At last! Here is the English translation of an article I wrote in Koloshvar, Transylvania.
Diary of an American seminarian journeying through Transylvania
Week 1 – End of April
So the journey begins. It is a two-fold journey, one to explore the history of Unitarianism – of which I am painfully aware I am lacking knowledge, and the other, the past of my own Hungarian family – of which I barely know anything about.
Landing in Budapest after a night on the plane. I have never been here, but watching the light over the wing of the aircraft glinting beautifully from the sun is just wonderful. We’re here, we have arrived. My first stop has been two generations in coming. My grandparents on my father’s side were from Budapest, or I find out the next day, really from a small town outside of Budapest called Detk. My committee member Jay who has traveled with me on part of this journey has a friend who drives us out to the cemetery of that small village and we speak with a woman who cares for it. None of my family lives there any longer or they have died she says, but if we come back Jay’s friend can research it for me and maybe find out where my family has gone. More news than I’ve ever had and I know my cousins in America will be so pleased to find out. We proceed to do some tourist type adventures in Budapest and onward to Koloszvar! We arrive by train late at night so I’ve missed seeing what the city looks like until the following day. My wonderful coordinator Robert takes me around and I visit the notable spots on the main street. I’m amazed to see the churches and learn their histories. I finally get over my jet lag after a couple of days and am able to attend a party honoring mothers a week before Mother’s Day! I loved seeing how the families interact and noticed that children here are shown much more affection than they are in the U.S. Parents and family members kissed and hugged their children frequently and I really liked seeing this true affection shown to each other. I don’t know why, but in America, if it’s not your children, you don’t hug them and I find that sad that children are missing out of receiving love and affection like they do here.
One of the first things I learn is how to step over thresholds! Our thresholds between rooms in America are flat and no one gives a thought when they are crossing from one room into another about lifting your feet! After tripping twice, I finally get the hang of it. Step up and then walk over the plank of board between the rooms or I will fall flat on my face. A small difference between our cultures but one that is very important to learn. :)
I’ve also learned to eat meat and potatoes every day. I don’t normally eat either of these foods on a daily basis, even French Fries. We have become a calorie conscious society in America with so many overweight citizens, so there are calories listed on all the menus when you eat at restaurants or listed on the foods you buy in the grocery stores. Here everything is so healthy it doesn’t seem needed and I have yet to see calories listed anywhere giving me permission to eat whatever I want to eat! (At least that’s how I interpret it!) And there is so much eating going on! I’m not used to eating such big breakfasts and certainly not the size of the lunches! We never have 3 course meals in the middle of the day and this was a complete surprise. I find myself acquiring a taste for food here that I don’t have in the U.S. I also discovered palinka. I’ve never had this before and I must be a weak American as I can only take tiny sips at a time!
Week 2 – 1st Week of May
In Kolazsvar I am here to attend the funeral of a father of a colleague, a sad occasion, but I am grateful I am here to support him and his family. Death here is dealt with differently than our methods in the U.S. We seem to have a very sterile and antiseptic approach to dealing with the death of our loved ones. I was surprised to learn that with permission it is acceptable to bring the body home after death. In America we would never be allowed to do this. When my parents passed away, they were whisked away quickly and we didn’t see them again until they were presented in their caskets, after going through the whole embalming process. I believe it takes some of the humanity away from it. We all eventually die, but in America it’s a cleaned up version. Again, family seems to be very important in making decisions here.
Week 3 – 2nd Week of May
I am staying this week in four different places! I must say my host families have been amazing. Children give up their bedrooms so that I, the guest, can stay in privacy. Meals are provided to me, I’m taken on excursions to see different Unitarian churches, I am learning of the history of my religion – which is so different in the United States. We need a greater sense of what was given up for us so that this faith could survive. I have seen the lands of Balazs Ferenc, I’ve climbed the Citadel in a very special pilgrimage to see the memorial to David Ferenc, I have stood in prayer on the site where he died. I am marveling at all the history that exists in this tiny part of the world and I am very grateful to have seen it. I have attended services in Lupen, in Homorodufalu, in Mesko. I have seen the members of Unitarian congregations worship in Sunday services, watched them honor their mothers and the women of this country on Mother’s Day, stood in the communion line on Pentecost. I have felt the reverence of the spirit of God and I have learned so much about not only the history of Unitarianism but the history of this land. I have learned of the years of communism and have tried to imagine what that must have been like. Without experiencing it I know I cannot imagine it, but I have a greater sense of the sacrifice and courage so many have endured. And I have seen the great architecture of our Hungarian ancestors juxtaposed against the backdrop of the communist buildings. I much prefer the great architecture of the Hungarian builders. :) (but I may be a bit prejudiced)
Week 4 – 3rd Week of May
I have seen the Turda Gorge and the plaque commemorating the Diet of Turda in 1568. I have met the Bishop! We had a wonderful conversation and I now hold a copy of the Diet of Turda of my very own. He was very gracious to give some of his time to my visit. Throughout this journey I have experienced a wonder at seeing what I had only read about before. It makes it more real; it makes it more alive. I have taken so many pictures I believe the number is close to 1000. I have seen buildings and churches that were built before my country was born. These are the amazing things I will take home with me (also probably a few pounds from eating that I hadn’t planned on!) I have embroideries and painted boxes from local artisans that I can give to my Hungarian relatives who will probably never see this country. I have made new friends who have been so helpful to me, Abigail who attends this school and helped to translate, Robert Balint who helped make this journey possible by arranging with my scholarship committee all of my stops and sights, his family and the families of Zoli and Maria and Lajos and Arpad and Belu and Kinga who allowed me into their homes and helped me to see what living here is like.
I will take back with me the quiet nights, listening to the crickets, milking a cow, petting a donkey that was plowing! I will take back with me the visions of the church steeples, the memorials, the Kopjafas and the Skekely gates. I will especially take back with me the warmth and generosity of the people here who gave so freely of themselves to me – a perfect stranger.
I am more informed now about the collective history of Unitarianism that will only serve to enhance my ministry in the future. I feel so much more prepared to teach congregations in the U.S. about the origins of Unitarianism, how the ancestors of our religion fought and died for us, how we can become inspired with the work they have done and are doing. I especially am grateful for the opportunity to see Unitarian ministers here in action, to witness their preaching, their interaction with their congregations, and their undying dedication to their own ministries. Ministers here give completely of themselves and it is inspiring to watch and learn. All of this I take back with me from this amazing pilgrimage through this land.
I still have the end of my journey to experience once again in Budapest. I sincerely hope I can learn of the history of my own family and “feel” more Hungarian. And if all goes well, I will return in three years having the ability to speak Hungarian with all of you! Thank you to all of you who touched my life and helped me learn so much about my faith and my family.