My Body, But Not My Heart and Mind

 

Edited (mostly by SQ) and posted for a friend.

Czechoslovakian stamp, circa 1971.

I grew up in what is now the Czech Republic. Communism dominated every aspect of life there, and had since 1948. It tried to steal my body, but it never stole my mind and heart. I grew up in a middle class family (but of course there were no “classes” in Communism, since everyone was equal.) My parents were teachers in a small village close to the German border. My grandfather was jailed by the Nazis and the Communists as well. He was released from jail so he could die at home. (I was only one year old at that time.) Due to my grandfather’s jail time, my father was not permitted to enter the university.

My family lived in a village where everybody knew everybody. It was a well-known secret who belonged to the StB (Secret Service), or who was a spy for them. Since my parents never joined the Communist party, they were forced to remain basic level teachers. Still, because they were very active in community activities such as sports and the arts, they were popular, and were somewhat protected from the routine harassment to which other non-Communist citizens were subjected.

Communist Party membership was a prerequisite for the majority of jobs. All state employees were supposed to be Party members, and professional soldiers were no exception. I wanted to become a pilot when I realized that playing football would not be a lifetime career. (I somehow didn’t realize that until I was 18!) So I joined the Czechoslovak Air Force Academy without really thinking too much about politics; I simply wanted to become a pilot. But in my third year at the Academy, I was called to become a Community Party candidate. At first I replied that I was too young to make that decision, and I didn’t feel ready. I was told that I had 24 hours to decide whether I would accept — and if I didn’t, I would have to leave school. That made my decision: I joined. But not in my heart and mind.

Both my father and mother were baptized, but never really practiced religion. They knew that practicing their faith would endanger their children and limit their future prospects. The Communists understood that the best way to motivate people was to warn them about possible negative outcomes for the ones they loved. So the Party Line was simple enough: You can do whatever you like here, because we have a totally free society! But you should always consider the future of your children if you choose things that the Party does not recommend. The potential threat was always there.

In the early 1980s I dated a gorgeous young girl, Iveta, a student at the medical university. After dating for a while, I was devastated when she told me that we would have to stop seeing each other. Although for a long time she didn’t want to tell me her reason, I insisted, so she finally told me. I was greatly surprised to learn that she was a practicing Catholic! I wasn’t even baptized! Her confession made me think hard: how could such a smart, young girl practice religion which I’d been told was for only old-fashioned ladies and was a practice that was dying out anyway?

So I began to think about this Communist mantra about religion. We were all accustomed to living a “dual life”: the one that we showed to the world and the one we lived at home. But this was a level deeper even than that: I didn’t even share my thoughts about religion with my family; this was an intimate and internal process for me. And it was too dangerous to share.

After one year, however, in late 1983, I was baptized and confirmed at the same time. These sacred ceremonies were only witnessed by my future in-laws, my future wife, and the priest. There were no church records (which created a bit of a problem later, because the priest was involved in a car accident and incapable of confirming these actions). But God helped us out, not for the first time, of course. My father-in-law found another priest who understood the situation and officiated at our marriage. We had two ceremonies: the first one (religious) and a second one (in front of state authorities) for public consumption, which included friends, family and others.

For us, the true ceremony was held in a church in a village that nobody but our friendly priest knew about. The only ones there were me, my wife, my in-laws, the priest and God. Nobody else knew about it, not even our closest family members except for Iveta’s parents. Not even her brother. No records. No witnesses. That way, no one could unintentionally tell another person about this occasion. It was simply too dangerous.

Our first daughter was born less than one year after our wedding in 1985. The only way we could have her baptized was to ask the same priest who witnessed our marriage. I’ll never forget the scene: foggy late afternoon in February … our secret squad of five (me, Iveta, my in-laws and Jana, our first-born) sneaking through the gardens … entering at the church’s back entrance where our friendly priest, our guardian angel, once again waited for us. There were no public, semi-public, or church records. Jana’s baptism was recorded in our hearts and in God’s Kingdom again.

