A Gang of Seven

 Pointing the Way

 Premises

 Two Movements

 Three Sacraments

 Facets of Vital Engagement

 Vital Engagement:
            Life Blood of Trust

 Steps Towards Trust

 Missed Steps

 Unseen Options  

 Justice in Relationships

 

IMAGINATION       INITIATIVE      INQUIRY   
ACKNOWLEDGEMENT       INCLUSION

Acknowledgement

It's September 1966. I'm driving in Hungary with my father shifting nervously in the passenger seat of the VW Beatle we rented in Vienna. I'm looking for a sign to match the turnoff to Tes as shown on the map in my hand. It's my father's birthplace and the village Pop left at age eighteen some sixty years earlier.


Without any road sign I reckon from the mileage it  must be the only road shown on my map that can get us to Tes. As we make the turn we are stopped by a manually operated pivot gate and a military guardhouse.

I am getting up my nerve to approach the soldier guarding the barricade. Pop is saying we may as well just turn around and go home. I know his pessimism is not an instruction. He is growing uneasy and doesn't know what to expect next. I don't know if the soldier is Russian or Hungarian. Pop impatiently says "how should I know" when I ask. I decide to try my kitchen Hungarian to see if the soldier will let us through. He turns out to be a genuinely helpful Hungarian and happily puts us on our way.

I could use an "attaboy" from Pop. We are both feeling a lot of stress. It's a mountain road. My anxieties start to kick in and I press Pop, "Do you recognize this road?" After sixty years why should he? He says only "we're never going to find the place and even if we do there won't be anybody there."

Looking back I recognize that, being caught up in the logistics of the trip, I failed to recognize that whatever anxieties I may have had, for him they must have been far, far greater.

My mother had died some three years earlier leaving my father to live alone. He was about eight years older than my mother so the thought that he would outlive her never crossed his mind. Though my nearby siblings and their children were highly attentive I saw a deepening sadness and hopelessness in him at each of my bi-weekly visits. One day as we were talking I thought maybe a trip back to his boyhood home would take him out of his melancholy. '

So here we are following directions from a soldier who barred the sure road we intended to take. Now we are on a scarcely travelled winding back-road up a heavily wooded hillside. We are looking for signs or anything to suggest we are heading towards Tes. We find no signs of civilization. Suddenly we break into a clearing. Armored vehicles and infantry are all over the place.

At this point Pop says we must turn back, "The Russians are not going to let us through." I hear only his despair. I am anxious about getting there. Pop is anxious about something he left behind and never expected to see again. I begin thinking more rationally. Despite Pop's misgivings I inch forward assessing the situation. With no sign of actual combat I continue on. I am invested and intent on finding Tes at any cost.

Things aren't going well and now we stumble into the middle of a military training operation. To one side of the road is a personnel carrier with several soldiers. One is an officer. I stop a short ways off. At this point I am sure these are Russians. I cautiously approach the officer again wondering whether to try Hungarian or risk English. I decide to simply point to Tes on the map I'm holding. With all the courtesy I expect of a military officer he graciously draws a map in the dirt pointing the way to Tes for me. Pop is visibly alarmed as I get back in the car. I tell him we are only a few minutes away. It doesn't seem to lift his spirits at all.

A short ride later we are in Tes. It’s a village of about twenty five or thirty closely grouped cottages and a few more prominent buildings. Pop begins to see familiar landmarks. The church and a restored windmill are visible nearby. He is home. We stop and ask if there is anyone in the neighborhood who carries the family name.

We soon discover Pop's only two brothers still living there along with children and

grandchildren uncles and cousins I never even knew I had. The first meeting is with

Pop's oldest brother, Sandor, just two years younger than Pop. It is only an instant before the shocking surprise turns into an embrace. I am awed by the immediate recognition and acceptance.

Two World Wars and over twenty years of successive occupation by German and Russian armies had intervened. Here I am a stranger in a strange land seeing my father received as though he had simply returned from a trip abroad. I still marvel at how immediately and completely he is welcomed "home" by all; most remarkably by Sandor and his family who quickly make accommodations for us to stay in their modest homes.

Then I stood politely apart more observer than participant. Now I realize that the intimate bond I saw developing in depth over the course of the week was there from the first awkward embrace. In the course of the week we came to know and draw close to Pop's brothers, Sandor and Mihal, and their wives, children and grandchildren. There was much to tell and be told and a lot more left unsaid in a week packed with emotion and wonder.

As it came near the end of our stay a new anxiety welled up in me. I am dreading having to be the one who drives off taking Pop from the only true comfort he has enjoyed in the past three years. Fortunately Sandor spared me that agony. He offered to ride with us to a border town and return by train. Still, parting was inevitable. At the train station Pop and Sandor talked optimistically with no sign of what was to come. Only now can I acknowledge my own emotional presence. Then I stood back and watched two elderly men embrace with tears streaming down their faces. At the last moment they separated and Sandor, eyes clouded with tears, stumbled onto the train never looking back. The drive to Vienna was mostly in silence or simply emotional exhaustion.

Now that I am about the age my father was at the time of our trip, I am able to acknowledge my emotional presence with him. We never spoke about those aspects only the matter of fact events. It pains me to think about the loss of not openly sharing what I was feeling. He on the other hand openly shared his emotions. It is no longer necessary for me to refer to the trip in the way I have for the past forty odd years -- "The time I took my father to Hungary." Now I know that it was more for me than just organizing and taking charge of the trip. I saw what was happening to my father. The incredible transformation that gave him new life for most of the next fifteen years that he lived on. I was part of the same emotional journey. I can no longer retreat from the shared intimacy I experienced without openly acting on it.