and the Trouble with Grazyna
order to describe the affair of MGR (My Great Revolution); I need to go
back to my student years. Julitta and I had been happily married since
my third year of university. My wife’s only flaw was that she would not
drink with me as much as my buddies would, and even though I did succeed
in teaching her to smoke, it never became a habit for her. My shortcomings
on the other hand were revealed on the ski slope. When Julitta’s friends,
the members of the Polish National Team in Alpine Skiing, saw my bizarre
moves on the snow, they looked at her with compassion, pitying her for
tying the knot with a “peasant” (which for the professional skiers meant
as much as a “landlubber” for sailors).
got involved in the Independent Students’ Union for a short time and participated
in students’ strikes. At one of the strikes I met some people who were
part of a student ministry led by the Dominican priests and once I participated
in a mass which they held in the assembly hall of the Physiology Department
at Grzegórzecka Street. One of the students was playing the guitar.
Whilst they were nice people, I didn’t really get along with them. I thought
they were a bit strange. Little did I know that the major breakthrough
in my life would have its source in this very group of people.
martial law was declared in Poland in December 1981, our son was 7 months
old. We lived near the Main Market Square in Kraków, where demonstrations
accompanied by “truncheoning” of many participants took place each year
for the Martial Law Anniversaries and the then illegally celebrated Independence
Day. Our staircase as well as our flat at the corner of Szpitalna Street
often served as a hiding place for demonstrators chased by the Militia
with truncheons and water cannons. One time the elderly lady who was a
caretaker in our tenement house was attacked by a ZOMO [Motorized Detachment
of the Citizen’s Militia] officer. She managed to shut the heavy door in
the nick of time, but another officer had already thrown in the tear gas
which spread all over the house very rapidly. Everyone in our flat had
tears flowing down their cheeks, except for our son, Wojtek, who was sound
asleep, his eyes closed the whole time.
time, which I think was sometime in 1982; I was visiting my aunt Jania
at So?tyka Street and observed the following scene from the window of her
flat. At dusk, three young demonstrators ran down Blich Street. At the
junction of Soltyka and Dwernickiego Streets, they split up and two of
them ran into a courtyard through an open gate. One of them was carrying
a wet Polish flag on his back. In almost no time, a militia van, called
a “Nysa”, arrived at the gate. Some faces appeared in the open windows
of the tenement house. Four civilians got out of the van. Two of them ran
towards the open windows, ordered us to close them and threw tear gas into
the courtyard. The other two rushed towards the gate. A moment later, one
of them dragged the young demonstrator out of the courtyard into the street
and the other one kicked and beat him with a truncheon. The boy was crying
with pain. When he was kicked on the neck, the crying stopped. All four
of them picked him up and threw him into the back of the van like a bag
of potatoes. Then they left with the siren on. All of it took no more than
a minute and a half. The area was peaceful and it had never been at the
forefront of the fighting line with the Militia. There must have been an
informer among the residents who had revealed the hideout.
the “Solidarno??” organisation was suppressed in 1981, the Students’ Union
disbanded and its president, Bogdan Klich arrested, I was like many others,
dejected by the general despair and I lost all hope that Communism would
ever fall. The only person who could keep a spark of hope alive for me
was my aunt Jania – my grandfather Boles?aw’s sister, who was a painter.
Born in 1894, into a partitioned country, she grieved for the oppressed
Poland. As a teenage girl she had cried over Sienkiewicz’s novels.
she used to say, ‘the iron trident—Russia, Prussia and the Austro-Hungarian
Empire—which held the Poles in bondage, existed unswervingly for decades.
It was a political system so firm that no one believed it could ever be
crushed. And yet, World War I broke it; Pi?sudski’s Legions were formed
and Poland rose to freedom.’
I did find some solace in what she said, it was still hard to imagine the
world without the Soviet Union, or Poland without PZPR and ZOMO.
My wife and I then started to talk more and more about moving abroad. The
job at the Intensive Care Unit was supposed to be transitory. I wanted
to gain some hands-on experience before departing to the West.
that time, my wife’s younger sister, Grazyna moved to Kraków to
study English Philology. It didn’t take her long to fall into bad company…
she was still living in Bielsko, I helped her deal with her adolescent
worries a few times. I told her what ‘the best remedy’ was for me and then
poured ‘it’ into glasses. But after she had spent a few months in Kraków,
we noticed a peculiar change in her behaviour. First, she was not being
troubled by anything, second, she was not interested in alcohol, third,
she pointed out to me that my life was meaningless. We were seriously worried.
Grazyna introduced a completely new element to our conversations, namely
the religious note. During one such conversation, she stated that my life
had no meaning whatsoever. She told us that the lives of all of us have
no meaning until we give them to Jesus. Grazyna herself, after joining
a Christian community in Kraków, called Beczka, had established
some kind of special relationship with Jesus, and that all our family should
do the same.
tried everything to talk some sense into her, but nothing worked, not even
my best ‘remedy’, which had never failed me before. I felt like I was losing
my sister-in-law to some kind of religious fanaticism. I found her criticism
of my lifestyle more and more irritating. I was a young, handsome doctor,
the life and soul of the party, musically talented, basically a great guy,
who had life by the ‘short and curlies’, and this bigheaded kid dared to
say that the way I was leading my life was “wrong and stupid”! And
if that wasn’t enough, she lent me religious books (I angrily read the
entire book titled, The Happiest People on Earth by John and Elizabeth
Sherrill and underlined all the absurdities I could find written there)
and invited her new friends to talk to me. A visit from her “sister”, Ewa
was more than I could take.
Holy Spirit works in our community in Kraków’, she explained with
a kind smile. I passed over the remark with silence, hoping for a change
of subject. But it didn’t work. Ewa was making her point very precisely.
Holy Spirit with whom I am anointed’, she went on, ‘allows us to sing beautifully
in new tongues.’
that’s great, but if you excuse me, I must go now, as I have something
very important to do, but I’m sure we will finish this some other time,’
you like me to sing in a new tongue for you?’
really, that’s all right, maybe some other time’, but this didn’t help
sing for you anyway!’ Ewa said and, looking deep into my eyes, she started
to sing strange melodies with a strange voice.
that moment I knew that they were both lost…Why did this have to happen
to our family?!
2011 Andrzej Solecki
1. Henryk Sienkiewicz
(1846-1916) was a Polish novelist. In his most famous novels he praised
the virtues of Polish chivalry of the 17th century, in order to keep up
the spirit in the oppressed nation. He received the Nobel Prize in Literature
2. Polish United
on links below to read separate chapters.