One of my favorite parts of travel is learning to find joy, to see the beauty in the ordinary, the everyday. After all, our destinations are so much more than just a tourist stop. They are people’s homes, where people do life. It’s the little things. The farms and orchards spread across the open landscape. A clothes line strung between two trees. Cows grazing in a pasture. Vivid fall colors illuminating the horizon even on a hazy, dreary day. The little reminders that these places aren’t all that different from ours. These people aren’t all that different from us.
How quick we can be to judge when a new place doesn’t meet the expectations set out before us by our tourist guide books, our Pinterest boards, our search limited to the pristine and organized. But life is messy. People live in these places. People have baggage. People bring history. And that history brings character, and, yes, sometimes flaws. And in those flaws, we see glimpses of our own brokenness. Only brokenness doesn’t make for picture-perfect postcards. Brokenness doesn’t let us escape. It makes us reflect. It makes us uncomfortable.
Poland is a country full of this history that stares us right in the face. It is the home of a group of people who have been conquered and occupied, hardly getting to be a nation of their own.
Auschwitz and Birkenau represent the horrors and atrocities committed during the Holocaust–a glimpse, even today of the terrible things humans are capable of.
At the same time, it can be all too easy to minimize the country into a place with a horrific past. To miss the deep Catholic faith that has been preserved across the nation, even in a salt mine 150m below the surface. To miss the incredible compositions of Chopin. To miss the people with heart, spunk, and resilience.
People are complicated. Places are complicated. History is complicated. And traveling with expectations based on a single story–whether good or bad–will always fall short.