Next year I will write about this for my paper, but I have been writing to a Polish friend about it, so B.A.'s and my visit to a cemetery in Kraków on All Saints Day is very much on my mind.
There is still huge cultural pressure on young people in Poland to get married or embrace religious life, which is great when it comes to making adults behave like adults when otherwise they'd be tempted to become perpetual teenagers, but awful when it comes to women who don't have boyfriends or a religious vocation. The beauty and usefulness of unmarried, unconsecrated aunts must be stressed and celebrated. Maybe there should be a worldwide League of Extraordinary Single Aunts.
And I have a good reason to stress the family ties of Aunts, especially in Poland, because one of the sorrows of Singles is the idea that they don't have families when OF COURSE they have families. We're all born into families, and Poland has the family-friendliest culture I've ever seen. It even beats Italy because although Italians love children, too many (most?) married Italians have spent the past 40 years short-sightedly contracepting Italy towards extinction.
Nothing proved to me the importance of family in Poland more than All Saints's Day. All Saint's Day is a public holiday there, and Poles spend the day and night visiting and tidying the graves of their deceased relations. When B.A. and I were waiting very early in the morning for a tram, I noticed that the one that terminated at a cemetery was absolutely crammed with riders. And even on our less-crowded tram, there were many people with big bundles of flowers and pine branches in dirty plastic bags.
We went to Mass, in part because All Saint's Day is a Holy Day of Obligation in both Poland and Scotland, and after lunch, and fruitless attempts to see art or shop (the galleries and most shops were understandably closed), and a cancelled engagement, we decided to go to a cemetery ourselves.
I was in a tired and frustrated mood from linguistic difficulties, organizational shortcomings, and insomnia, but as we walked to the cemetery, joining the steady stream of people with flowers, branches and dirty plastic bags, and passing the opposite stream of people who now had just the bags, my heart began to lift. We were obviously witnessing something very new to us and very important to Polish culture. Tourists love to be "in the know", and it seemed that we were "in the know."
When we got to the cemetery, we crowded in as others crowded out, and there was still enough light in the early-darkening November sky to read the map. There were two long lists of the names of famous Krakowians buried there. I didn't see the Wojyła family mentioned, but I recognized the names Jan Matejko (the painter), Helena Modrzejewska (the singer) and--especially--Roman Ingarden, Saint Edith Stein's friend and colleague. So having located "our" grave, B.A. and I walked along the avenues to find it.
The tombstones were all raised; they were all big enough to sit on, and there were no flat markers on grass such as we see most of the time in Canada and the USA. They were more like real homes on real avenues; it was a city of the dead. There were trees and tombs as far as the eye could see in all direction, and each and every tomb had coloured, candlelit glass lamps on it. No tomb had been left neglected. There were several lamps on and around the Ingarden tomb; I wondered if family, colleagues or fans had left them there.
There were people everywhere, quiet but chatty and cheerful. Of course I could not understand most of what they said, but I could hear grandsons asking grandmothers how far away their grave was, and grandmothers assuring them not much further. A woman asked me in Polish, and then in a mix of English and Polish, where the Wojtyła grave was, and when I confessed to not knowing, she consulted an older woman who gave complicated directions with much dramatic pointing. In a distant corner, a middle-aged father and college-age son worked silent on and around a flat, raised tombstone, taking lamps and branches from bags.
From a small but ornate chapel, prayers and hymns were so amplified that we could hear them from at least a short distance away. And behind the chapel was a memorial to the victims of communism, in the form of a cross being grasped by many disembodied hands. There was a big crowd of people standing silently before this memorial, and in front of them hundreds of coloured, candlelit, glass lamps. No doubt some of the people were praying for family members who died in the horrors of the Stalinist period and after, but I suspect they were including all the victims in their prayers.
It was not just about family, this quiet cemetery festival. It was about neighbours and nation, too, and the Catholic awareness that our dead--the Church Suffering and the Church Triumphant--are still part of our Church, still part of our families, and should not be left forgotten and neglected by us. For the first time in my life, I was well and truly ashamed of the Canadian/American Hallowe'en, with its pagan enjoyment of ghouls and prurient attitude towards our locked and silent graveyards. As a child in a Catholic school, I was directed to make spooky graveyard scenes with tombstones, ghosts, bats and skeletons, spindly trees, comic epitaphs. It was fun, but it had nothing to do with Catholicism because it had nothing to do with love.
The cemetery in Kraków was full of love. Not romantic, sexual love, although perhaps that was there, too, flickering in the hearts of widows and widowers and surviving sweethearts as they prayed for their lost beloveds. Just love: love for family, love for neighbours, love for the dead, love for the saints and parents of saints. Love for God. Love.