In A Polish Graveyard


A hell of a depressing column for your weekend? Could be. Then again, there’s something peaceful about graveyards. Sitting there, listening to the church bells toiling their gentle thunder, comparing your situation to those bodies huddled in the earth, your own worn out life can take on a strange kind of gleam. I’ve taken to visiting a certain graveyard, sometimes as part of my jog, but often just on a walk, with no other companion than a book. I’ll sit there and read aloud, stopping now and then to inspect the headstones. The names… Janowska…Scibor…Kapla… and their dates shouting out, ‘We existed! We were here! We loved! We cried! We danced! We were here!’

The funny thing is, this graveyard (and I’m sure you’ve noticed it in others), is calm, ordered, neat, dignified. So it should be. Only in death do the Poles get it right. Walk into any Polish conurbation and you’ll search hard for dignity and calm. Each and every residential area, even the nice ones, have a touch of the frantic about them, the manic, the desperate. One Irish friend who spent a day driving around Silesia, asked me, ‘where is the plan?’ Good question. More, where is the grace, the calm, the honour, or indeed the strength of character for modern, living, breathing Poles? Janowska… Scibor… Kapla… Debniak…Gorajek… Was it there for them?

Today, the people of this country are in desperately in need of a design for life. By that I mean, a form of philosophical guidance. Catholicism? Yes, it helped in your time of crisis. A Catholic friend described his faith as the rope that protected him on the mountain of life ā€“ something to keep you safe when you lose your footing. A faith must stabilize and guide you. I was in Gdansk recently and studied photos from the ’88 strike. The church was prominent in supporting the people. Good for them, even though I’ve a theory that if the Soviet regime were pro-religon, the church would have turned their back on the people. Okay, that’s an argument for a different day. But in our modern times, what organisation inspires you to achieve better? To help others? To improve your surroundings? Who is offering a set of ideals to make Poland a calm, organized place you can be proud of?

While you’re thinking about that, let’s take a look at the Quaker religion ā€“ their members believe they have a duty to make the world a better place. For them, faith is not the rope or safe ledge on the mountain of life, but the foothold to climb higher. Quakers thrive in fields of business and science. This isn’t a religious contest. This is about a collective way of thinking. For a brief time, the rhetoric of JFK made Americans want to be better. Kennedy was a playboy who had his speeches written for him by Ted Sorensen. It was he who exhorted listeners at the President’s inauguration, to ‘ask not what your country can do for you, but what you can do for your country.’ A selfless call to service that with the aid of a young, photogenic Leader, galvanized and inspired a continent. Judaism too. A faith of action and Jews judge themselves by how they live their faith, by how much they contribute to the overall holiness of the world. They believe that whatever their profession they should aspire to be the best in that chosen field. You can debate the merits of Jews, JFK and Quakers forever and you’ll find flaws in my chosen trinity, but remember, this isn’t a competition, it’s a quest. Finding out how to put meaning and order into a country accustomed to chaos. It’s about reaching a state of tranquillity and harmony long before you’re lowered six feet under and covered in soil… Janowska… Scibor…Kapla…Debniak…Gorajek… Wloch… Melech… Pilarski…Flak…

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