Anniversary of the Death of Lech Kaczynski
It was two years ago today that a plane carrying several members of the Polish Parliament and other high-ranking officials, including President Lech Kaczynski, crashed into the pine forests just outside of Smolensk, Russia while attempting to land in heavy fog. Those on board were heading to the city near the Belarusian border to pay their respects on the 70th anniversary of the Katyn Forest Massacre where over 20,000 Polish citizens were murdered during WWII. In total, 96 people lost their lives in the crash and the Polish nation was left without a President and many other well known civil figures. For Poland, which is no stranger to national tragedies, this event was on par with the happenings of September 11, 2001 in the United States. Just as Americans had done during their moment of mourning, the Polish people also banned together during an unprecedented time of instability in their nation to work through the grief and pain. In the days following the tragedy, people gathered from all over Poland and the world as even the large Polish diaspora communities gathered to show their support and respect for those that passed. Thousands were reported to have hitchhiked to Krakow and Warsaw to show their sympathy. What did not get reported, however, were the thousands and probably millions of small, but important conversations and gestures between neighbors, coworkers, and plain strangers that normally wouldn’t have happened under most situations. University students hugged crying grandmothers, neighbors who hadn’t talked to each other in years suddenly connected again, and strangers on the tram or bus struck up conversations in cities all across the country. Everyone was looking for the same thing: to be a part of what it means to be Polish.
Tragedy, whether on a national scale or family scale, levels the playing field for everyone effected no matter if you are male or female, rich or poor, Christian or Muslim. For the Polish people, much as for the Americans during 9/11, the tragedy caused everyone to pause from their daily lives to reflect on what it meant to be Polish, empathizing with others whom they normally would not. There was a sudden awaking where the people of Poland began to indentify as a collective, a connection that typically comes second to our individual identity as we carry out our everyday lives. When uncontrollable and frightening things happen on a large scale, there is an urge to belong to something larger than we are; we find solace and protection in numbers. We tend to stop looking for the differences that have separated us before and start looking for the commonalities so that we may be included as part of the larger “we”, fulfilling our sense of belonging.
When healing has taken place, and the tragedy fades from memory, we all retreat back into the isolated bubbles of our individual lives. However, before we return, let us store in our minds the experience of society when inclusiveness and compassion are widespread. If discrimination is essentially the act of excluding a group of people by only seeing the differences between “them” and “us”, then perhaps we should seek instead that the sense of belonging that we find when we connect over the things we all have in common. If we remember and renew our desire as human beings to be part of the larger picture in life, we let go more easily of our prejudices in place of compassion. If we can learn from the positive bonding experiences of tragedies instead of letting them instill fear and insecurity in us, then we can move forward with making inclusive efforts in our neighborhoods, workplaces, communities, cities, countries, and world.