Identity. A Moving target. (1)

A few months ago Michal poked my stubborn resistance to writing our family history.* He insisted - Mom and you have so many stories. I need to learn more about who I am.

Wolborka River in Tomaszow Mazowiecki, Poland,
is a flowing metaphor of my life.

A couple of assignments to consider my own spiritual geography added pressure. What follows is a somewhat random exercise in probing into my identity.

Recently, inspiration also came from Reinder Bruinsma, a fellow European, a thinker-writer-theologian, a colleague and a friend. A few definitions he listed included a thought, that one’s identity is a work in progress.

In his lecture on “Adventist Identity in a Postmodern World,” at Australia’s Avondale College, Reinder referred to a view expressed by a social scientist, Vivienne Jabri, that “the identity of an individual is not static, but is a developing framework,” based on an invisible, so to speak, discourse between the individual and his or her social milieu.**

So, I looked back. Identity, but when? I pondered. Actually, I thought I already knew who Rajmund Dabrowski was/is. I reject the tabula rasa concept. There is more that effects who I am than my perceived and experienced reality.

Reviewing my past, I needed to consider what has contributed to my make-up as a human being, a cosmopolitan man, who enjoys life and engages in the cultural milieu? How does my pedigree, those who were before me, contribute to who I am? I have never met them, but they, I believe, are in me and have contributed to who I am now.

In essence, my DNA features expressive humanness and non-conformity. It includes religious conviction, a need for a fulfilling spirituality and authenticity, as well as “pushing the borders” in life.

A search for the genetic “bricks” of my identity led me to Jozef von Czajkowski, my great grandfather on my mother’s side. He was a landowner, including several flourmills, in Southern Poland near Czestochowa and Lubartow. There were nobility claims murmured as part of our family lore. However, he was also a rabble-rouser. A bigger than life story is told in my family, that he did not refrain from drink and fistfights, and once, he rode a horse inside a local tavern. His notoriety was well known, my mom recalled. It was said that the police arrested him quite often, but would not dare to keep him locked up for long. Apparently his status helped.

My grandmother, Janina, pictured in 1976,
was a presence of hope in my life.

My grandmother, Janina Jedrzejak, was the youngest of Rozalia and Jozef’s seven children. For me, she was the “Mother of All Housewives.” But there was more. I was fortunate to have a grandmother who connected me with two things at once – her faith, and her care for people. I spent hours listening to her, though one had to drag out from her memories of herself and her wisdom. She would tell stories about people that entered her life, but less, much less about herself.

Like many Poles who lived through WWII, my grandparents, Jan & Janina, met violence and suffering head on. Irrespective of the consequences, Janina turned their home in the central Polish industrial town of Tomaszow Mazowiecki, into a shelter for a Jewish family during the Nazi purges of the 2nd World War. My uncle Alfred and aunt Bonia told me that overnight, their family was enlarged by four Jews: a mother, a father and their two boys, who were kept in a courtyard shed just outside their apartment house for months…

My parents - Stanislaw and Alina Dabrowski.
Pictured in 2007 on my mother's 80th birthday.

Such heroic acts - though not considered to be such by those who did them - could have cost their own lives. My mom, Alina, recalls her own risky responses to non-conformity. When she was only 12 years of age, she bought bread for a Jewish laborer who would not be served in a local shop, guarded by German soldier. “I did it,” she quipped, because it was right to do. I didn’t understand why this man could not buy bread in a baker’s shop he was renovating.” She remembered him saying, that “when the war is over, I will repay you by painting your own home.”

A home for three generations, Tekli [now Barlickiego] Street 8,
was a birthplace for my mother and me.

My grandfather, Jan Jedrzejak, was an actor, and traveled for seven years entertaining audiences in the region with musicals, vaudeville, and comedy acts. He later owned an Odeon cinema. My mother recalls watching the silent movies from a projection booth. I was mesmerized and excited to see all these film stars, she reminisced. Jan ultimately became a foreman and a unionist, who for me, as I connected the dots, defined what solidarity of the working-class meant. Around 1927 or 1928 he was selected to represent the region in parliamentary elections as a National Democratic Party candidate. Apparently it was not yet time for an actor to succeed in politics… He was not elected.

