to travel, and eventually meeting together in Newark the day after Christmas has provided an academic altering of how they understand the history of another major faith, of what the fall of communism in the late 1980s-early 1990s did to the entire world, and to business or international relations. Some of the students have learned that film in Central/Eastern Europe is quite different than the block-buster, Academy Award, Hollywood glamour, genre they have known all their lives. At the same time, they have visited relatives, learned to try and enjoy food they have never known of, and use trams, subways, and buses in ways they never knew they would. Each of these experiences create a new person. For us as faculty, it is life-changing also. Each group is different; each group teaches us as we are fortunate enough to travel with them. Learning, changing, and growing has no age boundary. That is one of the most wonderful things about working with college-age students. Together we all change. From attempting Escape Rooms in Krakow to eating breakfasts in a Communist Kongress Headquarters in Prague, this is not your basic Winter Term course. As I complete this last blog of the trip, I want to thank an amazing group of students. Thank you for your curiosity and willingness to take some chances. Thank you for your inquires and the willingness to search for your own answers. Thank you for working together in a pretty amazing way as many new things were thrown your way. To the four student leaders: your past experience and willingness to care for others made more difference than you know. Finally, to my colleagues, Dr. P., Dr. V., Lynda, and Marc (at the end of the trip), it has been wonderful to work with you these past 25 days.

To all who have read the blog, thanks for reading and tomorrow night we will be back in Bloomsburg, different people for all we have experienced.

Dr. Martin

“On the Road Again”

Good morning from Bydgoska,

We are down to a few hours left in Poland and by day’s end, we will be in Budapest, Hungary. It requires a significant bus ride of 9 hours or so, and there will be some antsy people, but our final week in Central/Eastern Europe is visiting some of the more significant cities in four different countries (Hungary, Slovakia, Austria, and Czech Republic). So a lot of movement and even more to attempt to process. For me, the trip to Bratislava, Slovakia is a new experience. That is a substantive part of what has happened to each of us these past three weeks. Whether you got on a plane for the first time the day after Christmas or your experienced because you have actually lived in Europe (both Drs. P and V as they are fondly referred to) , each day creates a new awareness of how profound the influence of European history is on our American fabric.

For many Bloomsburg students, who have grown up in the anthracite region of Northeastern or North Central Pennsylvania, the chance that you have Polish, Czech, Slovakian, Ukrainian, or another background from this area of Europe is strong. Students are walking some of the same places their ancestors did, and it has not been lost to them as they have traveled. I have averaged about 7-9 miles a day hoofing it from place to place. One of the few times it is possible to say I traveled and lost weight. Yesterday, 49 students received a certificate of completion of their studies at Jagiellonian University. Those certificates were awarded by the director of the College of Polish Language and Culture, Dr Waldemar Martyniuk. That is no minor event, and to add the significance of the presentation, those certificates were awarded in the same room that Nicolaus Copernicus and St. Pope John Paul II studied. This initial part of Jagiellonian has been around for 600 years. While there is the experiential learning of soaking up the world you walk in daily, students have been involved in two substantial classes (sometimes six days a week) learning about international relations, the history of the Jewish question, the significance of post-communism for Central/Eastern Europe, or film studies in Central/Eastern Europe. To sit in on these classes and learn from some of the best scholars in their respective fields, and for them to do it on location, is a life-changing experience. To walk in the Jewish Quarter in Kraków or Prague, to visit Auschwitz as a Jewish person while you learn is beyond profound. In fact, when inquiring among the students what experience was most memorable, either Auschwitz or Schindler’s Factory are the most common answers. One student said they were so emotional at Auschwitz they could only cry. That is certainly an appropriate response when seeing how evil a place can be. It is an appropriate response when you walk where over a million people were gassed and your realize what scapegoating a particular ethnic or religious group can cause. It is an appropriate response when we realize what seeing someone different or as “the other,” or when we choose to discriminate and profile, what such speech or actions can lead to.

