Poland confused me.

What with it being located between Russia and “Western” Europe, and what with my latest experience being in Russia, and what with my experience in the Balkans pretty much directly south, I was expecting Poland to be sort of like a cleaner, more compact version of Russia. But when I arrived and Łuki started showing me around his town and nearby Lublin, I began to scratch my proverbial head.

“It’s kind of like… Southern California?” I ventured, as we walked through the more recently developed part of his neighborhood. The scrubby vegetation, bright flora, beating sun, and luxurious-looking tile-roofed villas added up. But the humidity, the small wheat fields in between luxury villas, and the Catholic churches on every corner did not. “Or maybe Spain?”

Wandering through the Old Town in Lublin, Łuki told me it’s been compared to Italy architecturally, but the bright pink and green facades contrasted with my mental image of Italy as a more gray and beige stone kind of place. Plus, Lublin has more spires than cupolas.

Hearing that Poland feels itself caught between the “east” of Russia and the “west” of Germany is confusing when for most of its history, Russia has grappled with an identity caught between the “east” of Asia and the “west” of Europe. And Poland is part of Europe, right? Central Europe? Eastern Europe? A former satellite state?

If Germans and even people from western Poland look on the infrastructure of eastern Poland with disdain, the autobahns must be paved with gold. Lublin’s grocery stores are just as small as in Arkhangelsk, but the potatoes are scrubbed clean and the fruit is plentiful and unmarked. The people are friendly and cheerful, but they size each other up on the street with what an American might call nosiness or even suspicion.

Finally, I gave up on trying to compare Poland to things and just enjoyed my time with Łukasz. Gently sloping hills, gorgeous lush green forests, ancient oak trees, herds of wild ponies: these things don’t need to be on a map to be beautiful. There will be plenty of time to try and understand Poland once I’m done trying to understand Russia.

At Home in the Abyss

I’m home again, in Greensburg, PA, after an eventful final month in Russia and one week in Poland.

Endings like this, more or less arbitrary cut-off dates for a certain chapter of your life, are something I’ve become used to with the academic calendar running my life for the last 17 years. But this is the first time that the end date hasn’t come coupled with a start date for something new. For the first time in my life, I have nothing in front of me– nothing but a wide expanse of possibility.

In the weeks building up to my departure from Arkhangelsk, that nothingness was terrifying and immobilizing. I spent the endless, pale nights sleeplessly searching for job openings either far above or far below my eligibility for them. The school year was over, and I had no schedule of classes to give me a semblance of structure. Just like the September before I arrived in Russia, I was suspended, waiting for the deadline before the next thing began. In the absence of constructive patterns, I fell into destructive habits and made exactly zero progress towards a job or graduate school or anything at all.

And then I went to Poland, and everything changed. Sitting beside the rushing waters of the Sopot River, I realized (if only momentarily) that life is like the river. I am sitting at one point on the river and to me it seems like a fixed object of noise and light and smell and beauty. But really, the water is hurrying by without rest. Even though to me it seems like my whole life is concentrated on the decisions I make now, really the decisions are secondary and no one point is more important than the others; my life will happen regardless of the decisions I make.

And then, I missed my flight from Warsaw and had to buy another one, and my small pot of buffer money was effectively eliminated. And my beloved car Toby broke down irreparably a few days before my arrival home. And I still don’t have a job.

And somehow this has freed me from the anxiety of feeling I had to produce a next thing before the current one ended. Now there is no current and there is no next. There isn’t anything now. But I feel at ease, serene even, shockingly unterrified by the lack of structure and certainty in my life at the moment. Even though I can already sense the hairline fractures in that serenity, for now, I’m letting myself hang out in this idea: My life has a direction that transcends the academic calendar and the framework of my ambition; I need to just open myself up to the opportunities that will lead me the way I’m meant to go; and certain themes and passions and interests and people and places will continue to pop up in my life regardless of whether I feel them at work there.