Some thoughts on the Brightest Night of the Year
Nativity scene in the main square of Przemyśl, Poland
Oh 2018. What a year. This year I:
- Moved to Poland
- Graduated from a coding bootcamp
- Traveled to Asia for the first time
- Learned to scuba dive
- Hiked in snow-covered mountains
- Spent two weeks learning about the essentials of a free society in Slovakia with an incredible group of people
- Picked hundreds of apples, raspberries, blueberries, in what was an especially fruitful (literally and figuratively) summer
- Shared a home with my inspiring 95-year-old uncle
- Spent my birthday and Easter with Grandma
- Took the GRE and almost applied for a PhD program
- Survived and (most of the time) very much enjoyed the unemployed life
- Gained probably at least 10 pounds, and a whole lot of happiness and life wisdom when it comes to what true health is
- Learned that “It is more important to know where you are going than to get there quickly. Do not mistake activity for achievement.” -Isocrates
- Explored more of Poland than ever before with my brother on what I called our ‘Tour de Pologne’ (Poznan -> Gdansk -> Hel -> Warsaw -> Rzeszow -> Katowice)
- FOUND A JOB! IN POLAND! IN A NEW FIELD (officially a Junior Frontend Developer at an incredibly awesome company called Netguru)
- Made a bunch new friends! (from 9-months-old to 90-years-old, and everything in between)
- Spent my first Christmas in Poland with my aunt, uncle, and cousins in Przemysl
There is so much more depth to each of the pieces above, that I’ll save the details for catch-ups and conversations (if a picture is worth a thousand words, talking face-to-face is worth a million pictures). But what I’m really at a loss of words for, is not what happened this past year, but how, and thanks to whom. God is great.
I realize many of you may very well know (or have correctly assumed) that I left my job in the US and moved to Poland. What many of you don’t know is that leaving my job and moving to Poland was not an overnight decision, but about a year of serious deliberation and searching for my next step in life.Along the way, I happened to rent a book at the library that started to pull the pieces together. The book was a biography of Pope John Paul II called Witness to Hope.
There’s a particular moment of late last year that will likely always stay painted in my memory. I was standing in the library with two books in my hand – one about Abraham Lincoln and the other about Pope John Paul II. I didn’t want to rent both, because I’m not the type of person that can read two books at once. So, in what seemed like a very inconsequential decision at the time, I rented the biography of JPII. If I had the chance to learn about only one of these two influential figures in history, I asked myself, who would I choose? The answer was clear.
And so the journey began. Every night after work and whatever activities filled time after work, I would read about 4 pages a night – about the pace of a tortoise, because with every page read, I would be jotting down notes or quotes of about the same length. I had never actually looked forward to reading a book before – it was a pretty awesome feeling.
But given that half my notes were about the Pope and half about the author’s words of wisdom, I decided to reach out to the author with a word of thanks for introducing me to the figure I had always heard about, but never really knew. After seeing on Wikipedia that the author lived not too far from my home, and happened to run a two week program in Poland the SAME TWO WEEKS I was going to be in Poland that summer, I knew I had to reach out. And so I did.
In the months to follow, I had the chance to meet with the author, Mr. Weigel, and simultaneously found myself becoming more and more interested in Theology and Ethics. So much so, that after a couple months devoted to studying, I took the GRE, asked professors for letters of recommendation for grad school, and thought I had everything figured out. UNTIL I visited Notre Dame – the only school I was genuinely excited to apply to – and nothing clicked… Not the conversations with current students, not the conversations with professors, not the atmosphere… Nothing. After flying from DC to Chicago, renting a car, driving two hours to Notre Dame’s campus, spending a full day in meetings with professors that seemed more serious, than seriously in love with their field of study, I was exhausted and confused. To add to the aura, it had been pouring rain all day, even as I was getting back in the rental car to drive back to the airport. But then, as if there hadn’t been enough signs that this was a bit off the path that God had in mind for me, there was one more clue not to be missed: as soon as I turned left to leave the campus parking lot, the rain stopped, the clouds cleared, and the brightest sun came out.
…so not grad school. Back to square one? Nope! Nothing is for nothing. Sometimes clouds are there so you realize the sun is missing. I learned not only that I did not necessarily want to go to grad school (something I may have regretted later in life if I hadn’t tried), but also that I could still be interested in Theology and Philosophy and Ethics, without formally ‘studying’ them on a university setting. It’s one thing to study art, and another to paint a beautiful picture.
And speaking of painting pictures: later that month, one of my old professors asked me to help with some data visualizations for his site. I had helped out with some projects from time to time since college, but it wasn’t until then that I thought my little side gig could be anything but that. If I was enjoying looking at a screen after looking at a screen all day at work, though, there had to be a good explanation. It was a challenge, and challenge is what I truly missed.
What I thought was God’s way of calling me towards a PhD, was really his way of calling me to Poland…
…to the home-away-from-home that gave me the ancestors and traditions and love and hope and faith that could teach me more about truth, goodness, and beauty than any formal academic setting ever could. And hence, the 2018 described above. I don’t know if this story was more for me, or more for you, but I could not think of a better day than today – the Brightest Night of the Year – to share it. God loves you, and is always waiting to be seen. You just have to open yours eyes and open your heart. Merry Christmas and A Happy, Healthy, New Year.