6/16/2013

One Eye Only, But "Rescued" Sees More


 


If you don't have one, get one! Mine is a great traveling companion. "Rescued" is my monkey's name. He was found on a heap of coke in a dilapidated, tarnished by World War II, and then state-confiscated* property I visited with my father in 1955 in Warsaw. 
            No. 1 Turecka Street is located just off the history-rich Royal Route, south of Belweder Palace and mid-way from the Royal Castle Square to Wilanรณw Castle. It was a prime location to house a church headquarters and provide homes for clergy. 
            Years later, I gathered, that very visit in 1955 was a nostalgic.  Perhaps it was the proximity to the Soviet Embassy that pushed the regime to confiscate religious facility, these being the early years of communist rule in Poland. The Turecka location was substituted for a different, and much more central, palatial, and valuable property at 8 Foksal Street. Finding "Rescued" became a saving-grace moment for me. Even today it reminds me of restoration and happy escapes. My stuffed monkey is a joyful companion-reminder of the present and the better things to come. 
            Like many of our small and large mementos, nostalgia oozes out of our special objects, animated or dustable alike. Call me weird or crazy, but no matter where we find ourselves, we talk to each other. He patiently listens to my blabber and interrupts me aptly making me to pause and reflect. 
            "Rescued" travels well. Often he is found on his head as I unpack him in my hotel room, but never jumps out of the suitcase or knapsack. He has manners. As you can imagine, he got that from me, right? 
            The monkey had his life-dramas over his 58 years of toy-life. First, someone abandoned him and in a dark, dusty and lightless basement, and on a heap of coke (koks), a popular heating fuel in a post-WWII Poland. Who was his first and young, I assume, owner? "Rescued" and I still exchange views about it today. 
            Undoubtedly, his next stage in life was in a much cleaner and friendly environ. 
            A little over 25 years later my monkey experienced his next traumatic moment. It came when our 3-year old son, Michal, gave him a shave and attempted a surgery, resulting in a severe chest cut, as well as a thorough chewed-up leg. When I saw what was happening, "Rescued" encountered his second rescue. 
            Then, the missing eye. This was - fortunately an effect of Michal's precision surgery before blinding the monkey totally. The operation was thus successfully interrupted but obviously my "Rescued" lost one eye. 
            Rescued recently returned from a trip to Dubai. It was an exhausting, yet culturally rich travel, including a ride on a camel at the Spice Souk market, and the excitement of crossing the Dubai Creek on an abra water taxi. But an experiment with trying a scoop of camel milk gelato was not what we thought it would be. It tastes the same as your regular milk ice cream. But, the saffron gelato was awesome. Upon seeing Rescued Dubai photos, Michals comment was: "Snip, snip!" Keep him safe when around me, was his reaction.


            No matter what's in store for my monkey and me, my 58 years of "belonging" is rich and certain. Even with one eye, my "Rescued" can still see more! His silent contentment tells me so. 
            Today, as he interacts with his cosmopolitan buddies, he leans proudly on a South African tiger, and winks, as if to indicate that joy is rich in giving yourself to others in friendship and in practicing quality listening skills. [He knows so much about me!]
            My convictions confirm our joint resolve to recognize happy escapes and restoration as being at the heart of our toy-human axis.


*In 1995, as part of the church-state agreement, the property was returned to the church.

