Earlier this week, I blogged about teaching play techniques to students and professionals in the Czech Republic. I find myself still processing everything I saw and heard while in this beautiful country, and I am reluctant to leave it all behind, even as I prepare for my next journey abroad which is rapidly approaching in a few weeks.
“What one thing really stuck with you?” a friend asked me yesterday. It was hard to pick one thing, as so much is still reverberating. And the words to describe what I experienced are flitting just out of reach somewhere in my jet lagged brain.
I keep coming back to our three-hour road trip to the nursing school in Nový Jičin. Jiri is driving, and I ride shot-gun, the windshield framing the Czech countryside that slips by us, leaving swaths of wild poppies, rich green pastures and elven forests and in our wake. But it’s not the view that resonates with me. It is the conversation that Jiri and I had during that early morning drive, as well as the return trip late that night, dodging nocturnal animal life in the midnight fog on the way back to Malejovice.
Jiri is a gifted story-teller, and through his narratives, I have a glimpse into his country’s history and culture that a textbook could never impart. “We have a saying in our country,” he’ll begin, and follow with some satirical double entendre such as “Our Parliament is in between a museum and a theater.” He and Marketa grew up under the oppression of the Soviet regime, and have lived through the revolution and subsequent tectonic shifts in their culture.
My one dimensional understanding of Communism is relegated to what I read in high school and college so long ago, but they bring it to life. Jiri tells of the first time he and Marketa obtained papers permitting them to travel outside the Czech Republic. They were called down to the police station for an “interview” that consisted of questions and warnings about staying away from any defected Czech citizens during their travels. In Prague, they point to a series of statues representing political prisoners, each a human form with more and more of it missing until it disappears altogether.
They tell of a Soviet tank in a city square that a revolutionary artist painted pink under the cover of night. At home, Marketa shows me her bound thesis, hand typed prior to the era of personal computers. Flipping through the faded pages, she points to the reprint of a child’s drawing of a rainbow, and to the bible quote beneath it. “I could have gotten in trouble for that,” she says. “Explicitly expressed religious beliefs could make your life more difficult.My mum, as a school teacher, was afraid to go to church in the seventies and early eighties – she was afraid she could lose her job.” They both tell of the joy and hope they felt when the huge statue of Lenin was knocked down from the city park and carted away,
But it’s more than a lesson about their country’s political history. Throughout the week, in the car, on foot along the cobbled streets of the villages of their births, and at their kitchen table, I listen to stories about their childhoods, their families, their young courtship, their lives of service, their religious conversion, their children. I share my own stories of my family of origin, my work and spiritual life, my untraditional marriage.
Marketa serves as the ambassador to the many friends, volunteers, employees, students and clients we meet throughout the week. All of her introductions begin something like this. “She is a very kind person, and she has done much for us, but she has suffered through…” The story of the person’s wound will then be shared matter-of-factly, without any trace of gossip. Whether it be from illness, loss, or family strife, no matter. Marketa is letting me know that our goodness is somehow connected with our pain.
And something is being woven in this, even as something is being unraveled. The walls of my ignorance and my self-perceived separateness are coming down. We are so different in so many ways, and yet a common thread runs through us all. It is our humanity, our vulnerability, our doubts, fears and joys. And kindness too.
“And I wake up and I ask myself what state I’m in
And I say well I’m lucky, ’cause I am like East Berlin
I had this wall and what I knew of the free world
Was that I could see their fireworks and I could hear their radio
And I thought that if we met, I would only start confessing
And they’d know that I was scared, they would know that I was guessing
But the wall came down and there they stood before me
With their stumbling and their mumbling and their calling out just like me”
Dar Williams What do you hear in these sounds