We go back to the early 1980s, Dorota Jaslowska and I. This alone suggests that we are past our thirties! She, and Piotr, her recently departed husband, can be described a solid pillars of friendships. We’ve covered the trauma of the post-Solidarity Poland, traveled to Pakistan and its Peshawar and Queta regions during the Mujahideen days of Afghanistan, went on vacations together, but also shared each other’s homes, and just generally being for each other. We also saw our children, Monika and Michal, grow up, each giving us a joy and a drama of parenting when they made their choices for life.
Piotr left an empty nest in the early days of January after a battle with a malicious brain tumor, and created a void for Dorota and for many of us. He left a “time and space” dedicated to a traditional Polish culture in which friendship, hospitality and values of being for each other, ruled. Dorota was quick to also say that there is an empty space in their once full of activity and entertainment home.
This place is far too big for me. Now, it’s only me, Fruzia [a mini-schnauzer], and two young cats, Dyzio [a Maine Coon], and Kacper [a roofer]. It’s actually their home, Dorota muses. When I come home after work, I see that they are using the space to their advantage. A mess? Demolition? What mess? It’s their place and they can do anything they want. The place looks like it’s lived-in, she adds.
Looking around, Grazyna and I, once again saw walls of the Jaslowski home oozing with nationally recognized works of art. Above all, one could not fail to admit, we were visiting a home of friends. That’s all that mattered.
We tried to remember when it was, but concluded that it must have been between 1987 and 1989, when she worked as the ongoing “Panorama” news review producer, when we partnered in producing a documentary entitled, “Poorest of the Poor.” It was a film about three girls from a local tribe in the Sind Desert, not far from Karachi, whose main job was to go to a water spring, fill-up goatskins, and carry them for several miles up the mountain to their sticks-and-mud desert village. It was in that setting where Dorota, a cameraman, Jerzy Ernst, and I looked into the very eye of poverty. Three girls, several kilometers of an uphill journey, hot, scorching sun, - carrying hope for the whole village – a day-in, a day-out. After our own trek back to the hotel, we talked about what is important in our lives.
Together with Dorota, a seasoned television journalist, and Jurek, as Jerzy is known, whose claim to fame was being a cameramen to then President Lech Walesa, we concluded that there is no other way but to stand by the side of the voiceless and speak for them. Dorota did her own report for TV, and together we produced a documentary on Christian responsibility and the way the Karachi Adventist Hospital responds to the needs of the poorest of the poor. Since then, Dorota went through a rollercoaster of her professional life, and now is the managing editor of Goracy Temat (Hot Topic), a news interview program of the Polish TVP2.
A visit with Dorota brought back a few memories about Jurek Ernst. He had his own “hot” experience in Iraq, working with Waldemar Milewicz, a war correspondent of Polish television. Wikipedia’s entry describes how on May 7, 2004, “the Polish TV crew's car, clearly marked as a press vehicle, was returning from an interview with the Iraqi insurgents in Baghdad to the Polish base Camp Babilon at Najaf. It was followed by a group of armed men in another car. The attackers caught up with them and opened fire from behind, riddling the journalists' car with bullets. [Waldemar] Milewicz was hit first and died instantly. Another member of his crew, Mounir Bouamrane (a Polish-Algerian editor and translator who had been working for TVP for about 15 years) was killed on site after he had left the vehicle. The crew's cameraman Jerzy Ernst, who was in the car while trying to remove the body of Milewicz, was wounded in the arm by the second volley of gunfire, while their Iraqi driver and guide Assir Kamel al Kazzaz escaped the attack unharmed.” I am yet to see Jurek again, after his traumatic Iraq experience. One of those encounters I am eager to have in the near future.
Today, Dorota’s presence in our lives has etched itself as that of a sister who welcomes you home no matter when and why, but also shares a feline bond – our Maia still to discover Dyzio and Kacper, her Polish siblings. Whether here or there, the cats teach us patience and forgiveness. And our memory of Piotr is reminding us about values that matter – being present to friendship without restraints – and caring about the finer things in life. And such is the essence of meeting a friend, and meeting her again, and again.
To Grazyna and me, Jarek Wajk is a very special person. He is our brother in law. But just if this was not enough, he is a singer, lyricist, composer and a social activist. I recall how his wife, Lidia, was anxious about all the groupies arriving at the entrance to their apartment building and all these people calling them in the middle of the night. He belonged to their world, it seemed. Then, he listened to her wife, and his love for her put him in touch with her worldview.
Even these days, Jarek's image as a frontman singer of Oddzial Zamkniety (Restricted Ward) lingers on. He is a recognized face. To his fans, he is someone that will be remembered by the energy of his performances in concert halls, in stadiums, and on several CDs. But, after reshaping his life to embrace a new worldview and a new life style, today he is recognized as a symbol of an anti-drug message. You will find him perform in a high school or in a church circuit. He describes how students come to listen to someone who used to be a role-figure for decadence and nonconformity, but now they “get a message about a better option: a clean life without drugs and distant from hedonism.”
