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)