Unexpected street encounter: My mother, Alina, in conversation
in October, 2001, with her old neighbors from Tekli 8 Street,
Mr. and Mrs. Hendler.

My grandparents became Seventh-day Adventist in 1932. They abandoned some of their Roman Catholic beliefs, and their attention was turned toward building a congregation of like-believers in their town, and granddad became a church elder. The only faint recollection I have is going for walks, and in being held in Jan’s arms in their garden plot on the outskirts of Tomaszow Mazowiecki.

* First part of several reflections on personal and our family life journey.

**Discourses on violence: conflict analysis reconsidered, Manchester 1996, in: Adventist Identity in a Postmodern World, Reinder Bruinsma, Avondale College, January 16-18, 2011 [manuscript].

In part 2 - Genetic bricks from my father’s side of the family, and more


Thyme in Culpeper is a time of quality cuisine

From where we live, first you go: West. Then, at your destination, in Culpeper, Virginia, at the Thyme Market you will likely meet Connie East. And she will treat you as someone who enjoys the finer things in life!

Connie East, Ms Hospitality at the Thyme Market.
For Grazyna and me, Culpeper had been a destination where we enjoy quality of life’s culture, its food and all. We consider the Thyme Market, on 134 East Davis Street, established in 2007, as a very special place for us. Here we are able to experience a European-style establishment with an Old World ambiance and approach to cuisine that matters. So, consider a selection of hard-to-find culinary treats, marinades, seasonings and locally grown produce. Take a selection home, or get smoked with the roasted meats and a wood fired pizza with your own selection of toppings (mine always includes gorgonzola and basil!), and enjoy it on the outside veranda.

Better Cheddar spread is home made and a must at
the Thyme Market.

The added value to our visit to the Thyme-themed home-away-from-home Culpeper cuisine is a personal contact with Connie, the rotisserie-patisserie manageress, and John Yarnall, the owner. We talk and we soon become a part of their family activities and dreams. Grazyna's gardening and nutrition interests take a note of the Thyme's cuisine ingredients - many of which are grown on the Yarnall estate. Soon, you feel like missing out on the adventures of their last vacationing on St. Maarten. They also express their interest in what’s ahead of us, my ever continuing job search, as we exchange numerous family stories.

Our rendezvous with Culpeper goes back to a Washington Post informative write-up in November 30, 2005, Food Section review of a Civil War town, some 70 miles from Washington D.C. The reading itself hit the spot already that day, and four days later we tried the recommended chic dining in a town undergoing it’s welcomed Renaissance.

Gathering of facts reveals that the town’s name comes after Lord Thomas Culpeper, Colonial Governor of Virginia, was first named as Town of Fairfax, and was surveyed in 1749 by a 17-years old George Washington. The area was hotly contested during the Civil War. The town’s historic district, built between 1880 and 1920 saw subsequent decay and neglect with front show windows boarded up. In addition, the town’s claim to fame sport an exciting fact that if you are standing in front of the Visitors Center now, General George Armstrong Custer had his horse shot out from under him on this very spot during the Civil War.

From another corner: It's About Thyme, Thyme Market, Thyme Inn,
and The Copper Fish.

So, we tried the Hazel River Inn Restaurant, on 195 East Davis Street, whose Chef and owner, Peter Stochbuchner of the White House Residence fame, serves Austrian cuisine.

We then proceeded for a much-needed Neuhaus Belgian chocolate sampling at The Frenchman’s Corner store of everything you need for your kitchen, plus a counter with the locally made and European cheeses. Located opposite to the Market, the store is owned by a Paris native Marc Ast, the ever evolving and expanding store, the Corner is now also a destination. Marc soon became a confidant whose Polish roots were immediately explored and evolved into family-style conversations of three Europeans meeting together. These days, we continue where we left at the previous visit.

