September 2012 - Vol.  62..

The Bone Surgeon: A personal story of a life-changing revolution
 by Andrzej Solecki

illustration by Grzegorz Grys

Chapter 5: My Great Revolution
To understand everything is to forgive everything.

After a year of working at the Intensive Care Unit I had a nervous breakdown. I couldn’t bear the stress at work, the excessive drinking and the deteriorating relationships with both my family and my colleagues anymore. To make things worse, I was haunted by the feeling that my life was meaningless. I travelled to Kraków and Rabka every time I had some time to spare. I just couldn’t cut the umbilical cord between me and my reliable drinking company. 

The rest of my free time I devoted to planning revenge on my university mate, who was an important persona in the social elite of “my” new town, Bielsko-Bia?a (which I was growing to dislike more and more). I was angry with him for his rather disastrous attempt to introduce me to his social circles. I invited him to visit me at work and have a little chat. The initial plan was that I would welcome him with a punch, which would send him to the other side of the corridor and thus finish our get-together at the same time. However, I chose to handle it differently and that was a breakthrough decision for my life.

To explain where it came from, I need to go back to an event which took place in Che?m Lubelski during my military training in 1982.  

During a two-month stay in the barracks, together with some other officer cadet doctors we used every opportunity we had to get drunk. The army unit was surrounded by a wall, and there was a little house leaning against it from the other side. The house, which we called a den, was a place where you could always get vodka. The guard, in exchange for “a half-litre”,  would turn a blind eye on our forays to the other side of the wall. Also, when we were on a ‘pass’, we would go to a hotel bar, where we would have a drop of the hard stuff. On these occasions I was usually accompanied by my friend Marek, the only med student with whom I got on really well. He was my guardian angel. He was always there for me in the critical moments. 

I can’t remember the last three days of the army training. I woke up in Marek’s car near Rzeszów, and as I found out later, he had handed over my uniform and had completed all the formalities for me. 

During one of my ‘passes’, which I think was about three weeks before the end of the training, we were exhausted after a three-day drinking spree, so we decided to do something different and completely unusual for us—we went for a walk. We walked around an old, neglected and mysterious cemetery. I was trying to guess people’s life stories from the inscriptions on the tombstones. Some of them were cracked, others covered with moss. The inscriptions were in Polish, Russian, German, Yiddish…Suddenly I found myself looking at an askew tombstone, with an old inscription, which said, “Tout comprendre c’est tout pardonner” (To understand everything is to forgive everything). I remembered some French from secondary school, so I translated it into Polish, but I did not understand the message behind these words. It was the only writing on that stone. There was no name, or date, but I was taken by a strong feeling that I had not come across this grave by coincidence. The message was a puzzle for me. I had always tried to understand the world, other people, myself.  But what does forgiveness have to do with reason, philosophy and knowledge? There was no connection between forgiveness and knowledge in my book. Although I didn’t understand the message, I was inspired by its mysteriousness. I decided to remember the sentence, as my intuition was telling me that it might become my personal motto one day. 

A few years later, I was waiting for my friend to visit me. Just before his arrival I thought to myself, ‘Maybe now is the time to apply “my” motto to my life.’ Instead of starting a fight, I started a conversation during which I told my friend I held no grudge against him anymore. From then on I began to see things more clearly… That’s right! Hatred and lack of forgiveness make us blind and unable to comprehend the truth. To understand is to know the truth. And truth is found in humility, not only in knowledge. Astonishing… I felt like I had found a trace to solve the mystery of life. Soon after that I went to a few parties to “relax” and the noble note went down the drain… 

I came to the point of my drinking spree which felt like a combination of delirium and psychosis. One night I decided to quit the Intensive Care unit.  I got on my motorbike MZ 250 and went to Rabka, where my sister lived, which obviously raised my family’s concerns. The following day my brother-in-law and I got into his Fiat car. He was clearly irritated by my prolonged visit, so I decided to placate him a little. And the best thing to do in such cases is to complain about your heavy lot. Not that there was much to complain about in my lot. As a matter of fact, everything was just fine. I was still the tough guy who had life by the ‘short and curlies’. That conversation would be a make-believe of self-pity—just to get him on my side.

‘You see, Krzys, there’s so much trouble in my life right now (just some minor difficulties), things are not going well in my family (it’s nothing serious), and it’s even worse at work (it doesn’t really bother me, there are more important things in life than work).’