These students will never view the world through quite the same lens they had when they boarded a plane the day after Christmas. In barely over a week most will be back at Bloomsburg for a spring semester, but they will not be the same student; they will not be the same American citizen; they will not be the same person they were before a trans-Atlantic flight to Poland and beyond. As is always the case, there have been some coughs, sneezes and sniffles, but sometimes a day of rest or a trip to the Apteka will mange the issue. Sometimes even a trip to the doctor, which is quite simple, and very affordable, as I now know personally, takes care of it all. As noted in the first blog from this trip, my travels to Europe in January of 1981 with Dr. John Nielsen at Dana College changed my life. It is an honor and privilege to now work with amazing colleagues to help lead the same kind of experience almost 40 years later. As I am still remembering that trip around Western Europe then, I find my heart it still full of gratitude for the change it created in me. I realized that learning meant being a sponge and soaking it all in. Almost forty years later, the sponge is still at it. Why? Because there is still so much to learn. The world continues to change and the best way to keep pace is to get on that global stage and join the play. There is always room for another actor (meant inclusively). There is always a new script because each group creates their own.

Last, but certainly not least, so many of the students were helped on this trip by PEG support, Honors College support, BU Foundation support, or Alumni support. Specifically to Lynda Michaels, who is traveling with us, and others, I know that as faculty we are indebted to you for making such a magnificent opportunity available to students. To Nawal Bonomo, director of the Office of Global Studies, who works so hard to manage so much, thank you for your continued work that affects so many.

Off soon for Hungary. To my former student, when I was a Doctoral Candidate at Michigan Tech, Orsika, “I wish you were here to experience your homeland and I could see the smile on your face. Of course, I would use your language skills to help me. Tudod milyen csodálatosnak gondolom magad.”

Thank you as always for reaching and watch for one more posting before we land back at JFK.

Dr. Martin

Languages, Locations, and Learning

Hello from our traveling classroom,

We are currently on the bus after about 48 hours away from Kraków and off to the Ukraine. As we left Lviv, in the Western Ukraine today they were celebrating Orthodox Christmas. A number of students commented on how differently they celebrate the day. While we gather with family in homes and around a dinner table and tree. The people of Lviv were out on the streets in force walking around, purchasing things in the Christmas Markets, and celebrating the day. The importance of the holiday and its significance in the church year was also well noted by the music coming out of many of the churches. I am always amazed by the differences that culture and history bring to the holidays. I remember my first trip to Germany during the holidays, and the importance of Advent for Advent and Christmas for Christmas. Some things remain the same. The excitement in children’s eyes and the hope that their dreams of whatever they hoped for might come true.

What many students noted was how the Cyrillic alphabet made them feel so much more out of their comfort zone. While only a few speaking any Polish whatsoever, many feel they can somewhat figure things out. Of course, the few students taking Russian classes at Bloomsburg could barely contain themselves as we crossed the border. As they saw their first Cyrillic signs, their excitement was palpable. The second thing most will remember is the time spent at the border crossing. Friday night’s crossing took about three hours as our passports were gathered and stamped twice within about 200 meters. Today while it still took significant time, and even though we were required to get off the bus at the Polish checkpoint to have our passports stamped, we spent less time. However, I will admit, it did seem interminably long. The last time I felt so examined at a border was when I traveled to East Germany in 1985.