The first visit also included a stop at the Cameleer store of International Giftware and Aboriginal Handcrafts – a world of native simplicity offering an escape from the usual made in China products. It was on one of the first visits when we stepped into a European-style market called Food for Thought, which offered an outlet to a locally produced grass-fed meats, a stock of local cheeses, pies, and other homemade products. Today, the market is no more. Its then presence was now to be experienced by John and Connie’s Thyme Market.

A few weeks later, we “parked” at the It’s About Thyme, the first in the Thyme cuisine empire in Culpeper, opened in 1995, for a serving of ravioli and other fine foods. During the subsequent visits, we learned about what drives John Yarnall, his two daughters – Joclyn, now a Head Chef trained at Cordon Bleu in Paris, pictured with President Bill Clinton when he visited the spot in 2008, and Jodi, a Penn State graduate, now House Manager – and of course, Connie. As we met, Connie was ever so eager to take us through the stages of the Thyme establishments, including when a Thyme Inn was being added in a renovated space above the Market, adding an up-scale B&B space.

An obvious conclusion: It's like being in Europe.

Last-November, the Yarnalls extended their business by opening an adjacent to the Market, The Copper Fish Seafood Market and Raw Bar, co-owned with Dave Young. Connie insists, and we agree, that during our next visit we will be teased by a culinary experience with quality fish.

After we meet our friends, and enjoy the Virginia hospitality at the Thyme Market, we also take away a trinity of smells, tastes and creativity, all merged into an unforgettable moment that will carry us until the next Thyme in Culpeper experience, as they refer to an encounter with their town on http://www.thymeinfo.com.

Web sites to consider:www.visitculpeperva.com, www.frenchmancorner.com, www.cameleer.com, www.hazelriverinn.com.


Code Name Geronimo, and my Native American Nostalgia

This is a weeklong story, but it seems that details of what happened will continue to be revealed, and corrected, and many of us will grow tired of the disclaimers, protected sources, and all the political interpretations. Even before the May 1 event in Abbottabad, Pakistan, I wouldn’t have imagined to be writing about the world’s most celebrated terrorist, and let alone about his demise. In a sense, I didn’t even feel like writing out his name in full!

What poked my attention was a now-iconic transmission from Abbottabad, Pakistan: “Geronimo EKIA,” or “Geronimo, Enemy Killed in Action.”

[Photo from Collection of the Library of Congress.]

Why Geronimo? I asked myself. Was this a reference to a Chiricahua Apache tribe, or to some other meaning given to that name? Was this a reference to an exclamation of parachuters’ – “Geronimo! - when they jump from planes? Whatever - was this about the Indian who – to the Apaches - was a symbol of their values, aggressiveness, or courage in the face of difficulty, or all of the above and more? Yes, a freedom fighter to some, and a villain to others.

What assisted me were the reports in Washington Post and Huffington Post (May 5, 2011) pointedly referring to a choice of a code name for bin Laden – Geronimo – as being insensitive, offensive, painful and… insulting.

The events of May 1 that took out the “apostle of hatred,” as Jim Wallis referred on his blog in Sojourners - http://blog.sojo.net - to Al Qaeda leader, reactions and reflections abounded in their speed and variety, some instant and base, some reaching deeper into what could be learned from this latest chapter of human history.

The media immediately exploited the clandestine raid that ended the life of a notorious and ruthless jihadist terrorist, and a mastermind of the 9/11 attacks. While most entertainment-news media concentrated on reporting the eruption of euphoria that bin Laden was killed, a few pointed to the moral underpinning of joy when a human being is killed. What is Christian at being glad at taking a human life, any life?

As the 9/11 tragedy claimed nearly 3,000 lives in America, many in the Middle East took to the streets with jubilation. On May 1 similar public expressions were replicated throughout America. References to “eye for an eye” cried to high heavens.

Pastor Jim Wallis’ moral compass pointed out that “it is never a Christian response to celebrate the death of any human being, even one so given to the face of evil.” Dalai Lama reflected that bin Laden was a human being who may have deserved compassion and even forgiveness. Yet, the evil deeds of Al Qaeda and its founder came with responsibility and needed to be opposed. Osama Bin Laden was responsible for the deaths of thousands of people. But would the May 1 outcome push the world community toward nonviolent conflict solving?

