Tag Archives: hope

Poland, Boston, and the Human Spirit

23 Apr

Poland was mainly a blur of food, sleep deprivation, drinks, people, and brightly colored buildings.  Krakow is called the Magic City for a reason. There is something to it that as a tourist, I couldn’t quite put my finger on. The city at night, I would compare to even the bright lights of Paris.  Tourists and locals alike strolled the city into the pink hours of the morning, laughing and filling the air with vibrancy. The life there seems to have actual quality. But I found myself most impressed with the people I met on this journey.

The people of Poland have a hospitality all their own. People genuinely wanted to meet you, speak with you, and like their European cousins–feed you.  The people I met while in Krakow, returned my ability to communicate face-to-face. For so long, I’ve been attached to the computer screen or my cell phone and in the States it is not uncommon to sit across from someone while you’re out to dinner and have nearly no conversation. Instead, there is a wall of cellphones between you both as you take turns surfing the web on your smartphones and exchanging minimal conversation. In Krakow, I felt a sense of intelligence return to me that I had thought I had lost completely. As it turns out, it had never left–but had simply gone into hibernation and  needed to be woken up.  Conversation ranged from music, to politics, to sports (which I know nearly nothing about) to the more complex issue of languages and how they may or may not translate. I was alive. Krakow revived me.

In five days, I experienced more powerful moments in my life than I had in months. This was even more amplified by my visit to the concentration camps, Auschwitz and Birkenau on my last day in Poland. Though most people will flinch away from a difficult trip like this: I sought it out. More than ever, I feel that keeping the horrors of history alive so they are not repeated and so the lives lost in such an awful way are given their proper respect and recognition.

The camps were  overwhelming. A sense of feeling watched or hunted pervaded Auschwitz. My friend who had joined me looked faint much of the time, if not downright sick to her stomach. Openly, she wept for the loss of life while I stoically paid my respects to the lives lost. The place gets under your skin in a way I’ve never experienced before. It felt alive.

Birkenau felt more sad than alive. Abandoned bunks lay in places that had been built to house horses and instead housed starving, sick and dying human beings. The remains of the destroyed crematoriums sat like craters in the landscape that may have been otherwise beautiful. Our guide pointed out a family of deer that grazed nearby as if to prove this point and stated, “See how life must go on?” There is a large stone memorial here which is littered with tiny stones as a sign of respect. I left these places with a whole new perspective on the problems in my life. My problems were nothing. I was not starving. I was not being torn from my family, or watching loved ones be gassed, shot or beaten to death. I was not wondering if I would see another day, or live beyond barbed wire fence. I was alive. And I would embrace that blessing with all that I had. I left the camp with a need to celebrate my being alive–if for nothing more than to live in the place of those who had never had the chance. And for the ones who survived and still managed to live (almost) normal lives. These places reflect not only the power of humanity’s cruelty–but of their spirit and will to survive.

The stranger part of visiting the camps was what it coincided with here in the states. I didn’t know it yet, but my city was under attack at the very moment I was touring these Death Camps. The Boston Marathon Bombings have been plastered on every news channel here in Massachusetts ever since it happened. I found out what happened in Boston, a day after it happened. In a panic I found myself reaching out to loved ones for assurance that they were alright.  The city of Boston came together as one in a way that makes me proud. Here, in today’s history I witnessed the power of the human spirit that I had sought out at the historical sites.  It is something that I never imagined would happen. Only this time, when terror struck we charged it head on. Stories continue to come out about every day people who became not-so-everyday Heroes. A dancer who lost her foot, continues to hope to dance again, a man who lost both sons to war–saved others who would have been lost in much the same way. I am alive again–and grateful, and amazed by the ever powerful presence in the past and now in the present of the strength of the human spirit. Just as when I exited the camps in Poland, I find myself constantly humming the tune from Fiddler on the Roof, “To life…to life…L’Chaim…”

Boston Strong

Poland Strong

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