1/01/2013

Infectious authenticity


Coffee Pot Rock, Sedona, Arizona
With my first day of the year just under wraps, a nagging thought pushed me toward my computer. A voice in my head told me: You will do well if you plan something for the year to come. Knowing myself, it sounded like I needed to take charge of my attitudes, and turn them into a blessing.
         Every new year on January 1, most everyone creates a list of promises to work on. Admittedly, my promises are created to easily transform into feelings of guilt when the good intentions falter. My guilt, and not the fulfillment of promises, has an easier start and finish in my everydayness. So, January quickly turns into February, and so on, with acting on promises turns rusty.
         An experience from a few years ago come to mind.
         We had a dear friend who lived in Sedona, Arizona. She invited us frequently to enjoy “God’s country,” as she called it. Mary Schnack passed away in February last year, but apart from professional interests and collaborations, what remains in our memories are many a moment we spent trekking the red-rock trails of Sedona's God’s country.
         Mary lived just under the Coffee Pot Rock landmark, and a short distance from St. John Vianney Church. It was a chance visit, which provided a reflection as I observed an after Christmas service.
         What’s vivid in my memory is the sound of a nearly empty church, its silence broken by hard-hitting steps of a minister walking from the back of the church nave toward the altar. The sound meant he knew his destination.
         Soon my eyes were drawn to the space associated with the language of the steps, revealing a well-worn-out cowboy boots with a hint of jeans showing slightly below his vestments.
         It was not as much what I saw, but what a short, bearded man in his forties shared in his equally short homily. Later, I learned that many a Sedonian refers to him as J-C, and his presence is felt outside the walls of the church. Stories abound making him a fixture in the local lore.
         A memory of what I heard that morning jumped at me on this New Year’s morning. Father J-C told a story about a good-for-nothing seminary mate of his, who phoned him wondering if J-C lives by what he preaches.
         All of a sudden I was confronted by a lot of stuff, the preacher told the congregation.  
         “What pillow do you have under your head? It’s soft, isn’t it? And what’s your duvet like? Warm, right?”
         Whatever else was said next it was set against the importance of being rather than having, all seasoned with personal honesty.
         My nagging thought of this morning is this: Make yourself useful in the lives of those who will cross onto your path in 2013.
         Instead of waiting for someone else to be love I am inviting myself to make the world better by getting out of my shell in order to become more responsive to the disenfranchised and the needy.
         That’s a challenge I am throwing at myself for 2013.
         And if a wish is in order to all who are pushing the borders with me, may your authenticity become infectious!


12/24/2012

Celebrating the Gift that keeps on giving



Have you ever met an angel? 
         My grandmother Janina told me a story of an encounter that made me believe in miracles. Now, decades later, stories of old are being turned into my own encounters with good people, many a modern-day angel.
         Grandma’s stories about hospitality were best. Going back in memory, we, as kids, would listen to her vividly describing events that took us back to her own childhood. In her descriptions the small incidents from the “grown-up” world would grow sky-high in the world of children. Sitting at my bedside she would speak about things and happenings that are all too often missing from our fast-paced life of today. With our child-like imagination we could travel into a world where kindness was ever present and it wasn’t difficult to be happy.
         It was wintertime in a small Polish town of Radomsko. Her sister, Maria Stelak*, lived with three children and for them Christmas meant to be celebrated in a traditional Polish fashion: a table full with cuisine typical for the occasion, well festively decorated, and with an abundance of cakes, freshly baked with blue-black poppy seeds, all laced with laughter and wonder.
         On Christmas eve the table was traditionally decorated, with one empty place left for an uninvited guest, a wandering stranger. Year after year Aunt Maria would play being a hostess to someone at this empty table setting ...


         The house was off the beaten tract, right at the edge of a forest. This particular year, instead of guests there was an abundance of snow. The children had their noses glued to frost-covered window glass, waiting for the guests to arrive in the horse-drawn carriages. But, no-one was in sight.
         The evening games were disturbed by a gentle knock on the door. “They are here!” children shouted. When the door opened, the cold weather revealed a stranger. He looked like a beggar.
         Grandma recalled that the stranger was a Jew, his beard white with frost. Under his arm a bundle. His clothes were torn and dirty. A traveler and a stranger, he was least expected on that very night.
         His frozen feet were soon treated to a tin bucket of warm water. Then he ate, like he never saw food before. Soon his face revealed gratitude, which can only adorn a content traveler. He wiped his face and beard off the bread crumps, stood up, bowed, and walked toward the door. In an instant he was gone.
         Hearing the door close, Maria shouted to bid him come back. “We must give him food to take away.”
         “They went outside,” grandma Janina continued. “There was no-one in-sight. Not even footprints in a freshly fallen snow.”
         It all sounded so real. Did she really experience such an awesome encounter?  Later she would tell stories of her other encounters with miracles.
         I keep asking myself, who was the stranger on that Christmas eve in Radomsko? No answer comes, but I am convinced that angels visit good homes.**
         Generosity – a gift that keeps on giving. Christmas is a celebration of the Gift.
         To all my readers - Merry Christmas and a peaceful new year, safe and full of wonder!
        
