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Sunday, May 29, 2011

What makes it last?


Dave and I are celebrating our 35th wedding anniversary and Barack Obama has just completed his first visit to Warsaw.

Tell me, how am I going to weave those two topics together?

Respect. Laughter. Intense interest. Listening. Kindness. Humility.

How do you sustain a relationship for 35 years that begins when two young adults, one of them barely 21 and a day away from her college graduation, take a big gulp and jump half-blind, mostly-blind, into a lifelong commitment?

How do you sustain a geopolitical partnership over long years when two parties, one with presumption and comfort with power and the other with a terminal inferiority complex that is masked by the pride of occasional churlish grandiosity, are thrown together to make common cause of causes that are only vaguely understood and agreed upon?

What in the heck did that mean? United States, still the superpower. Poland, still struggling to find its voice and its place in the modern configuration of power. Polish history has caused Poles to call themselves, without a shred of irony, "the suffering Christ" of Europe, devastated again and again, scapegoated and wiped so far off the map that we forget all about their brave and noble history.

Once more this week a significant step was taken, only coincidental with Obama's visit. Once again, the point was made emphatic: there were no Polish death camps. No Polish Concentration Camps. They were Nazi camps. They were established, controlled and determined by Nazi policies, personnel and ideology. Poles suffered along with Jews in those camps and were killed in almost equal numbers during World War II. Poles carry an inferiority complex from this and other misunderstandings and humiliations over long years of European history.

At the same time, Poles are rightly proud of their early establishment of universities and their wide access to education for all, their Constitution, the first democratic Constitution in Europe, following the U.S. Constitution by only a few years. They are rightly proud of their resilience and cunning and heroics. And, as you've read here before, they are justly proud of their Solidarity Trade Union Movement and their Pope, John Paul II, who together were as responsible for the withering away of communism than any other factor and far more than the last dramatic act that gets all the attention, in Berlin. They brought down the Berlin wall.

Now Obama shows up. And this noxious mix of traits within the Polish personna pops up. For the most part, it wsa productive meeting. Obama had no big toys to drop in their lap. He came to 'make nice,' if you will, to confirm the intentions for future collaboration. He was courting. He was respectful, he was kind: The ingrediants required for any long-term relationship. He made some concrete offers, meaningful offers and promises. But he did not tell the Poles they were the center of the universe. And one often gets the impression that that is exactly where they believe they deserve to be.

How to sustain a long relationship? Respect. Kindness. Humility. Intense interest and earnest listening. On both sides. And laughter.

I'm not sure the Poles could relax quite enough to engage Obama at that level. And, given the history of recent times, I'm sure the President was walking on egg shells. And then, of course, there was the ever churlish and, frankly, tiresome, Lech Walesa. Walesa snubbed Obama. Went to Italy and declined their meeting. The speculation runs that he was angry that it was not to be a private -- messiah to messiah -- meeting but only one that would include other leading Polish anti-communist activists and leaders.

So of course the big world headline, no, there is no big world headline --- you were hard-pressed to even find mention in the Times, the Post, of Obama's visit to Wawsaw --- but such as it was reported, it was reported that the big news was Walesa's churlish (my word) behavior. Too bad.

Because, there was a spirit of respect and kindness, there was as much good feeling as one could hope for between President Obama and the Polish leadership. There is a promise of future collaboration and growing respect. If Obama was there you know there was laughter, and he is a good listener.

Respect. Humility. Kindness. Listening, Intense interest. Laughter.

I am blessed to have enjoyed 35 years of partnership with a man who took me as I was -- talk about your leap of faith! -- a naive, raw twenty-one year old child bride, and has given me the gifts that enabled me to continue to grow, to thrive, to venture and fail and venture and fail better and accomplish, succeed, and keep on going. It is an alchemy of unknown ingrediants, as well as the common ones. We've created something, two wonderful daughters, and a life that just keeps pushing us to be better than we are. And yet with grace enough to accept us as we are.

One can only hope that, in some miraculous way, the geopolitical partnership of Poland and its presumptious partner, the U.S., can find their way to such a productive and fulfilling, and maybe even fun long-term run.

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