Saturday, April 02, 2005

So now it really is John Paul II, 1978 – 2005

I remember when he got elected. I had left Poland to finish my studies here, in the States and I had just married an American, forever sealing the answer to the question that I could never otherwise resolve: where shall I live, in Poland, or the States?

You could say that the Pope was an expat as well – living at the Vatican. But with an eye toward Poland. The difference? His eye was golden.

I listened to Zbigniew Brzezinski (National Security Advisor under Clinton) talk this afternoon about the Pope’s role in stimulating the peaceful revolution in Poland a decade after his ascent to the papacy. Brzezinski explained that it really was that first papal trip to Poland that transfixed the nation, allowing the people to think of themselves as united (ostensibly over Catholicism, but also over the desire to improve the political climate in Poland), with the courage to rally and oppose – something that not many believed they possessed just a short while earlier.

Brzezinski, of course, hated communism and he ascribed today those same feelings of loathing to Poles. Most, he argued, wanted badly to experience life in the fullest possible way, preferencing spirituality over the constant struggle for material goods. The Pope, by telling them not to be afraid, gave permission for those feelings.

Is Brzezinski right? The fact is, neither he nor I lived in Poland during the eighties and nineties.

Looking back, I honestly think that the symbolism of the Polish Pope was as important (perhaps more important?) to Poland as the man himself. If we had had a jackass of a pope instead of this erudite and calm voice of profound reason, would the people have resisted the opportunity for change that suddenly arose toward the end of the last century? Oh, the symbolism of it all! I am certain John Paul II understood that his worth lay as much in his mere presence in Poland, as in the words he offered.

[There is the flip side though: it has been quietly whispered that it will take the death of John Paul II to make the nation take a leap forward and untangle the complicated and not always positive relationship between the church and the state.]

Brzezinski was right in saying that of the 35 million Poles, 30 million realized, with that first Papal visit, that they shared a voice. But I don’t think it was a voice of utter hatred toward communism. It was the voice that every impoverished and dispirited person has within them – whispering that somehow life should and could be better. And if you asked Poles which they believed to be more crucial in their ultimate push for change – the quest for spiritual freedom or economic well-being, I’m not sure I could readily tell you how they would respond, though if I had to place money, I’d go with the economic well-being.

Here’s the thing: not being a Catholic, I never paid close attention to the Pope’s religious writings. I knew that I disagreed with much of what he said on the subject of theology. But, like most Poles, I feel like it is an end of an era. I feel sorry for Poland for losing the protection of having arguably the most visible world spokesperson on the planet be a Pole. At the same time, I feel like the country is like the bird that has been pushed out by the parent (perhaps many parents) and forced to fly. The parent bird dies, the little one continues, with all the uncertainty that makes up its future.

A mossy spring or a springy moss?

This morning, thinking it to be later than it was, I walked through Owen Woods. Even then (especially then?), the light was sublime. But you had to keep looking down to catch signs of spring. The often overlooked moss has that enchanting early spring green growth that we’re all searching for.
How does the saying go? The early sun catches the moss?  Posted by Hello
Take a closer look: Posted by Hello
I'm such a fan of yellow and blue that I could not help taking this photo, even though it is antithetical to the "colors of spring" theme of this post. Posted by Hello

Is the Pope Polish?

I suppose it’s tough for the Polish press to write objectively about the events transpiring at the Vatican. I picked this up from this morning’s reading of the Gazeta:

[Commenting on the perhaps overly hasty depiction by the Italians of the Pope as a person of the past, the Gazeta article states:] His in every respect beautiful, colorful photograph carries the signature “John Paul II, 1978 – 2005.”

What’s interesting, too, is the attention given by the international news agencies to the fact of the Pope’s Polishness. Of course, everyone knew that the Pope is Polish. But in searching for stories to fill the week-end hours, the media coverage takes us back again to the days of Karol Wojtyla, hiking the Polish mountains and writing poetry and playing soccer, all placing him right back in the context that Poles have all this time been well aware of, but others have tabled in the course of the long Papacy.

Not surprisingly then, the media has converged on the Vatican and on Poland this week-end – to Krakow especially. As I read the stories, I am reminded again and again of why Poles, for a few decades, felt that their tiny complexed voice could be heard through this man and why they suffer the loss of their spokesperson, because really, in their eyes, this leaves them alone and vulnerable on the map all over again. And if you think I am exaggerating, listen to the spot TV interviews with Poles and the recurring themes: “other countries noticed us” “we felt protected” “he gave us courage” etc.

Yes, of course, the religiousness of the nation comes through. But it would be wrong to view this particular transition as important to only the devout Poles. History has created a pained nation. Not many world leaders pay much attention to this anymore. The Pope, of course, did, during all his years at the Vatican.

Where have all the hours gone…

I woke up thinking – an hour lost today. That’s okay, an extra hour of sunlight is worth it. On the computer, I noticed the time: 5:30. I should turn off the computer so that the time would reset itself.

I respond to an email from a friend: you’re up early, she writes.

I look at all my automatic news emails – the regular daily dose of NYT, IHT news, and the travel dispatch from both, also the book update. Week-end stuff.

I go out to pick up the Sunday Times from the driveway. It’s not there. Did I forget to restart the subscription?

Back in the kitchen I move all the clocks forward. I turn on the TV to get news of the Pope. It’s odd how we track these stories that are really one sentence stories. Wait, where is the news? I thought it began at 7. Eventually I find it on CBS and I watch, enchanted with scenes of Krakow on a sunny spring day. I hear interviews with young people out on the square and am reminded how attractive young Poles are – they take such care with their appearance! Lovely scenes, sad faces,

I have my home-made latte. I’m fully awake now.

Wait. It’s not Sunday, is it? It’s not daylight savings time yet either, is it? It’s not 7:30 right now, it’s 6:30…

It’s pitiful enough that I can’t fool anyone on April Fool’s, but to fool myself the day after is really dotty.