Last week, I posted about some of the diversions that I had used to fill the gaping hole in my soul during my long prodigal “season” away from the Lord (see here). Today, I’d like to present another one as I submerged myself into my Polish heritage.
My father’s parents* immigrated from Poland in the early 1900s. As a child, I was intrigued by my grandparents who spoke only limited English. However, growing up with a last name ending in “ski” during the 1960s and 70s at the height of the “dumb Polak” joke craze was not easy. In school, I was often singled out as the “dumb Polak.” Hardy har har. I swore to myself for years that the very first thing I was going to do when I turned eighteen was change my last name to “Smith” or “Jones.” Of course, when I finally did turn eighteen, I had other priorities.
After I turned away from the Lord and was journeying through the parched landscape of my prodigal “season” in the early aughts, I happened to spot a book at our local Borders bookstore that documented the history of Rochester’s Polish community. That was the start of it. From being embarrassed and ashamed of my ethnic roots, that book was the kickoff to REVELING in my heritage, which, fasten your seat belts, included the following:
- I read everything I could get my hands on regarding Polish history and culture including the weekly Am-Pol Eagle and monthly Polish American Journal newspapers as well as three academic quarterlies. I eventually amassed over one-hundred books about Poland and Polonia (i.e., the Polish American diaspora) in my personal library.
- I joined local and national Polish American organizations and helped plan and coordinate several Polish events in Rochester.
- I began attending the annual Polish festivals in Rochester, Buffalo, and Syracuse. Between festivals, I regularly explored the Polish sections of those cities (or what was left of them) as well as the very-much-intact Polish neighborhoods up in Toronto and St. Catherines, Canada. Buffalo had a mammoth Polish population compared to Rochester and many, many Polish organizations, but assimilation has taken it’s toll with Poles moving to the suburbs and losing interest in their cultural roots.
- I listened to Ray Serafin’s two-hour, Polish Polka Bandstand show on one of our local radio stations every Saturday morning and eventually amassed a collection of over fifty polka CDs. I also accumulated a large number of subtitled Polish films on DVD.
- I hosted an internet forum for five years which discussed issues involving Poland and Polonia.
- A 3’x5′ Polish flag flew proudly from our front balcony just in case someone wasn’t sure about my ethnicity. Also, one of my clothes drawers was full of Polish-themed t-shirts and my hat rack was full of Polish-themed caps.
- I became a regular customer of the two Polish delis here in Rochester and also became proficient at making several delicious Polish recipes. They’re hearty dishes so I’ll share the recipes in a couple of more months when the temperatures are more appropriate. Strangely, there are no Polish delis in Buffalo (although it does have a few Polish restaurants), but there are several delis in St. Catherines and Toronto.
- If anyone made the mistake of telling a “dumb Polak” joke in my presence, I responded with both barrels and made them feel as uncomfortable as I possibly could.
- On our trip to Germany to visit our grandson in 2007, we were able to take a 5-day detour to Krakow, the historic capital of Poland from 1038 to 1596. Unlike many other Polish cities, Krakow was largely spared from shelling and aerial bombing during World War II and its grand historic buildings including the royal castle remained intact.
Did you get all of that? Can anyone say idol?
Bottom line: I was nostril-deep in things-Polish for well over a decade. Not to brag, but I believe the knowledge I accumulated was equivalent to a bachelors degree in Polish Studies. My family and friends thought it was EXTREMELY weird that I became so infatuated with my ethnic heritage, but I believe it all stemmed from two things. 1) My shame at being Polish when I was young and 2) the pressing need to fill the vacuum in my soul while I was away from the Lord.
After I returned to the Lord in 2014, my frenetic need to study my ethnicity was lifted from me. Unsaved people have no foundation in the Lord, so they’re increasingly turning to DNA tests and Ancestry.com to try to establish some type of meaningful foundation for their lives. Everything besides Jesus Christ is sinking sand and ultimately won’t satisfy.
I’m very glad I learned about my heritage, but now I’m able to put it all in its proper perspective.
“Be still, and know that I am God. I will be exalted among the nations, I will be exalted in the earth!” – Psalm 46:10
“What is your life? For you are a mist that appears for a little time and then vanishes.” – James 4:14
“Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world—the desires of the flesh and the desires of the eyes and pride in possessions—is not from the Father but is from the world. And the world is passing away along with its desires, but whoever does the will of God abides forever.” – 1 John 2:15-17
*My Mom was seventy-five percent German and twenty-five percent Irish, so during this period I also spent some time researching German history and the German American diaspora.
Postscripts: 1) While I’m definitely not a follower of pop social morality, I do appreciate how bullying, for any reason, is no longer acceptable (at least ideally). 2) Perhaps no ethnic group is more tightly intertwined with Roman Catholicism than the Poles. That was a circumstance I had to constantly ignore during my hyper-Polish phase.
If you’ve hung in there with me to this point, I offer you a sincere dziękuję bardzo!
Polish joke – Wikipedia article