Thursday, November 22, 2012

That other reader

He sat in the corner of the room, a newcomer to our book club. He was quiet, listening to our chatter and banter. Of course when you are new to something, you don't want to say anything first. You need to test the ground. After a while our moderator turned to him with a smile "And what do you think?".
The newcomer raised his eyebrows and gave us all a defiant look.
" First of all, if you had really read the stories you would have seen how inaccurate some of your theories are..." he stated.
" Could you point us to some examples?" continued the moderator pleasantly.
" No. Read the texts and you will know" he retorted. He didn't want to say anything more.   
 Still you don't give up on trying to engage new people, right?
 After a while I turned to him. 
"Maybe you would have other ideas of how to interpret the story?" I asked with a smile. 
"If I will want to speak, I will" he answered. 

I think at that point (the first time I was slightly taken aback and stunned) I might have given a meaningful look to the moderators or even rolled my eyes... Did I? I don't remember. There was definitely a feeling of discomfort, a wall between him and us. I think I even thought of him as plainly rude. 

He seemed to imply that were not being serious enough, trying to put the missing pieces of the literary puzzle based on our vague memory. We weren't backing up every argument with a quotation, we were jumping from general impressions to details, we were bringing up literary associations in a very free way.  He didn't approve of our mocking tone. 

I remembered how I  used to feel about the codes, the style of discussion in this club. How at times I do not feel totally comfortable with the Monty-Pyntonish tone. Today I was enjoying it. Have I started to feel at home here?

But then there is that itch, that question whether the newcomer will come again, whether we will be able to continue making efforts to make him welcome and at the same time show that even if we are not perfect readers, we would like some kindness and understanding too...

Tuesday, November 6, 2012


As long as I remember this cuckoo clock was in the house where my Grandmother was born.  This house is no longer habited and I saw it empty, its habitants having moved to a larger and more comfortable house. I am glad that they have moved and have a better life. It overshadows the nostalgia over the empty rooms.  It was sweet to look at the clock once again and remember its ticking sound at meals at my Grandmother's sister house. 

Family visits indeed have a bitter-sweet taste or shall I say sweetly- bitter.

They remind me of who  I am and where I come from. I feel my own distinctiveness and how our family has moved on from the days when my Grandmother grew up in that village in the mountains, but it is all about understanding this path and feeling we breathe the same air. To laugh at the same jokes, and remember the taste of the same recipes. There is also an immense sweetness in discovering that with so many of your relatives it's not just the blood kin that bonds you, but also a sense of friendship and camaraderie. 

And then there is the bitterness of not being able to talk about the most important things, because they have been pronounced taboos. It creates clods in the flow of communication and damps the joy of being together.  There is also a bitter taste in the way it is easy to tell your family what is best for them because you think that coming from outside you know better. Finally, it feels so rushed because you want to see and satisfy everyone, but there just isn't enough time. 

All the same  the bitterness is worth the sweetness.

Thursday, November 1, 2012

Talking about heaven and hell

 Today I read a striking comment of a  Polish well known feminist, moral philosopher and advocate of women's rights on how unwelcome she feels as an atheist in the Polish culture. All Saints Day,  is a moment for her to remind that not everybody believes in heaven and hell. Then she ridicules these concepts and shows how little meaning they have to her, and at the same time she does not feel less alive or less reflective on death because of that. 

I was sad to read the tone of this comment. The author is right that we shouldn't treat atheistic views on after life and death less seriously than those of people of faith. On the other hand, I do not want people's beliefs in after life to be simplified and mocked either. In fact, I think that there is neither nothing easy in believing in life after death  nor as it is in believing that there is nothing afterwards.  

 I hate these stereotypes that "atheists are careless about death" or "Christians have an easy consolation because there is heaven". We all have to face the inevitable perspective of death.  Whether we believe in eternity or not, we might experience fear, incertitude, curiosity. We  wonder about what will happen, how much of us will stay behind, what dying means to the present life and how to make the best of it. How to be live the fullest of lives (which what actually being saint means to Christians).

Why is it then that we cannot talk about it in the spirit of respect? Let heaven and hell be a metaphor, a point of debate, if they are not a reality of everyone, but let them start a real conversation.