Monday, 7 May 2012
The Brave Women Retreat
And--sorry to toot my own horn--I was brave myself. When I discovered that I had missed my Edinburgh to Krakow flight--because I am not only brave but also occasionally stupid--I booked a flight to Gatwick, there to sleep until the first UK flight to Krakow left the next morning at 7:45 AM.
Monday Night, 30 April
Oh, poppets. The horror of trying to sleep in Gatwick. There are, in Gatwick, a few rows of seats without any arm-rests, so people can actually lie down. But the lights shine down relentlessly and old men talk without ceasing and other travellers get the good seats before you, and it is all very unpleasant. However, eventually I did manage to get a row to myself and I wrapped my head in my scarf against the bright lights and stuffed earplugs in my ears against the old men. And thus I managed to get some sleep, if not the deep, deep, sleep of the enviable Polish couple to my right.
Incidentally, the ankle-length denim skirt does have its uses. If you are going to sleep on the floor or seats of Gatwick airport, an ankle-length denim skirt is a good thing. Meanwhile, I went to sleep clutching a postcard of Our Lady Queen of Poland as a protection against Bad People.
Tuesday, 1 May
First I put in my contact lenses. Next I went to Costa coffee and had a "flat white." Then I flew to Krakow, muttering my Polish speech over and over. The correct way to pronounce the name of our beloved late pontiff JP2 in Polish is, more-or-less, Bwogoslavee-ON-ee Yan PAV-ey-oh DRU-gi.
At Krakow airport was Father Pawel, who whisked me away out-of-doors, where it was over 25 degrees Celsius, which is to say absolute heaven after cold and rainy Britain. I took off my tweed coat and wool hat and turned my face to the sky and made noises of joy and gratitude. The sun shone down, the sky was blue, the population of Krakow jammed the highway as they headed for the mountains, and thus we took a country route to the Redemptorists' house.
At the Redemptorists' house I was shown to my room and given half an hour of free time, which I used to wash and change and recover from my eight prone hours in Gatwick airport. Then I was whisked to dinner, which I gratefully munched, and where I met other people in the retreat team. Then I was carted off to an interview in the Homo Dei office, which never happened, and then I went for a lovely sunny walk along the Vistula with beautiful Alicja, who was giving a lecture on Wednesday afternoon.
Then there was a meeting in a board room, and this was very amusing because, of course, I understood enough Polish to know what was going on, but not enough to know exactly what people were saying. Which must be like how it is for some Poles in Scotland. But fortunately I never felt left out or despairing, and when asked if I had anything to say, I croaked out "Cieszę się, że jestem tutaj." This means I am happy that I am here, which was perfectly true.
And at last the retreat began in the little retreat house, which had a nice big room with windows, and it began with prayers and Praise and Worship music, led by the music team, a married couple, the wife playing the electric keyboard and the husband playing the electric guitar. I had a strong sense of "Toto, we aren't in Trid Land anymore." In fact, I had a sense that this was a natural extension of my M.Div. years. And say what you like about P&W, it's very repetitive and therefore ideal for learning theological Polish.
Then was supper. Then was Mass in the 16th century church in which JP2 used to ask for the help of Our Lady of Perpetual Help on his way to his Nazi-occupation era manual labour job. And then there was a lecture about "The Brave Woman, Who Can Find Her?" and women in the Old Testament by Dr. Kantor, who was also my translator. I stayed for ten minutes, but then I was simply too exhausted. Off I went to bed.
Wednesday, 2 May
There were prayers and P&W music the next morning after breakfast, and then it was time for me to do my thing. So I got up and looked at the seventy lovely women who had decided to spend their May vacation on retreat, and said "Dziękuję bardzo. Cieszę się, że jestem dziś z Paniami tutaj w Krakowie." And to my joy, it actually came out Polish-sounding, and the ladies were astonished and applauded warmly. In M.Div. language, I felt very affirmed. So I read out the rest of my 90 word speech and was warmly applauded again. Their generous response was reward beyond my wildest dreams for my six months of ego-squashing linguistic toil. Then I told them all about St. Edith Stein.
Dr. K translated after every sentence, so we all got 74 minutes of St. Edith Stein.
Then there was a break, and then to my relief almost everyone came back and I gave part one of "How Not to Go Insane While You are Single." This was much lighter fare than the thought of St. Edith Stein. By then I had figured out that I had two audiences. One audience could understand whatever I said, and the other audience depended on the translator. This knowledge helped me a lot in delivery.
And then there was dinner--hurrah! The Poles have their main meal in the middle of the day, which is extremely sensible. There was soup and meat and potatoes and veg, all delicious.
After dinner there was Exposition of the Blessed Sacrament, confessions with Fr. Pawel and one-on-one chats with Alicja in one room and me in another. I had some very heartwarming chats. There was another short P&W service, and then it was time for Alicja's lecture about Single Life and prayer. Polish-Canadian M very kindly translated for American R and Scots-Canadian me.
Then there was Mass and a little P&W service of healing, but my Gatwick vigil caught up with me, and I didn't make it through the healing service. Zzzzz.
Thursday, 3 May
Breakfast. P&W service. Me. This time my intro was a simple Dzien dobry (Good day) and then I told us all about Mulieris Dignitatem. After an hour, I stopped and we all had a good break. Then I gave Part 2 of "How Not to Go Insane While You are Single", which I think we all enjoyed more than Mulieris Dignitatem, as it was funnier and much less brainy.
Then we went to a scheduled parish Mass in the church. It was the feast day of Our Lady Queen of Poland, and instead of P&W songs there were a lot of hymns featuring the words "Maryjo" and "Polski" and "Polska". And then there was the concluding meeting in the retreat house and delicious dinner. People began to say good-bye and to leave. And then I packed and was taken by tram to the train station, Father Pawel lugging my monster suitcase all the way, and put on the train to Warsaw.
Only when the train was zipping north-east did it begin to rain. Ahh...! I'm telling you, the weather was perfect. Okay, Thursday afternoon was a bit muggy, as there was shortly to be a thunderstorm, but I enjoyed even the mugginess because late April in Edinburgh was miserable.
So what else can I tell you about the retreat? I greatly enjoyed signing books because it gave me a chance to speak one-on-one to many of the women, most of whom were shy about their English, which was always better than my Polish, so they needn't have been shy. And I was very grateful to Dorota and Margareta of Homo Dei for they baked me a big box of kokosanki (coconut cookies) and thus, later on the week, when I was hungry and stuck on a slow train, I had something to eat.
Oh, and I am also very grateful to the porter, for when I returned to the Redemptorists' house from central Poland to spend the night before flying back to Edinburgh, he said, "Ah! Pani (Miss) [Seraphic]!" like I belonged there.
Update: I don't want to stress this, this being a blog for Singles, but I have to say that the hero of the hour(s) on Monday evening was B.A. Even though I was in floods of self-hating tears, B.A. coped extremely patiently and supported all my plans, including buying last minute flights. He came with me to the airport by bus and was cheerful and kind and observed that it was nice that we never have terrible rows in a crisis.
"That is because in a real crisis I go into a catatonic state," I said.
And as this is a blog for Singles, I will say that my dad would have done the same thing. There is something to be said for wanting to marry a nice guy like your dad, if you are so lucky as to have a good dad.