*Her son, Jerzy Stelak, pseudonym “Kruk,” was a cousin, and a contemporary of my mother, Alina. He was a WWII partisan, often pictured on his horse, and with a group of comrades roaming the central Poland countryside, creating resistance attacks against the German army.

**A Bible text comes to mind: You welcomed me as if I were an angel of God, as if I were Christ Jesus himself. [Gal 4:14 NIV]


10/10/2012

A no-nonsense phone call


This is my mom, Alina. “I didn’t realize that my son will be teaching me a lesson today. 
Thank you,” she said.

Family conversations are often hidden from a public view. However, some are worth sharing. This one was special as every one is when I call and talk with my mom, Alina.

But first …

         We learn – if we care to admit it – all the time. The positions we once held change. Views that were once local are becoming global, and micro migrates into macro or vice versa. As long as we continue to recognize that nothing stays the same in an evolving world and culture, as progress requires change, by sitting still we will be left at the station, while the train of life speeds ahead.
         For some of us, the issue persists in how we are managing change and whether we recognize that on a personal and professional level. Our egos may be a major handicap in the midst of the life’s journey.
         Nodding in a direction of honesty, I must admit to occasionally having made a few silent or audible demands in order to be listened to, all based on a particular position I held. 
         I know someone who uses a lot of religious words, as if showcasing his deep spirituality, all in order to protect his position of power.
         But times are gone when a demand to be listened to evolved into an argument – it’s the church speaking, you better obey! The Millennial Generation buys stuff like that, right? It doesn’t cut with me either. I learned.

Now, a phone call

         I love my mother. Alina is 85. Over the last two-three decades our contact has been mostly by phone. An occasional visit gave both of us more terrain to cover in a direct conversation, to spar on a topic or two, and doing it one-on-one. From time to time I would get my mother’s black-and-white convictions, served on a platter of “here I stand and shall not move.” Obviously, I often reciprocated.
         So, a few days ago we talked over the phone. Referring to an issue that arose between her and someone who didn’t quite do what she wanted done nor agree with her, she remarked that she wished people listened to her more.
         “I tell them that I am older. I am a senior and I should be listened to.”
         As I said, she is 85. Hearing her argument I ventured out with a comment I could not refuse to express. “Mom, what sort of argument is this? Just because you are older does not mean that people will accept what you are insisting on if you are talking nonsense,” I said. "And believe me, you do just that at times."
         “Give me a better argument," I continued. "Give me something more than will relate to the issue. Most people already know that you have your years, and I guess they will respect you a priori for the worth of your eight plus decades of knowledge, experience and wisdom.”
         Then, I added that there must be something more substantial for your interlocutor to chew on, a new argument perhaps, rather than something they already see or know. “It doesn’t move them,” I said.
         A few seconds of silence ensued. Then, in an up-beat tone, she responded, “You know what, you are right. I talk nonsense every so often, don’t I? Your dad tells me that I talk to much, anyway.”
         “I didn’t realize that my son will be teaching me a lesson today. Thank you,” she added.
         What followed were the appreciated expressions that only a loving mom could bestow. "I wish you could talk with me more often," she concluded.

We learn, don’t we?

         It was teaching moment for both of us. This time an honest expression of frankness, shared in a loving way hit the target. It was a conversation that actually ignited a reflection of my own. By admitting her flawed reasoning, she was teaching me that age means little for lessons are to be learned.
         I have a son. And I am 64.
         As when he was 12 and blurted out that my shouting at him did not bring about respect in his eyes, there will be more lessons to learn from him. Actually, I am already receiving a few every so often. Even though I may not readily admit to it.   
         Besides, I could talk less, and listen more.