In the beginning, we may not notice it. We venture forth with our various tasks. We participate in the things that fill our busy lives. But, maybe, something feels off.
Time passes. Oh my—we’ve grow tired. Exhausted, perhaps. We realize that so many of the things that we once felt excited about, things we would have tackled people over, or maybe even made a mad dash across the football fields in our minds to get to, suddenly, don’t quite have the allure that they once had.
If we’re creative beasts, we may recognize it sooner because creative people seem to be attuned to their senses. We might say: “Dear Lord—I’m a creative beast. I’ve always been a creative beast. Where did that beast go?
Yes. We begin to feel listless. We decide: “Well, this must be what burnout feels like.” And then we might make a desperate attempt to eek out some kind of passion for something in the hopes of recapturing a feeling that no longer exists. Well … it’s more like the absence of it just haunts you … this ghost of what used to be Passion. You may grieve its loss. You may weep. You may even pray that God, The Universe—anybody—brings it back into your life.
But there we are—feeling that dark absence and all of the confusion that it brings. Like Emptiness. Like an uninvited relative arriving on your doorstep toting too much luggage, you realize that it has decided to stay.
For a while.
For a long, long, while.
When I embarked—or should I say … was pulled by the Gods—to write a memoir about my Polish family, I eventually put my entire life force into it. Somewhere during all of the research, it occurred to me that I wasn’t alone doing this work. No. For it felt as if there was a presence working alongside of me. Angels? God? My ancestors? I couldn’t tell. But the events that unfolded before, during and after the release of the book, could not have been orchestrated by me. Not all of them, anyway. There was too much serendipity involved and while I may be smart, I wasn’t that smart. Or savvy. Or enterprising. Besides, these events defied any logical understanding.
Oh, I did a tremendous amount footwork to make some things occur. Because the book was about my Polish family surviving Joseph Stalin’s terrible injustice to Polish people during the 1940s—he deported nearly 1 million of them, in fact—I wanted some of the book talks and events to actually feel like “events.” Rather serendipitously—a clear sign God is at work—I met men involved in reenactments of the General Anders’ Army during WWII. Anders was crucial to the evacuation of many Polish refugees from Russia, my family among them. So when he said yes to appear at a book event and discuss his organization’s work, this, to me, felt quite remarkable.
It was even more remarkable that he brought several men with him—clad in 1940s army uniforms. Bayonets. Hats. Everything. To say it added nuance to the event is an understatement.
But so many other things occurred.
Randomly, I met a Polish woman named Donna, and her teenage son, Mark, at a Polish festival where I was handing out fliers for the book. I’ll never forget this: the woman emailed me and told me that she would like to help me. And help me she did. One of the book events was in early February of 2015, and when I asked Donna how she would like to help, she listed off a litany of things she had planned.
Reenactment of a Polish deportation scene.
Readings of a heartfelt poem.
A children’s choir?
The woman brought an entire squad of performers. It became a bona fide production—right there in a community room of a suburban Chicago library. It mirrored so much of what my book illuminated. All of the books sold.
It wasn’t a book event so much as it was a living, breathing mosaic that captured a time and place and a group of people that the history books had forgotten.
Around the same time, Donna agreed to help me with a vigil on the 75th anniversary of the beginning of the mass deportation of Polish people—Feb. 10, 2015. Of course, the idea like a daily newspaper tossed onto the porch of my mind—and from the Gods. Because with less than four weeks time, who the heck can organize a proper vigil? I was already feeling the warning signs of burnout and fatigue. I had moved across the country from the home I had in Northern California and immediately poured everything I had into the book. I cashed in 401ks, I drained my savings account. All I knew was that this story had to be told and for some reason, I was one of the people that had to share it. I simply had to reveal the unique survival story of my Grandmother Jadwiga, and how that brave woman managed to keep her children alive during a most horrific series of events.
After securing a wonderful space in Chicago, the Copernicus Center, I kept busy at social media, promoting the book and so much more. One day, I took a break from sending out invitations to members of the Polish community. I checked in with Donna. Again, I could not have orchestrated what this woman was doing. In just a few short days, she had arranged for two choirs to attend, a Polish dignitary to appear and a priest to offer a blessing prior to the event, and during a candlelight vigil we were planning on conducting.
A man of the cloth?
The day of event felt rather ethereal—as if the veils of time and space were so thin that, well—it felt as if this event was supposed to have happened so that it would offer a kind of grace to the people actually in the events that actually occurred.
If that sounds trippy, that’s because it is.
Let’s see if I can be more clear.
Science tells us that there is no time. No really. And, perhaps, that everything is occurring simultaneously. It occurred to me on that day, that the cosmic thread of my life, my family’s lives—perhaps even some of those people deported—had turned into a loop; that the two ends were meeting. Their timeline. My timeline. Suddenly connecting. Like we witnessed in the film “Interstellar.” But it was more than that. Perhaps these two points in “time” had met before. That the very event I was about to step into had already occurred—because, somehow, it was intended to hand off a baton of love and fortitude to the people who were about to suffer the worst kind of horror as they were being sent to Siberian slave labor camps in crowded boxcars.
So, what does this have to do with passion?
Well, imagine coming off of that realization and, say, trying to go back to balancing something like, uh, a checkbook?
My soul wasn’t having any part of it.
Afterward, and even today, I still hold a deep, deep sense of gratitude for everything that unfolded on the day of that remarkable vigil—more than 100 people showed up. But lately, passion … well, for me, it seemed to have gone into a slumber for a while. Maybe. I spent many months trying to find it again. At times, I thought I had—lying there, unconscious, in the minefields of my emotionally war-torn psyche. (Fluctuating self-esteem and rides on mood swings have something to do with that.) My attempts to resucitate it failed. Was there no bringing Passion back into my life?
So, what happens to us when passion decides to take a vacation? Or, I should say: What happens when we think it has.
Can we be okay with the emptiness? Or do we scramble to make something all better again?
Can we actually allow something to heal within us?
Or, like crack addicts, do we feverish search for another hit?
Sometimes, bolting from those fits of discomfort—the ones that will make us do anything to revive ourselves, especially if we are creative—can work. More often than not, they don’t.
I can’t be totally certain, but it must be because passion cannot be manufactured. Passion is organic. It is grown from the fresh soil of our soul, the purity of our hearts. We cannot milk a dead cow. Try as we might. It simply does not work.
And so, what’s left in the wake of our dramatic “death of passion” and another kind of passion’s birth, or rebirth, is, simply, that awkward in-between place—Emptiness. And I propose, that if we allow ourselves to sit in the middle of that vast nothingness and be still, maybe we can either allow ourselves to feel something that needs to be felt—grief, hope, loss, joy. Something. Maybe this is Passion’s way of asking us to say “thank you” for allowing it to visit, and to know that we can be even more mindful the next time it returns.
I don’t know for sure.
But I do know that as time passes, and the intervals of passion come and go, that I am always asked to step deeper into the nothingness; or fall freely into the vast Emptiness. It’s as if I am being asked to take a chance on something.
And to see what arises next.
If I’m brave enough to do so.