Volume 48, No.4 - Winter 2002
Editors of this issue: Violeta Kelertas
ISSN 0024-5089
Copyright 2002 LITUANUS Foundation, Inc.

My National and Personal Heritage
Building Blocks of Me


Pagan in its roots,
Christened by force,
Curious and humiliated again and again,
Staunch defender of its rights,
Crushed and out of breath,
Mutilated and partitioned,
Assimilated by friendly foes,
Nonexistent for eons,
Former giant, crawling and belittled,
A survivor from hell, Ignominious and worthless,
Appreciated only by the lowest,
Devotee to unspoken causes,
Emeritus with no academic degrees,
Pursuer of unreasonable heights,
Desperately clinging to life through death,
Generation after generation of servitude,
With promises only of nonexistence,
Laboring for unachievable reward,
But lo and behold


Stairway, Castle of Gediminas, Vilnius

Free and furious,
Deafening sounds all around,
Aroused and inconsistent,
Laughing stock for some,
Outlaw wrestling to be king,
Numerous gasps for air and composure,
Outlaw? or King?
Wither goest thou, my mother?
She was stopped in her tracks so many times before,
Dismembered into oblivion.
Graceful exit, please.
Moribund and elastic she,
Outnumbered and pitied,
Precariously close to extinction.


Windmill, Pumpnai


Building known as the House of the Thunder God, Kaunas

        * * *

You Mothers, dear Mothers
You had sons.
Where are they now?
Out of their ashes they sprang to life.
My Mother taught me by silence,
My Father educated me by his virile stance.
The heart (watch your heart, my son)
Survived against all odds.
I brought myself to my knees
Found strength even in my ignominy.
Whence came I?
Oh, yes; I found a way

Barefoot, I trod and trod,
In cold and hunger,
Never mind the winds,
They may kill, but they also have wings.
On, my dear, go on.
I went, nearly drowned,
Eloped, drastically changed.
My friends knew little of my destiny.
Here, I must stop.
The story ends here. Does it?
I believed I was safe,
Because I believed everyone should be saved.
The message gave me bigger wings.
Fulfillment became my goal.
Unfulfillment was my loss.
I kept talking to myself.
I kept praying.
To no avail?
The saying goes: let's hope against hope.
The clouds will part.
The wings will lift us up.
The nation?
She is still shedding tears.
She is still suffering from lack of certitude.
The morning was full of promise.
But now, one has to go to work.


Gate of the Castle of Trakai

        * * *

I was born and raised in Lithuania.
But spent most of my adult life abroad.
Who am I? A hybrid?
Forty years of absence!
One can only imagine how I felt when I went back to visit my homeland forty years later? Nostalgic reminiscences.
Every step on the way to Aurora Gate was heavy with memories.
I felt I was walking on holy cobblestones.
I touched with reverence the stones of the pillars.
My eyes were glued to every corner of the street I knew so well in my youth.
Nobody knows how beautiful became the most ordinary aspects of peoples' lives.
Those strangers walking down the street
they are my people.
They are tragic figures, survivors, preservers of national identities.
The tone of their voice, their unadulterated syntax spoke volumes to me.
Strangers from foreign lands have marched on our land for forty years!
These marches have ruined the lives of thousands and thousands of innocent people, my countrymen.
The youngsters do not remember those painful times.
I do remember them.
I was old enough to see the tragedy of brother betraying brother.


Museum of Forestry "Girios Aidas" (Echo of the Woods). Near Druskininkai

Later, I read in the papers about indiscriminate deportations and massacres that took place during foreign occupations of our land.
a refugee, theysurvivors of holocaust.
We should understand each other.
But our life experiences were different.
We are licking our wounds that heal slowly.
The land I visited forty years later is holy, bathed in the blood of the innocent.

        * * *

On my first trip to Lithuania, I felt that pictures were everywhere.
No locals can appreciate the feelings of a homesick visitor.
He does not bother with nuisances like attention to composition.
My Nikon was clicking away with no scruples bothering me.
The sheep I saw in the countryside were just meat for its owner.
It was an object of veneration for me.
For a child, the babbling creek seemed huge and mysterious.
For a world traveler, even the unfathomable oceans seemed tamed.
The town of Virbalis was far, far away
the distance about three kilometers.
In my childhood, I never dreamed of visiting it. And I never did then.
The lake of Vitytis looked big even now.
The concrete signpost indicating the exact spot of interstate borders still stands intact.


An ethnographic windmill, Rumiks

We children used to jump on one foot around itone jump took us to Poland, anotherto Germany, one moreback to Lithuania.
It was easy then.
Try to do it now.
I did cross the same borders a few years after World War Two.
I was lucky. Nobody saw me, and I was not shot at.

        * * *

Memories and more memories.
They constitute me, my person.
Building blocks of me.
Now that I have grown old, I tend to look upon myself as a composite made up mostly of spiritual elements.
It is the human soul that is the safe keeper of all that is you, me, us.
Memories are precious.
As I look back on my life experiences, this very "looking back" seems like a real thing.
It is me; it is you; it is everybody else who had a chance to be a human being with a power to remember, to look back, to become whole.


Gateway of the University of Vilnius

This is how I look at my trip home.
By bringing back childhood memories and Unking them with more recent experiences, one feels that a certain totality has been achieved.

        * * *

Call this remembering a self, a soul, a person.
Call it, as some do, a nonexistent something, but it is still there.
Am I what I eat, or am I what I think?
At this point of time, body and spirit make me what I am.
One hopes that after material encumbrances have disappeared, the real self will emerge as the sole possessor of our unique life experiences and become the basis of our renewed and reinvigorated selves.


Church of St. Casimir, Vilnius


Castle of Trakai, digitized black/white photograph