Last year, I had the opportunity to visit Prague in the Czech Republic with my friend, Jill. The travel conditions were perfect: the weather would be cooperative, the dollar was strong, we had separate rooms to retreat to for quiet and we would be traveling with a group of people—affording us the guarantee of same-language speaking folks if we wanted or the flexibility to do everything alone if we chose.
To say that it was a rich experience would not be adequate.
One of the most poignant days was the one when we visited the French Quarter and the Pinkas Synagogue (Pinkasova Synagoga). In this place of worship, the names of 80,000 Jews, who perished under Nazi rule, are etched into the walls. (These are the names of people just from the Czech Republic.)
In our humanness, the enormity of tragedy around us sometimes gets lost. Even those of us who are compassionate can get caught up in the world we know and lose sight of all of those whose lives are spent imprisoned, tortured or minimized. In spite of being “good”, caring people, we get caught up in our own world and life goes on.
In a city as old as Prague, there are so many tangible reminders of centuries gone by. Walking on cobblestone streets, history poured her spirit out to us. Artists spoke to us through their creations—sometimes current, often many, many hundreds of years old. Talking to shopkeepers and restauranteurs we learned about the people, their customs and their journeys. Listening to stories of struggle and joy we became immersed in a place that lives in the present remaining fully conscious of the past.
We were surrounded by history steeped in pain—a history of shed blood and the persecution of the innocent—and a beauty that belied a world that had been racked by oppression and death.
We went to The Museum of Communism (Muzeum Komunismu)— an immersive accounting of communism in Prague, behind the Iron Curtain. It was incredibly hard to process but important to understand (the collapse of the Communist Regime did not occur until 1989—only twenty-nine years ago.)
We shared a day with two men who were fellow travelers—strangers before they met on the day of the trip—one in his eighties and another in his early forties. The difference in their ages made no difference. All four of us were bonded together by this shared experience.
We bought tickets to a beautiful Vivaldi candlelight concert at St. Michael Monastery in Old Town Square and dined in an intimate restaurant recommended by one of the locals. We learned how to say, “Na zdraví!” (to health) and talked to a bartender named Josef who shared the narrative of his father’s life. We met some young men who owned an underground pub and spent the evening hearing their stories. We wandered back streets and walked steep hills. We laughed, we became introspective and we grew as we became immersed in this beautiful place with beautiful souls.
Journeyers…we are all the same. Some of us may have the gift to see many parts of our amazing world. Others of us may never get further than fifty miles from where we’re born. Some of us may be able to open the door to our home and walk down the street unafraid, others will never have a door to open or ever walk without trepidation. To be able to experience a different way of life is, indeed, a huge gift. But to be fully immersed in the process of living fully is even more important.
May the end of this calendar year give you the opportunity to see our world through a different lens. May it bring you joy and a sense of wonder. May it allow you to travel to far away places in your heart. And, may it bring you peace.
In our freedom, we have so many blessings.