In our “hometown” of Czestochowa, Poland, all roads lead to the Jasna Góra (seriously no matter which road we found ourselves on, it appeared to lead back to the monastery). An extensive complex, the Jasna Góra is a shrine to the Virgin Mary and was built in the late 14th century. It is a place of pilgramage and a spiritual center. It is also home to the famed Black Madonna of Czestochowa, believed to have miraculous power.
No matter your beliefs, this place is impressive. Our recent tour of the shrine with the friendly, humorous and knowledgeable Father Simon was a fitting end to this part of our journey – a journey that has brought us smiles, friends, laughter, challenges, sadness, tears, excitement, anger, knowledge, joy, peace, perhaps a few miracles, and above all together.
We have spent 126 days with Czestochowa as our homebase. We home-schooled the kids, we worked, we cooked meals, hung out with the neighbors, played in the garden, took walks, went to the gym, visited Polish schools, celebrated holidays, found our favorite restaurants and did weekly grocery shopping. We made ourselves a home – even if only for a short time.
As you know, we also traveled extensively throughout Poland and Eastern Europe during this time, but it was always nice to have a “home” to which we could return. This week we’ve been saying our goodbyes, visiting our favorite restaurants and stores once more, and spending time with dear friends that truly are the reason we felt at home so quickly. Goodbyes are never easy – and they are always thought provoking.
Czestochowa was a huge, influential and meaningful part of our sabbatical life. It certainly wasn’t all roses, but it is now part of our story. This sabbatical has been life changing. We’ve been to eight countries, numerous cities, natural parks, mountains, valleys, rivers and seas; and we’ve cherished every single moment of our time in Poland.
From a global perspective, we have learned about Polish politics, government, families, education and religion. We have watched European news, observed outside perspectives on the US, and seen the difficulties of the migrant crisis. We heard the warnings about international travel followed by stories of terrorism back on our domestic soil. We’ve seen numerous local elections and have seen a variety of coverage on those back home. We’ve learned an immense amount of history, watched “football,” tasted new foods, listened to music from reggae to Mozart, and we’ve practiced thank you in eight languages! Our takeaway – everyone has a story, a history, unique thoughts and personal beliefs, but most importantly, and even the kids will tell you, above all – people are people. Love is love. Friendship is friendship.
But while developing a cultured, worldly view, we have also gained a deeper understanding about each other. “People are people” applies equally at home. When you spend this much uninterrupted time together, generally living in the same space, challenges are par for the course.
We struggled with home-school. It’s not easy to prepare lessons and teach, and it’s certainly not easy to do it with your own children. There were definitely days that we battled it out. And it’s very difficult to have private, marital conversations with four other ears constantly listening in, not to mention find time for yourself. After a while it’s very easy to get on each other’s nerves; and this is when things are rolling smoothly. Add an unforeseen challenge to the mix and tensions can rise even higher.
But this is life, nothing is ever perfect. Stuff happens. Driving in foreign countries is an adventure and at times hair raising. Staying in many hotels and apartments regardless of how many stars or clean it appears, a bug or two can happen (and spiders are gigantic here!). Whether home or away, everyone catches a pesky cold. Dishes break. Chores have to be done. The IRS is never easy to work with and identity theft is a pain in the you know what. These things are a beast to deal with at home, but add to that a language, cultural and resource barrier and it becomes even more complex. But we have each other and our health, so we trudge on, we fight, we learn and we even come away with a few things (The kids, possibly a few more swear words than they knew before we left!).
We have learned when to hug each other, when to use humor, when to listen, when to call BS and get to the real dirt, when to walk away, when to leave someone alone, when to compromise and how to be patient. We’re not perfect. Never will be. But all of this-every day, every experience, every challenge, has made us better (mabye not at first, but certainly by the end). None of this is unique to us. Everyone has challenges, learns from mistakes, and navigates relationships, but I have found while on a sabbatical, spending this much time together, that these lessons are accelerated and intensified; and my guess happening sooner than they would have if we were going about our every day normal life. For this, we also come away with a good deal of gratitude (and a bit of exhaustion!).
And then there’s the other side of time together. It is indeed priceless. Never again will the four of us have this much time – uninterrupted, without the demands of work, school, activities, etc. Quality and quanity. Never again will our kids be this age. Never again will this opportunity be replicated. In a way, it feels as though we were able to stop time – even if only for a bit.
We’ll takeaway a treasure trove of memories too – silly conversations, games, dancing, snuggle time, walks, picnics, and love. Too many to recount.
But all deep in our souls. The good, the bad, the ugly, the fun, the boring, the normal – we are thankful for each moment of our Czestochowa life.
And most certianly for our Czestochowa friends…
Goodbyes are never easy. But as we know, it is impossible to truly stop time. So, now our thoughts turn toward home and next steps, but we’re doing it with the weight of gold behind us.
So while we say our bittersweet goodbyes and finish our “lasts,” we’ll catch the blog up on the last of our Eastern European adventures (Berlin, Vienna, Cesky Krumlov and Prague), and then we’ll go silent while we live out the last of our sabbatical days – hoping to stop time just a bit longer.