I think what most impressed me with our weekend was how different the atmosphere between Lviv and Kraków is. Our tour guide noted that Lviv, which has some strong ethnic connection to Poland, is about 10 years behind the post-satellite revival of Kraków. Certainly those things were evident. For students, they noticed the difference in both what I would would term infrastructure and in personality. In Poland, with attempts to greet and thank others in Polish, the people are gracious and will help the predominately English-speaking student. A few students noticed a marked difference during the weekend in Lviv, and yet others felt the people they met to be quite kind. Lesson learned? Each person who travels will have their own experiences and perceptions. That is the case with life in general, but I think the reality of that is heightened when traveling abroad. Perhaps, the more diverse the language and location, the more profound the learning will be. For James Slavinsky, a Language and Cultures major, with a concentration in Russian, the chance to meet and speak to a person with whom he has been writing for some time, the time in Lviv will be life changing. As eight of us joined together for dinner shortly after our return, the joy on his face was undeniable. He said, “I’m ready to pack my things and move there tomorrow.” One cannot promise such an experience for everyone, but creating and maintaining relationships with people you might meet can create life-long possibilities. Last night I had dinner with Robert and Katarzyna Para, the father of Bloomsburg alumnus and former student, Maria Para. For the fourth year in a row we found time to get together and share a meal and conversation. Amazing what a dinner with a student and her father at my home in Bloomsburg has evolved into. What a wonderful relationship has been developed from these journeys.

Being open to the possibilities is essential. As Dr. P (his moniker or perhaps term of endearment, and I do mean it is used fondly) noted during our walk back to Bydgoska yesterday, it is about the experience and the big picture. As someone who gets caught up in the details and needs to understand things too completely at times, it was good to be reminded of this. Going with the proverbial flow is the rule of the trip. This is particularly the case when there are 50 people scurrying from place to place and country to country. As this is written, I am sitting in a little breakfast place we discovered two years ago. It is the best place for breakfast in all of Kraków, and that is saying something in a town of fabulous restaurants and over a million people. Called Castor, it is a bit understated, a bit nouveau, a bit hipster. But the food, which you can watch being made in the little kitchen, is astounding. These are all experiences one can have during the time outside of classes. Oh yes, the classes, more about those in the next posting. In the meanwhile, thank you for reading.

Dr. Martin (the traveling professor and foodie)

So Much in Seven Days

Hello from Kraków and from Oświęcim,

Our traveling group has spent a busy week listening intently in classes, learning their bearings around Kraków, and attempting some simple greetings in Polish. At the same time, trips to Wawel Castle, the salt mine in Wieliczka, the Jewish Quarter in Kazimierz, or today to Oświęcim (known to most of the world as Auschwitz) provide each person not only the opportunity to walk through a metaphorical history book, but to come face to face with a side of our humanity that pushes the limits of our very understanding. It is one thing to read about the Shoah (perhaps the more appropriate word for Holocaust) or watch a movie, but it is an entirely different matter and experience to stand in Block 11, enter the gassing showers, or see first-hand the scale and scope of how 1.5 million people were systematically killed over a four year period. It is some quite different to watch the movie, Schindler’s List, and to walk in the very space those events occurred. Tomorrow as students visit the museum, one which provides a stunning, multi-sensory, and unforgettable walking exhibit, most will never forget that 48 hour period of their lives. It is such a profoundly different set of circumstances when you realize that most of what you see, touch, or feel has been in existence long before Bloomsburg, Pennsylvania, or America for that matter was founded.

That is what happens for most students when they push the boundaries of their experiences, either geographically or educationally, and, of course, a study abroad allows for both. As we walked 4 kilometers in the Wieliczka Salt mine, Joe Davis, a sophomore Supply Chain Management major and ZCOB LC mentor, noted the mine was the most amazing sight of his life. As we stood in the expansive chapel, which is both 85 meters below the surface of the earth and 50 meters high, students stood speechless and in awe of what they were experiencing. I would encourage you to go online and look at the mine, but be ready to sign up for next year’s trip. Remember that people have been working in the 9 levels of the mine for a millennium. Remember that much of it was excavated and carried out by hand for centuries. Consider the fact that the Nazis used it as an armament factory during the Second World War because no one could see it. Consider the fact that at one point, 70% of Polish national wealth was based on this commodity we pour on our food.