At some point of this fake complaining something weird started happening to me… I couldn’t stop talking and as I went on, I realized that I wasn’t just inventing stories to placate my brother-in-law, somehow I was telling the truth. I began to see that my life was nearly ruined! Tears came to my eyes. I began the confession of my life. My brother-in-law, Krzysztof, was a patient confessor and the confessional was his Fiat 126p! I felt a strange thrill moving from the top of my head to the tips of my toes. I hadn’t experienced anything like that before …It was a completely new feeling. Poor Krzysiek, he had no idea what was going on inside me. From then on, everything began to change. I felt the need to go to church and confess my sins. 

A few days later, I went to Kraków and met with Grazyna. She offered to pray with me. This time I did not object. 

‘You must give your live to God!’ There was a part of me that knew she was right. 

‘Do you want to invite Jesus into your heart and make him your Lord?’

‘I do, I really do…’

I repeated the prayer after Gra?yna:

‘Lord Jesus, I give my life to you. Lead me according to your will; be my Lord and my King!’

Over the next few days I discovered that my faith grew astoundingly. I remember walking down Karmelicka Street, in Kraków and being utterly astonished at my previous disbelief in God. How could I think that Gospel stories were nothing but legends and that believing in them was only old ladies’ business?! Now I don’t just believe, I know that God is there! He is in me, he is around me! The Death and Resurrection of Jesus are facts. How could I have any doubts about that?! 

This intense experience lasted for a few weeks. It has not come back in this form again, but my faith has grown through many years of various tests. As I was pondering all that had happened to me, I came to a district of Kraków called Bronowice. Apparently a church was being built there. I came up to a wooden building with a notice board next to it and went in through the open door. A man leant against the landing balustrade. 

‘Are you looking for someone?’

‘Yes, I’m looking for a priest’

‘Has something happened?’, asked the young man on the landing. He was wearing a bathrobe and his hair was wet. 

‘Nothing serious.  I just need confession.’ 

‘Hold on a moment, I’ll just get dressed’, he replied. 

A moment later he reappeared in his soutane, the hair still wet. He invited me to his room. I gave him the whole story….how I had broken all of the Ten Commandments. As part of my  penance I had to read some voluminous chapters from the Bible and I promised to mend my ways. I was told that God had forgiven me my sins. Then the most amazing thing happened. The priest stood up from his chair and as I was doing the same, he stretched his arms and held me close to his heart.

He said to me ‘I’m glad you came! It’s good to have you back!’,.

This very moment most of my prejudice against priests and the Catholic Church disappeared.

The following week Grazyna invited me to a prayer event at the Dominicans’. It took place in the chapter house. It started with a testimony of a young man who moonlighted as a receptionist in The Holiday Inn to earn some money for his studies. He hadn’t always worked within the borderlines of the law, but when he met Jesus, his life had changed completely and he gave up his shady businesses. After his testimony, people started praying out loud, all at the same time and many of them lifted up their hands. Then they sang melodiously and clapped their hands rhythmically. I noticed that there was a music team who played guitars, an electric organ and a few trumpets. At some point they all started singing in a monotonous tone, without any words. It sounded a bit like an accord which was building up harmoniously as more and more voices were tuning in. I assumed that this was the song that Ewa was so keen to demonstrate to me a few years back. After a brief assessment of the situation, I realized that here, I was in my element. I even decided to join in the song—fully aware that I wasn’t competent enough, as I had not taken any course on the Holy Spirit before. I was hoping no one would notice my lack of experience and that God would forgive me, if I sang out of key. He probably did. 

Some time after that prayer meeting I went to confession again. This time my penance was to recite a litany. When I left the confessional, the mass was about to begin and I really wanted to receive Holy Communion. However, I was facing a problem: Can I receive Communion in advance and then ask someone where to find litanies—in the Bible, or maybe in a prayer book (which by the way I did not possess)? I decided to ask someone competent for advice. I went straight to the sacristy. I knocked on the door and, as I was entering the room, I saw a tall, bald man with glasses who was putting on his white habit. 

‘Excuse me, I’ve only got one quick question’, I started. 

When I explained what my problem was, the Dominican looked at me in amazement, then he patted me on the shoulder and said:

‘Go and receive Holy Communion, and I will recite the litany for you! That’ll do.’

As I learned afterwards, it was Father Joachim Badeni who was later to become my great friend and mentor of my faith. 

(c) 2011 Andrzej Solecki

Click on links below to read separate chapters.
Introduction Personal Story of a Life-changing Situation
Chapter 1 The Tools
Chapter 2 Communism and the Trouble with Grazyna
Chapter 3 Intuition and Resuscitation
Chapter 4 Post-Wedding Bash
Chapter 5 My Great Revolution
Chapter 6 Bonfire, Bicycle and Freaks

copyright © 2012  Living Bulwark
publishing address: Park Royal Business Centre, 9-17 Park Royal Road, Suite 108, London NW10 7LQ, United Kingdom