We sat at their table in a small two-bedroom apartment in one of the well-known Warsaw residential district, Jelonki. There they were – Marta, their daughter who is studying psychology, Lidia and Jarek. The main feature of the visit was an abundance of their table – the pickled wild forest porcini, pickled farmer cheese, heirloom tomatoes, dark whole-meal breads… You name it.
But it was the conversation that mattered also. After all, we see each other infrequently. Visiting a home of someone who believes in changing the world, and who cares how God is perceived and experienced in today’s secular Polish milieu, awards one with an atmosphere of awe. Art is a way to communicate the values God offers to everyone, he believes. To illustrate, Jarek describes his currently evolving project. He calls it "S.U.W." Simply, it’s a trio composed of the country’s recognized instrumentalists: Ryszard Sygitowicz, Jan Urny and Jarek Wajk. They are currently on the road, playing gigs in schools and clubs. “We are three musicians with a message,” he explains. Their names draw attention, their craft speaks of excellence, and their passion adds a flavor often absent in today’s entertainment.
Jarek got excited when explaining last week he hinted on making a CD of church hymns, and then floating it through the mainstream music industry. “Why not doing something that has a meaning and offers a resonance in our religious community, and making it available to everyone,” he sounded like a convinced salesman. “My colleagues are for it,” he adds.
He is passionate about being present among those who are traditionally kept … outside the walls of safety the church has created for itself. “It’s time to demolish walls of isolation. Let’s feed the hungry. Let’s show warmth to the orphans and widows. Let’s meet the homeless drug addicts at the Central Station and bring them to church.” And that’s what he does. He invites them. The come. The effects of such invitations turn into intersections where the world of needs meets grace.
Jarek Wajk is known as an inventor. A while ago, a report in the Adventist News Network described that the Wajk’s new public debut included an integrated group, Bogu [For God], a mostly vocal ensemble composed of a choir of the hearing impaired. They have traveled throughout the country, sung before the nation's leaders, joined the finest classical musicians in benefit concerts, and brought a new dimension to musical and artistic expression, while becoming part of the country's musical and spiritual culture. Media reviews and interviews were shared throughout Poland.
If not on tour, one can meet Jarek worshipping in the Warsaw Central Church. "One day a thought hit me when I saw a group of my brothers and sisters sitting in the front of our congregation. The worship service was translated to them through sign language. So I thought, let me join them. And I did. The rest is history," he reminisces.
Wajk invited himself to learn sign language and made an effort to understand the "life of silence of my fellow believers." The next thing was easy, he recalls smiling. "No, it was not that easy to enter into a world of silence and bring out a sound that would give meaning and that it would bring these people out of isolation of their church's corner, and bring them into the mainstream of the church's Sabbath service," Wajk continues. "The easy part was to make a decision to be inclusive and to make music that would bring meaning to thousands of listeners. I included them in my musical group. The words that two or three of us sing, they interpret it through sign language and do it all in unison. But of course there is more, there is more sound."
The lyrics of an acclaimed signature song, is also entitled "Bogu."
You think silence is my home
You say that I don't know music
Look, I am singing a psalm today
My voice ascending heavenward
Ascending to the stars.
(c) 2003 by Renata Piotrowska (words) and Jarek Wajk (music)
The Bogu phenomenon includes two components of making their appearances popular. "It's the message of Scripture delivered with professionalism of the form we use," Wajk explains.
How do you make music out of silence, I ask myself even now? Being a well-known music personality in the country Jarek’s successes as a rock singer made him an icon among the "where next? generation," as he put it. "Today, I give myself wholly to God and He does wonders. All that I am today comes from Him and there is nothing else I must do except to allow myself to be used by Him."
Jarek and Lidia, who is a psycho-therapist at the Warsaw’s Institute of Psychiatry, are serious about who they are as a people of faith. As we were stuffing ourselves with a genuine Polish home cuisine par excellence, both of them competed in explaining how they struggled one day to be serious and regular worshippers – week after week. “So, I told him: OK. Don’t go to church,” said Lidia. “But before you fix yourself in your resolve, read this text …”
So, she gave him a Bible reference, and left the house. “I took my Bible and looked up what it says. I concluded that if going to church as “it was his custom” was good enough for Jesus, it must be ‘a way to go’ for me, too,” he concludes. A few minutes later, they met in a church pew.
It’s a moment to remember when you meet someone who challenges your “business as usual” approach to religion. We come to church. We meet the usual friends. We have little to describe who they are, as long as they look like us. Besides the fact that we are … family, meeting The Wajk Family means a lot more. It means also being present to the world of needs, and repairing it in God’s name.
Vacation encounters. Honest, enriching, authentic. Fulfilling.