How do you manage 50 people? Dr. Julie Vandivere, professor of English and director of the BU Honors Program, and four student mentors have Telegram down to a science. The group has also done things to enable communication and cohesiveness. The entire group, divided into subgroups, spent part of New Year’s Day attempting to escape game rooms. Some were more successful than others, and for the sake of transparency, the faculty leaders also participated on their own and failed miserably. So having a Ph.D. is no guarantee of success, and having multiple Ph.D. in one room might be a disadvantage, but those of us who had never experienced Escape Rooms before learned a great deal. Each day brings a new experience or challenge, but being someone familiar for at least some of us, makes anything manageable. While I have not personally been to the mecca of NYE experiences in the states, Krakow’s City Centre surely does the last night of the year well. The revelry of 70,000 people from all over Europe is certainly festive and something anyone in attendance will not soon forget. However, you do not have to be out for NYE to experience something very different as you walk the streets of the Middle Ages city. Snippets of conversation overheard have included responses like “They park on the sidewalks; people actually pay attention to the ‘don’t walk’ signs; or the food is amazing.”  . . .  and I can attest to that. Food is flavorful (even street food), well prepared, and very affordable. If you are hungry in Poland, it is your own fault.

Today students have reflection papers as well as outlines for their final papers due in most of their classes. They are working hard, but learning that creating appropriate and thoughtful documentation is more demanding than they expected. I have found this to be a common experience as I have returned for  a fourth year. Focus and critically thinking to synthesize their own majors into what they are being asked to examine takes some work, but analysis and synthesis are critical components of being a global citizen. That might be the most important metamorphosis that is occurring, 24 hours at a time. As I read news back in America and simultaneously glance at the headlines here in Kraków, somehow 140+ characters do not illicit the same importance for the occupants of Eastern/Central Europe. That is not a political statement, merely an observation. As one student noted last year, “It is a big world.” Each day as we travel, the reality of that statement is more completely understood by our varied little group of Bloomsburg students. On Friday, the 5th of January, we will board the bus for a weekend trip to Lviv, Ukraine. In spite of being a somewhat traveled-person, this will be my first time to the Ukraine. I am excited to travel farther eastward in Europe. Central/Eastern Europe has an important historical connection to our immediate area of North Central Pennsylvania. This is also an important learning moment for many students who have those connections. Each day is a new osmotic experience and when we return, the cumulative effect of our shared time will make each of us  thoughtfully different people, but much of that difference will only be realized as we continue our individual journeys in the months and years ahead.

Thanks for reading. More from the Ukraine.

Dr. Martin

Ancestry and Adoption, and Life

Hello from almost four months later since the post below was started.

It has been a busy week and one that has been varied beyond my imagination. While I have not been a “jet-lag” suffering sort of person, particularly on the trip to Europe, this time did some serious kicking. The second night we were here, I do not believe I slept during the entire night. When my alarm went off at 5:45, I was still awake. This was after walking about 9 miles during that day and ending up with a serious leg cramp toward the end of that little walk. I have tried to get ahead of the double-ear infection that was diagnosed literally hours before leaving, and while I think I have perhaps maintained, it is not gone and it seems to now be in my sinuses. I have napped as much as possible, including earlier today, and as it is New Year’s Eve, I am going to go out with the other faculty leaders for a bit, but I am pretty sure that I will be in bed before midnight this year, and I am not sure I see Dobry Kumpel in the cards for the first time in about four years. I will be in there in spirit, I guess. While our “little” group of students is not so little here in Poland this year, they seem to be a pretty amazing group of students. Some, as is to be expected, work harder than others, but I must say that is a pretty significant group this year. Today a little over half of them took the trip to Kazimierz, the Jewish Quarter, here in Krakow. The weather was certainly more accommodating than last year, and Dr. Orla-Bukowska was her usual fabulous self in explaining so many details about this important historical area. It always humbles me to walk in this area where so many brilliant people lived and worked, but who were systematically killed by the Nazis. To walk silently in the Jewish Cemeteries and to see history that was promulgated in such an atrocious manner still stuns me and leaves me speechless. As I noted with my students as they looked at their research on related topics this past fall, what is it in humans that makes us simultaneously so loving and lethal?

