My father was born in Poland in 1951 under the Soviet iron curtain. In the adventures of his youth, he trekked all over Europe, and having seen both sides of the Berlin Wall, made it his life’s mission to escape the confining Communist system. Overcoming tremendous obstacles, he succeeded, getting a visa to earn an assistant professorship at the University of Illinois in 1981 and bringing his fiancée, my mother, to the United States in 1984. Over the years since I was born, my father gained weight, drank heavily, and became a fearsome man filled with anger. I was not alive to witness that entire transformation, but I suspect that his family anchored him and he no longer felt like the preeminent adventurer he always wished to be.
My father was hateful to my family. When I was very young I would run terrified from his drunken anger, hide behind my mother, and I remember feeling hopeless knowing she could not protect me. In elementary school I talked to my guidance counselor about him, and I remember later sitting at the dinner table, listening to my father’s formal announcement that I wanted to destroy the family because I was spreading lies about him to my teachers. All the while I bit my tongue, knowing that the force of good was on my side. My life would be safe as long as I was virtuous.
And yet at times my father was an idol to me. He was brilliant and knew all the ways of the world. He thrived on answering my incessant questions and being seen as the master of knowledge. We derived a strange friendship, one based on discussion of politics, culture and science. He took me on business trips and vacations across America and Europe, but while he narrated the journey, I created my own meaning for the things that I saw. In splendorous nature I felt a mystic completeness, while in fantastic cities of men’s creation I could hear the cries of despair from people yearning for the spiritual connections they had forgotten. I neither paid attention to the things I did nor kept track of the names of famed sites. Instead, I sensed the spirits of the life around me, and all the while dwelled on the nature of the world and the people in it. I wondered about good and evil, society’s ills, and what justice meant for people like my father, who is merely another human.
I believe that good and bad can be found in all people. I understand the fallibility of humanity, and I find that desires are most often what destroys people and leads them away from love. I believe that accomplishments here on Earth are meaningless, and that the only things that stay with you after you die are your virtues and wisdom. Human beings need to live with love in their hearts for others, so that we may never harm others and build around us the most positive world. Hope, a courageous form of love, is also necessary to survive the darkest times. I believe in love above all things, and I am not afraid to say it.
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