Poland

wood on the stones

One more thing before I go out to call my parents, the credit bureaus, and my cell phone company. As I was walking out of the Rynek supermarket on the Square, my arms full of toilet paper, laundry detergent, Q-tips, Kleenex, and a bag of rusks for midnight snacks, I saw a pile of wood shavings on the stones.

I looked up, and saw an old man, his face deeply sunburned, carving a wooden head of Christ by hand. To his right was a pile of other icons and images – saints, crucifixes, Holy Families – all carved in wood, all beautifully detailed and handmade. His face had as many lines in it as there were shavings of wood on the stones.

It is always good to see an artisan at work. I don’t know why we like that so much. Maybe because it gives us the illusion that we might be so useful ourselves – that our hands might make things, that our minds’ ideas might be midwived by our fingers into wood and stone and embodied objects. (I am avoiding saying “flesh” on purpose.)

But this image was more troubling to me than inspiring – I thought immediately of the Jews of Poland, again, and wondered what it would have been like walking through this same Wroclaw Market Square, past a man carving the head of Christ in wood, five hundred years ago. Would it have been safe? I wouldn’t have wanted to be a Jew here then, or two hundred years ago, or in 1937. I’m not sure that I really want to be a Jew here now.

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