Part of the book.
Like many Poles, I came to Ireland for some time, for money. Most of us, the emigrants on the Green Island, are like the Argonauts pursuing the Golden Fleece. The mythological message remains the same, only the fleece has transformed into Euros, or pounds sterling a little to the north, or the right on the map, on the next island (unless you’re standing with your back to the map, then it’s to the left).
I came, I lived, I stayed. Ireland completely captivated me with some kind of magical power. I wasn’t even that sorry to leave the “historically tired nation” on the Vistula. I’m grateful to Poland for my education and for the fact that it’s not that hard for me in a foreign country, since I’m appreciated for my educated head and various skills obtained somewhat on the way of my proper learning. Hah, in reality, it was the “dirty communism” that gave me my education, free of charge. I think I’ve paid off my debt to Mother Poland, since I taught successive generations of Poles for over ten years.
Some of them are with me in Ireland, others became doctors, craftsmen, mostly good people. Since I no longer owed anything to anyone (maybe besides some money, but here, it’s not the dominating subject at the family table, you will always have enough for a modest life), I packed my luggage with experiences and off I went. I’ve been here for almost five years. Time to repack the luggage. I should take some of the things I continue to carry around, wrap them in grey paper, properly address and send back to their rightful owners.
Time for new luggage, with new contents. Without the past, unwanted memories, faces deformed by filthy grimaces. I don’t want to talk about what I don’t want, what I refuse, what I sent back in the grey packages and to whom. What’s important is what remains in my luggage. What Ireland, my aunt (sounds better than stepmother), allows me to take on my further journey. I don’t really know if you can discover the unknown layers of yourself anywhere on emigration. Maybe just in Ireland? The life of an emigrant is like Jung’s individuation process. You can discover your own self. The new image sometimes scares you, sometimes makes you happy. Mine made me happy. This is what I discovered in Ireland:
- The great causative power of a simple, mechanical “good man”. After you finish the simplest tasks, after you lift your finger, you hear that you did good, that you’re OK. After a while, you get used to it and say it to others, but at first it’s a shock, driving you to do more and more, just to once again be able to hear “good man”.
- Self-distance. As it turns out, we’re not the hub of the universe or the “Christ of Nations”, as we have been told in school, churches and by the TV. The world owes us nothing. We have to take our fate in our own hands, create a new Polish quality and take responsibility for it. We have to be the ones responsible, not the history, one party or another, the government, God, Russians and Germans and their evil pacts, obviously continuously connived to make Poland suffer.
- Deep patriotism. When the Irish speak of Poles, they start with our virtues. They consider us as hard working, competent, resourceful, good company, honest, clean, extremely well-schooled and excellent professionals. Thanks to the Irish, I completely forgot what we used to be called by the Germans of FRG, where we used to go to work. Pog ma thoin you damn Germans, no one here calls us thieves!
- Self respect. No one keeps reminding me that I’m an emigrant, a nobody from nowhere. Ireland respects my dignity, as long as I’m dignified and respect myself. There is a peculiar paradox possible in Ireland; on one hand, it absorbs you entirely, on the other, it always keeps its distance.
- How to live with ease, without neuroses. The Irish are not neurotic, they have common sense with a tendency to have fun. Here, your job only serves to make money, not individual battles on spending the earnings somewhere else, somewhere where the Irish believe is real life. It works! It’s always raining, but the sun is shining.
- Peace. You don’t have to fight for your existence, for survival. When something goes wrong and you fall down, you have a harness. Auntie Ireland can actually help, you’ll never go hungry. Mother Poland talks a lot, but with little results, Auntie Ireland doesn’t drone, she likes facts. She usually helps because: “We too used to wander in search of bread and were driven off everywhere as ‘those poor, dirty Micks’. We’re not going to be like that. When you come to Ireland in search of bread, we will welcome you as best as we can.” This is what the Irish say and this is what the Irish do.
- A sense of humour. You can laugh at anyone and anything. The joke itself is not insulting unless you want to mock or humiliate someone. A joke does not have to humiliate or insult. Jokes are for fun. Remember Tolkien’s hobbits?
- Don’t pity yourself, improve yourself. Here, no one will trip you up and if you really want to succeed, you will. An Irishman will ask someone successful: “How did you do it? I see you made it, I also want to give it a try”, instead of the Polish “The thief made a killing, I wonder how many asses he had to kiss to get there? I hope he loses everything and comes back to us to our common shit”.
- How to greet people, greet the world, with no fear of having every “How are you” entail a litany of misfortunes and complaints that I don’t relate to or care about. Being a positive egoist is not a sin, regardless of what I was taught. What’s wrong with wanting to be the most important person in your own life? If you don’t love yourself, you are unable to love others. In Ireland, you’re allowed to! You don’t have to feel guilty anymore. In Ireland, you can get rid of the sense of guilt forced upon you by others.
And tenth: I have to learn gratitude, without the fear that showing gratitude is humiliating, that my countrymen will see it as servility, timeserving, opportunism and God only knows what else. Good thing I have another five years to learn it. Or maybe more?