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Do you know what fills me most with wonder?’  the Head of the Music School asked. ‘The powerlessness of the police to do anything about it.' They were conspicuously absent at his funeral. And four months later they still wouldn’t dare come within five hundred metres of the place.

 

We had spent early Monday evening buying sheet music at a shop close to the Opera House where, the previous Friday, we had been given presidential treatment in the form of two front balcony seats to La Fille Mal Garde. Our host failed to secure the benefits of privilege a second time. We missed a concert of Mozart and drove north to the church or St. Stanislav Kostka. As we parked in the square, candlelit faces were passing upturned green benches behind the railings.

 

This was the diocese of Father Jerzy Popieluszko. The church itself is modern, with twin frontal towers reminiscent of a design by Borromini and Rainaldi, surrounded by a little land, in one corner of which a kiosk sold photographs and mementos. Nearby, candles burned before a fortress of pine branches, an abundance of flowers lay on the mound of a recent grave, which seemed exceptionally high. They must have either dug deep or carried barrows of earth from elsewhere. On the funeral day, messages from international Solidarity had pointed outwards, but within a short time, notices of condolence began to replace threats of aggression. An illegal anchor built of twigs rested against the railings, no longer turned defiantly outwards but inwards towards the church. The open boot of a Polish Fiat, contained a Christ effigy, surrounded by three black shrouds hung from sticks.

 

Visiting clerics were melancholic and hopeful. A dismal silence and a mindless authority had been broken. Within this protected area grayness lifted from faces, at once startled by new words and phrases flowing into a long-interrupted conversation. The shrine of Popieluszko is not a symbol. The Poles will not win their democracy with symbols.

 

To the left of the church young men wearing yellow armbands patrol the grounds. Inside a balconied apartment - the home of the former incumbent - the lights are turned on. Within the body of the church, the congregation overflows through the doors. Their eyes are burning with excitement. Electrified, they realise that, despite the safety in numbers, if they close the church now or if they extinguish the light, all might be lost. More candles burn, new arrivals walk down the aisles, kneel and cross themselves in silence. Not one cough is heard, or whispered prayer or lamentation. No comment, word of greeting, welcome or sign of recognition. A sense of fraternity creeps through  this manifestation and steals its anonymity. More people file past the open doors while others return to the pitch black outside.

 

The following day, within sight of Lazienki, compacted snow lies over the Botanical Gardens. Motorised ploughs push along the arbours, dislocating floating eyes beneath their tread. Nuns from the convent walk by wearing fashionable boots. They are young and businesslike. Their looks thrive. Ahead of them the path comes out of the wood and meanders alongside a lake. The island has not thawed out and wild fowl huddles on its shelf. In the distance the roof of the Music School is visible. Students return from a lecture and pensioners walk their dogs. Where do they imagine is the ideal place to live?

 

Before a concert of chamber music at the Palace a woman speaks loudly and writes something in a diary. She is not a critic. The audience stares at this lonely figure, who hums the violin part as the musicians continue to play. During the interval I walk back to the old town. Fresh snow flurries in my face. I pull up my collar and push against the blizzard. At the entrance to St. John’s Cathedral two oil lamps burn behind a window. I blow into my gloved hands. Dziekania Street is laden with snow. An avalanche tips off the flying balcony that links the castle with the royal stall in the cathedral chancel. The gutters in Kanonia Square are frozen.

 

Above the Kamienne Schodki cafe plumes grey smoke. I venture down the stone steps and wander inside the bookshop, formerly a printers, where, in the eighteenth century, Warsaw’s first daily newspaper, Gazeta Rzadowa, was published . My breath does not disappear. The temperature is fourteen below zero and these little clouds just hang around my face. Inside the bookshop, my friends browse as quiet as mice. An inner voice laughs in delight. A candle flame leans back in surprise.

 

There is no such escape from exile. Unforeseeable laws govern the globe. It is futile to complain: there is no distance, there is no longer an inside or an outside. Is not the sail of every doctrine inflated with revolution? Are there not basic laws within each of us about which almost everybody would agree? An exile is a refugee from the community in which he no longer lives. An alien is severed from his connections and is repudiated by all. What are we all, but aliens and exiles too?

 

Popieluszko was hoping to contribute to the growth of society.

 

Timothy Foster - unpublished -1985