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#2 from 2017: Doing good against all odds – remembering the forgotten

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture
Our Top Ten blog posts by readership in 2017. This post was originally posted on February 7, 2017.

The opportunity for doing mischief is found a hundred times a day, and of doing good once in a year.
 - Voltaire
 
Every November 1st, Poland observes All Saints Day or as some call it, the Day of the Deceased. In the middle of the Polish Golden Autumn there is a day when all Poles meet each other at the cemetery. Flowers and candles are lit to honor loved ones who are no longer with us. Most Polish cemeteries are very pristine and well cared for. For me this is a day of national truce and solidarity intertwined with the Roman-Catholic tradition. All Saints Day is celebrated in other countries, but the poignancy and mobility in Poland has no match. The day before and the day after, millions of Poles patiently travel for hours in never-ending traffic jams.
 
I am not always able to attend All Saints Day in my native Poland, but there are always flowers, wreaths, and candles, exceeding the number of my living distant relatives at the grave of my parents. And then there are the invisible friendly hands that clean my family's tomb a few weeks later, before the beginning of winter. The culmination of this holiday is an outdoor mass before dusk, which basically occurs at every cemetery. I must admit that for as long as I can remember; I have always tried to skip the mass service saturated with the presence of thousands of worshipers for the sake of long walks in the marvelous fall festival of lights a few hours later where the cemeteries are almost deserted. Imagine, walking in darkness on the fallen and golden dry leaves amongst the orange glow of thousands of lit candles that blend with a scent of burning wax and the array of thousands of flowers. Surrounded by people who act most courteously towards each other, and then there is the humbling moment of realizing again that death is a destiny for each of us. All of this is accompanied by solemn tranquility and feelings of nostalgia.
 

The Olympic Spirit is still alive: Poland’s Olympian and Paralympian auction off their Rio-2016 medals to fund children's cancer treatment

Leszek J. Sibilski's picture

 “The things you learn from sports – setting goals, being part of a team, confidence – that’s invaluable. It’s not about trophies and ribbons. It’s about being on time for practice, accepting challenges and being fearful of the elements.” — Summer Sanders
  
As the Olympic flame, once stolen from Zeus by Prometheus, was extinguished, the world bid farewell to the 2016 Summer Olympics and Paralympics in Rio de Janeiro. The downpour that drenched the Maracana Stadium during the Olympic Closing Ceremony didn’t interrupt the carnival with the Brazilian Balao music. Near the end, to the sound of samba beats, the President of the International Olympic Committee, Thomas Bach declared: “These were marvelous Olympic Games, in the Marvelous City.” A few weeks later at the Paralympic Closing Ceremony, Sir Philip Craven, the President of the International Paralympic Committee proclaimed: “Marvelous Cariocas, you warmly embraced these Games and took the athletes to your hearts. You made the Paralympics your Games, the People’s Games, and we will forever cherish our time spent with you.” 
 
The next day as guests started to travel back home, the Cariocas were on the verge of facing the reality of post-Olympic nostalgic trauma. To be sure, some of the athletes were already in the middle of the post-Olympic media frenzy; some were sharing the shiny hardware with their communities and their loved ones; some joined the professional tours to continue their season; and some simply went to bed to catch up on some well-deserved sleep. Many of them promised themselves no more -- this is the end of the Olympic journey, and some obliged themselves to work harder to be ready for Tokyo 2020. Some hit the books to experience a back to school reality, and some decided to start families.

And the Walls Came Tumbling Down

Anne-Katrin Arnold's picture

November 9th is an ambiguous day for Germany. On November 9, 1938, the Nazis killed 400 Jews, arrested about 30,000 more, destroyed over 800 synagogues and thousands of homes and businesses in the Kristallnacht, a pogrom against German and Austrian Jews.

About half a century later, on November 9, 1989, Germans in East and West Berlin stormed the Berlin Wall, the symbol of the Cold War, and brought down the Iron Curtain, literally with their own hands. I lived in East Germany when people started going out into the streets, chanting "We are the people" and demanding more freedom from the communist government. In September 1989 the first so called Monday Demonstration brought people out onto the street in Leipzig, first to pray for peace, then to demand freedom. I remember the exhilarating feeling when those demonstrations spread through other cities and drew more and more people until hundreds of thousands of East Germans protested - peacefully, without violence - for their rights.