June 23, 2017

Day 3: The Road to Krakow

My proudest accomplishment of the trip so far: I got my rental station wagon out of a tiny underground parking garage and into another one 300 km away.

In between, I saw a stretch of central-to-southern Poland that sometimes reminded me of Minnesota or Wisconsin, and that sometimes felt like a place I’ve only been in old memories or dreams. Little churches with huge cemeteries, evergreen forests so dense that light can’t reach the bottom branches, pastures with cows the color of butterscotch milkshakes.

Wildflowers in abundant bursts: white, purple, and the distinctly Polish red poppy.

We paused at a random rural cemetery to look around. The graves were well tended, and the holy monuments seemed to attract a lot of prayers and floral offerings. Although we didn’t see a living soul, there was no doubt of their devotion.

I realized how little of my Polish Catholic upbringing I passed on to my daughter during a tour of Krakow this evening. Within minutes of me telling the tour guide, “Of course I know who Karol Wojytla was,” Evie asked, “What’s a nun?”

It was decided that I would show Evie some churches during this trip; this should pose little difficulty as there are well over 100 in Krakow alone.

The first one I’d like to visit is St. Wojciech, also called St. Adalbert, which is mentioned in my grandfather’s memoirs. I’ll share more of the story tomorrow; it’s a good one.

Our tour, a golf-cart outing we splurged on after my mom’s wheelchair proved no match for cobblestone streets, also took us through the Kazimierz Jewish district and the Krakow Ghetto.

Poland has a way of juxtaposing the beautiful, the tragic, and the mundane.

At the central square of the Krakow ghetto, where thousands of Jewish people were imprisoned and murdered, empty chairs stand. I was startled to see a billboard for smartphones and a bar across the street. Then I reminded myself that, if every tragic site was forever frozen in its history, we would have no ground to walk upon lightly – especially in Poland. Nonetheless, I was glad to see the chairs, and that nobody was walking between them.

I looked at Evie through my tears to see how this part of the tour was affecting her. She was just watching and listening, and I saw my own reflection in her mirrored sunglasses.

A couple hours later, she asked me if the people who killed the Jewish people during the war were Christians, and whether they believed that they were doing good.

I fumbled my way through, trying to think of a smart answer, and coming up short. It's too easy to say it was all about religion, or not about religion, or any other simple explanation that fits into a sentence or two.

I told her to keep asking questions like that. And to pray for people all over the world to see one another's humanity, to stand against injustice, and to learn from history.

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