Happy New Year from Poland! While I am up and in my room and thinking of this day that creates both memories and hopes, my thoughts turn once again to Lydia. It is hard to fathom that you left this world three years ago. So much has happened, but so much pulls me back to that little apartment I was in here in Krakow when I got that phone call. Expected: Yes; prepared: yes, but never prepared. You accomplished so much in your life and you impacted so many. And yes, you sort of adopted me, but there was so much more . . .  you changed my life and my perspective on life. You changed my understanding of the very things I am walking through for a fourth year in a row. Like most Americans, we read about the Holocaust (more accurately Shoah (שואה)), but we do not really understand the extreme hatred and overwhelming fear that must have permeated everyday life for the Jewish people. I wonder if there is any word that can adequately describe the consequence of the Final Solution? While I had heard the stories before and I saw the walls with the broken gravestones, what sort of hatred (even if you want to give some sense of pragmatism to the decision, which I do not) would compel the Germans to use gravestones and break them up to make sidewalks, roadways, or other things to create thoroughfares? What sort of contempt would oblige a nation to so totally defile every elements of the other’s faith, a faith that was neither nor threatening (and I do understand that the concept of threat is often from the other’s viewpoint)? Lydia, while you were in another place, you lived under the annexation of this same political system, and as an Austrian, you even shared a nationality with the leader of this, but I know from what little you did say, what sort of problems it caused your family. I know you refused to talk about these things, but I wish I knew as much then as I do now and that we might have been able to talk. As you know, I would have wanted to ask questions, as I always do. I know that your parents were educated and intelligent; probably more well to do than most would know, but understated as you yourself were. They knew they needed to get you sent away to family in Vienna, but again, you never really spoke about that. I still remember the night you told me what happened to your parents and how your eyes filled with tears. I was again speechless. What you witnessed as a young person and into your twenties seems to be more than most people bear in a lifetime.

I wish I was walking through some of this with both you and George. In spite of the fact, I never met him, he had to be an incredible person. I have done some initial searching on some things and I found your steerage tickets to the United States from London. There are so many things I would like to learn about your ancestry and what was in that background before you were the only child. From the stories you told of yourself as a small child that steely resolve and determination was innate in you from early on. I wonder how it was meeting George in Trafalgar Square led to a marriage? I wonder what happened to all of the property of your parents in the Sudetenland? I imagine it was similar to what happened to all the Jews in Kazimierz and other places . . . the state just took it. As I write this I am again confronted with what governments do at times under the guise of protecting the people, when too often it is about consolidating their own selfish power. There is so much I wished I might of asked, but I am pretty sure you would have answered as you often did after you revealed something of your past. “I do not want to talk about it anymore.” You knew so much, and you understood so much more. You understood how the world worked economically and I often told you that you should be writing for The Wall Street Journal. As I walk around the streets of Krakow again, I try to imagine what Poland must have felt like for George as, from at least what I know, he probably had some significant idea of what was coming? I know that things in the Warsaw Ghetto were much more profound with the uprising (and once again, if I have my facts clear), and from what you have told me, he was a pretty significant player in all of that.

I know you traveled extensively at one point. This coming weekend we are going to Lviv, Ukraine. It is my first time in the Ukraine, and I do not believe we will see a lot of difference because it is not that far across the border from Poland, however, I have heard the border could prove interesting. I am always excited to learn something new, and to travel to something that is up to now unseen. I will be in Slovakia before all is said and done this trip also. I do believe that my preference is to come back this summer and take an intensive Polish class. It is about four or five hours a day for a month. My head will be spinning. As always there will be some substantive planning to do before that happens. We will be in Wien once again, but only as a stop. It is still very expensive. I want to come back someday and figure out where you lived and what sort of things were common to your family. What I know is you understood the world well and you were able to accomplish anything you set your mind toward doing. One of the things I have pondered now is the difference between Central and Western Europe as well as Central and Eastern Europe. It is interesting that Austria is considered Western Europe, but the Czech Republic, which a great deal of it is further West than Austria would be considered Central.