Now, coming back to Geronimo, it was the Native Americans themselves who said, Wait a minute? Geronimo – was he also a terrorist? Was the choice of such designation a seeming continuation of two-three hundred years of disdain towards those who would not be subjugated? What was the American officialdom thinking? Was there anyone who would challenge such a decision?

The Indian Country Today commented about the code name’s choice. Lise Balk King wrote, that “embedded within it is a message that an Indian warrior, a symbol of Native American survival in the face of racial annihilation, is associated with modern terrorism and the attacks on 9/11.”

“It equates being Native American with being hated, an enemy to the world, and someone to be hunted down and killed, and re-casts one of their heroes into a villainous role,” she stated.

There is what I would call a Native American nostalgia in our home. Every so often it recollects as sense of innocent nonconformity in the late 1950s and early 1960s when Grazyna and I, though growing up in different cities, would hide under the covers, turn on flashlights and way past midnight swallow the books of Karl May. We grew up on the fictitious adventures and ethos of Winnetou and the Old Shatterhand. In those days I imagined siding with the Apaches and dreaming of having a haircut like one of the illustrated warriors. Though Karl May never traveled to the Wild West, he described the Indian predicament as being on the losing side in the ruthless territorial expansion of the frontiersmen settlers, supported by the U.S. Army. But they were my heroes. A Karl May’s call to peaceful living and embrace of freedom is enshrined in my own worldview.

Later, in 1970, it was Geronimo who became a hero of mine when I supported the vision of Radio Geronimo, an independent broadcaster in London whose claim to fame was “jamming of the BBC.” It happened at the BBC Broadcasting House corporate headquarters in Portland Place with literal strawberry jam – jars and plastic bags of it with spoons to aid! These were the days of Radio London and Radio Caroline, the nonconformist precursors of broadcasting deregulation in Britain. Radio Geronimo offered an alternative music choice, transmitted on weekends from Monte Carlo - 205 Meters MW, midnight onward. The station was nonconformist, a warrior for the liberation of broadcasting, the Apaches of the airways.

In 1971 it was the Dan Brown’s Bury my Heart at Wounded Knee that added to my fascination with the culture, history and fate of the indigenous tribes of America. I was offered to write a book review for Insight Magazine. I considered it an honor to do.

Geronimo’s story – his quest to preserve the tribe’s identity, freedom and integrity – etched itself in my own attitudes. The “here I stand” symbol of survival in the face of ethnic (racial) annihilation could hardly be compared with modern terrorism and the underpinning evil of the attacks in 2001.

The Abbottabad reference by a Navy Seal to Geronimo, also reminded me of a visit to the Pamunkey Reservation in Virginia, the land of a tribe famed for King Powhatan, the father of Pocahontas. Then came a crowning moment to my fascination with Geronimo and the Apaches - a visit in 1984 to Fort Apache Indian Reservation in Arizona. Hosted by the USIA, the visit aimed at an introduction to the present-day lifestyle and continued challenges for the contemporary Apaches.

After arriving at a motel, a sound of screeching tires woke me to attention when an assistant of the Apache Tribe President arrived to summon me for a visit at the tribe headquarters. “I heard that a member of the Lech Walesa nation is visiting our territory,” said the Apache chief. “I wanted to pay my respects to the Polish people.”

Then and even today, I am inclined to compare the Solidarity warriors of Gdansk to the “here I stand” of Geronimo and his band of freedom fighters.

In my estimate, the choice of Geronimo’s name for bin Laden may not have been considered with needed sensitivity, and with respect for the First Nations of America. Geronimo’s story was decidedly different to that of the Al Qaeda chief, though both were hunted. And a difference is indicated in Geronimo’s own comment: “I was living peaceably when people began to speak bad of me.”

Now, to the memory of Geronimo himself, again in his own words: “I was born on the prairies where the wind blew free and there was nothing to break the light of the sun. I was born where there were no enclosures.”