During this time I finally officially joined the Communist Party. My candidate period was over and there was no way I could get around it. But I was able, by the grace of God, to avoid the full commitment demanded. In your official CV, everyone was expected to write a mandatory statement. Instead of that statement—“I declare that I believe in Marxism and Leninism, and atheism is my faith,” I didn’t write anything. So I didn’t lie. Nobody noticed. God protected me well, as He always does.

I did ask my father once why he stayed and didn’t emigrate, given the repression. He told me that he was born in this country, loved it and wanted to stay, regardless of the oppressive politics. He also told me that this regime would not last forever as Communist, and that it was my duty to carry on this message to my own kids, and for them to pass it on to theirs.

In 1989, everything changed with the Velvet Revolution. Gradually things improved. God’s help stayed with us, and will be with us forever. My father passed away one year before the Velvet Revolution, but I am sure he enjoys watching this amazing transformation.

There are 23 comments.

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  1. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Thanks for sharing this. It is quite the testament.

    • #1
  2. MarciN Member
    MarciN
    @MarciN

    A powerful story.

    Thank you.

    • #2
  3. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Thanks for sharing this. It is quite the testament.

    Ditto.

    • #3
  4. Nanda Panjandrum Member
    Nanda Panjandrum
    @

    A wonderful and welcome spiritual attitude adjustment…Thanks to all involved!

    • #4
  5. tigerlily Member
    tigerlily
    @tigerlily

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Thanks for sharing this. It is quite the testament.

    Yes. One of the things I’m always struck by is that the more totalitarian a system is, the more each and every aspect of life becomes political or potentially political and a possible life and death situation.

    • #5
  6. Snirtler Inactive
    Snirtler
    @Snirtler

    Arahant (View Comment):
    Thanks for sharing this. It is quite the testament.

    Agreed. Thank you.

    • #6
  7. Jules PA Member
    Jules PA
    @JulesPA

    Blessings to that family, and others like them.

    Thank you for sharing it.

    • #7
  8. cbc Inactive
    cbc
    @cbc

    Thank you.

    The “Utopians” have no historical memory.  They do not understand the dehumanization of totalitarianism.  My students and colleagues have been thought that if Communism failed it was only because the right people were not in control.

    They need to hear the testimony of those who remember.

     

    cbc

     

    • #8
  9. Doctor Robert Member
    Doctor Robert
    @DoctorRobert

    Make sure your teenaged kids read this.  They need all  the anti public school leftist brainwashing help we can give them.

    • #9
  10. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    I hate socialists.

    Once, on a Sat afternoon, my teenage son and I came home from the dojo and slung our gi’s over the chain-link fence to the back yard.  Later, when we came out to police up our dried gi’s (and let me just say: anyone who espouses “sunlight is the best disinfectant” is not a judoka), we were greeted by a young man who wanted to know what we studied.

    My neighbor was an Army JAG, and his wife was Cuban.  The young man was her cousin who’d just made it over from Cuba about 5 years ago.  Man, that kid loved Judo.  We were outside talking favorite throws.  Then we talked favorite counter-throws, then favorite feints.  Inevitably, we wound up on the front yard, throwing the bejeezus out of each other.  Part of his story was:

    I love judo.  But I was good at baseball.  So they told me I couldn’t practice judo, I had to play baseball.  Now that I’m here in America, I do Judo every day.

    I hate socialists.

    • #10
  11. Skyler Coolidge
    Skyler
    @Skyler

    I love stories like this.

    For some reason, I happened to have dated three different Czech women.  All very pretty and very lovely.

    • #11
  12. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    I hate socialists.

    I can see a T-shirt with:

    I H8 Socialists

    Ask Me Why

    Might be a good ice breaker.

    • #12
  13. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Rodin (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    I hate socialists.