So you have read what was written and it is interesting for me to look back and see both what has changed as well as see what stands this short test of time. At the time I wrote this, I heard something that was significant to the person who called me in those few days after Christmas. Their world had just be turned upside down for real. In the time since, I have been blessed to become a friend, a confidant, and trusted to give without expectation. It is something I try to do with most every person I meet. What I have learned the hard way is too many people are willing to take, and take some more. I have learned that too many people who have been either former youth of when I was a pastor, a student in one of my classes, or even a parent of said student were willing to ask for money or other help. What I have had to learn was I gave the aid requested, expecting something in return (at least repayment), but that has not happened in more cases than I have fingers (indeed all of them). What it has taken to manage this is to put it away . . . and the fact I am writing about it could be argued I have not done so, but  . . . I have. If not so, I would have taken about 8 different people to court. I am not going to provide a total amount, but it is substantial. If I had it all, most of my debt would be gone, or the travel business I am trying to figure out how to manage would be in better shape.

It is Easter, and I posted a blog already today, but there is so much more in my head. I was fortunate enough to speak with two people who provide such wise counsel and are so insightful earlier today. At this point, I am in my office and working on a variety of things, but it is my hope to have more. As I sit here in the quiet of the office and the building, I am listening to a playlist of Barbara Streisand. Her voice reminds me of the movie Evergreen, which was an amazing movie, released about the time by older brother died. I remember watching it with my sister-in-law at the time and how much we believed it reminded us of him. At time same time, my Easter dinner is peanut butter and celery, which reminds me of my father. It forces me to consider family, which is often what holidays are about. I do love my niece, her family, and my other nephews and nieces, some with family and some without. Yet, there are some moments like today where I feel much like the island that supposedly we are not. I am, and sometimes, I let people in, but then too often I do not what to do with them being there. It scares me. I run up and then run away, much like a small child who has meet a dog for the first time. I am curious and want to see what it is about, but then I turn and run away. The consequence of that is I am for the most part alone. I lament it and yet run toward it. I am reminded of Bonhoeffer, my dissertation topic; he once wrote, ” It is finitely easier to suffer in obedience to the human or than in the freedom of one’s own personal responsible deed . . . it is infinitely easier to suffer through  the engagement of one’s physical being than through the spirit” (Bonhoeffer).

I am not sad as I wrote, I do not wallow in the sadness of my fate or of my life. I am blessed to have things or people who make such a profound difference. From that first person I loved, who is still in my life, though it be across the entire country to friends I have been blessed to have throughout my life. What I know in each of those instances, I have learned something, and most importantly I am a better person for it. At this point in my life, I am trying to figure out my next steps and those are important steps because they are how I am trying to figure out what I need to do to make some sense of life after regular work. What are my options? What do I want those options to be? I know there is so much to figure out, but I am not doing it alone. As I work with a dear and amazingly brilliant friend and colleague, I am reminded of how blessings come into our lives. The best kind is the unexpected kind. There is no plan or preconceived notion. What I am aware of is how simple things like a sidewalk meeting and the introductions of “a DHT” can provide such gifts. God indeed works in and through mysterious ways. In the meanwhile, I think I will get back to work and try to enter into tomorrow on top of everything needed. As I write I am listening to the tune “Being Good Isn’t Good Enough.” For too long, I have believed this. Enough is such difficult word. It has such power over us, but only if we let it. I refuse to let it be that anymore. I am good enough, smart enough, capable enough. Regardless what I hear from the other, it matters what I believe.

On this Easter, I offer this. It is hard to believe that it was 40 years ago I was traveling with four others and first heard this amazing song.

Thank you for reading my thoughts as always.

Michael (the wandering and searching man)