Why did I become Crazy Polish Guy? I’ll try to answer that.
The year 2007 was the last time I visited Poland. Nothing about it in particular seemed like an ending. In many ways, it was just another trip. I had been visiting Poland roughly every two years since 1994, and I just thought this would naturally continue.
During that trip, I stepped into more old castles, like one in Dębno, visited new towns, like the mountain resort of Krynica Zdrój, and prayed in beautiful churches. When I visited the wooden church of Saint Leonard in the small hamlet of Lipnica Murowana, I came upon an old graveyard dating back some 500-years. Faintly inscribed on one overgrown tombstone was the name Klimek, which was the surname of one side of my family. My aunt mentioned that she had recently discovered this grave, and that our family had ties to this place, seemingly frozen-in-time, where chickens were literally still crossing the road.
When I learned that a forgotten ancestor of mine was buried in this grave, a chill ran through my spine. In my last entry, I mentioned that ruins have a powerful romantic effect on me. Here was a ruin of my own family. This one-hundred-and-fifty year old tombstone, coupled with the rustic church and timeworn surroundings did more to interest me in my Polish roots than anything else had before.
In retrospect, seeing that grave was a grim foreshadowing. The next time I visit Poland, I will have to visit one more grave—my grandma’s.
That 2007 visit was the last time I saw my Polish grandmother and, unknown to me then, the last time I ever would. She had always been there. In fact, she had always been the primary reason for my trips to Poland. I had no idea that when I hugged her tightly on that last day in 2007, I would never ever see her again. In 2010 around finals week at college, I would learn of her passing.
In the months and years after my grandma’s passing, I lost several other Polish relatives. So many people who I remember alive and breathing are now gone. As I meditate on this, I realize that it was not until after I lost my grandma that I truly became dedicated to my Polish heritage. Prior to this, I lacked the passion for Poland and Polish culture that I have now. In a sense, I believe this passion stems from a subconscious desire to keep my grandma’s memory alive.
I hear many things have changed in Poland since 2007. Some people have told me that my romantically naïve view of the country will burst the next time I visit. Realistically, I don’t expect it to be the same. My trips to Poland between 1994 and 2007 represented the best of my childhood, and nothing can ever take that away from me.
But that doesn’t mean that my future trips won’t be equally fantastic in a different way. Currently, my passion for Poland is at its peak. I understand the culture and history better than I ever have in my life. I am fortunate enough to be able to share my writings and musings regularly with all of you. With all this energy, I am more than ready to go back. Can you handle me, Poland?