    I can see a T-shirt with:

    I H8 Socialists

    Ask Me Why

    Might be a good ice breaker.

    Awesome ice breaker.  Good idea.  Just make sure you’re wearing your Trump Thumper when it’s time to break ice.

    • #13
  14. Rodin Member
    Rodin
    @Rodin

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    Just make sure you’re wearing your Trump Thumper when it’s time to break ice.

    Now that is a brilliant idea.

    • #14
  15. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    Just make sure you’re wearing your Trump Thumper when it’s time to break ice.

    You were putting out good stuff while I was away for Lent, I see.

    • #15
  16. Concretevol Thatcher
    Concretevol
    @Concretevol

    Great story iWe, thank you for sharing it!

    • #16
  17. Doug Watt Moderator
    Doug Watt
    @DougWatt

    Thanks for a great essay.

    I’m reminded of Meryl Streep’s lament of disappointment, and rebuke of the Polish governments refusal to allow abortion on demand. I suppose she thought playing the lead role in Sophie’s Choice made her an expert on the historical relationship between the Catholic Church and the Polish people. Unlike Meryl Streep the Church lived out the brutality of Nazism and Communism. The Church shared the misery and what joy could be found for decades with the Polish people. The Church was there Meryl Streep was not.

    • #17
  18. Front Seat Cat Member
    Front Seat Cat
    @FrontSeatCat

    Wow – what a story. I’m passing it on to others. It sounds like it could be the 30’s or 40’s, but this was the 1980’s. How fragile freedom is, and how important to remember where it’s foundation comes from – God, not politics.  Thank you for sharing it.

    • #18
  19. The Reticulator Member
    The Reticulator
    @TheReticulator

    iWe: So the Party Line was simple enough: You can do whatever you like here, because we have a totally free society! But you should always consider the future of your children if you choose things that the Party does not recommend. The potential threat was always there.

    Reminds me of the dialog in the last film that Eldar Ryazanov made under the Soviet system:

    Choir director: So you’re banning the song?

    Bureaucrat in the Leisure-Time Directorate:  Comrades, we never ban anything! We only give advice.

     

    • #19
  20. Pilli Inactive
    Pilli
    @Pilli

    @iwe,  I hope this does not embarrass you but your story has a familiar ring to it.  Pope Saint John Paul II has a similar story.  The thing I come back to when I hear his and now your story is this:  How would I have handled that kind of situation?  As an American born cradle Catholic, I can still taste the silver spoon I had as compared to your situation.  I don’t think I would have had your courage to live a different way than that prescribed by the state as you did.  Thank you for your example.

    • #20
  21. Arahant Member
    Arahant
    @Arahant

    iWe: Edited (mostly by SQ) and posted for a friend.

    Pilli (View Comment):
    As an American born cradle Catholic, I can still taste the silver spoon I had as compared to your situation. I don’t think I would have had your courage to live a different way than that prescribed by the state as you did. Thank you for your example.

    It’s not actually iWe, a Jewish gentleman, but a friend of his, just to clarify.

    • #21
  22. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Arahant (View Comment):

    iWe: Edited (mostly by SQ) and posted for a friend.

    Pilli (View Comment):
    As an American born cradle Catholic, I can still taste the silver spoon I had as compared to your situation. I don’t think I would have had your courage to live a different way than that prescribed by the state as you did. Thank you for your example.

    It’s not actually iWe, a Jewish gentleman, but a friend of his, just to clarify.

    Wait–what? iWe’s Jewish?  Well, who knew?

    • #22
  23. Boss Mongo Member
    Boss Mongo
    @BossMongo

    Arahant (View Comment):

    Boss Mongo (View Comment):
    Just make sure you’re wearing your Trump Thumper when it’s time to break ice.

    You were putting out good stuff while I was away for Lent, I see.

    Brother, I ever put out good stuff, go with that whole “infinite monkeys…Hamlet” perspective.

    • #23

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