Today I write to say goodbye to a friend who I have never met in person. Yet we talked for an hour via Skype nearly every week for the past two-and-a-half years. Back in early 2011, I was struggling to learn a little bit Polish. So I got online and found an online service that you can sign up for that tries to pair people who want to learn or practice another language. So I signed up for a free account, stating my interest in learning/practicing Polish, and being a native speaker of English. It was karma, I guess. I was very lucky. Within a few days I had a response from a “gold” member. That man was Jerzy (Jurek) Markiewicz. I am proud to call him my friend, and sad to say that he passed away last week. I will misshim very much. Very much.
What started on a January day in the winter of 2011 as a conversation between two people hoping to hone their language skills developed into so much more than two people practicing a language with each other. It became a friendship, an hour each week that I truly treasured and looked forward to. From day one, it was obvious that Jurek’s English was very advanced while my Polish was very basic. But he was a patient and kind tutor, mentor, teacher, director. I recall one day, saying the work książka (it means book but can be a tongue-twister for a non-native Polish speaker) over and over. And over. Until I got it right. It was a difficult word for me, but Jurek was a kind and patient teacher. Over the years, my Polish has progressed, in large part thanks to Jurek. He was always a kind, patient teacher, willing to explain.
But our conversations, especially after the first year, really began to deviate into other topics. He was an extremely fascinating man, well read in many areas. Over the years he pointed me to web sites, teaching sites, online discussions, and more, on a wide variety of topics. He was well versed in alien conspiracy theories and knew a lot about that subject—and taught me a lot. He turned me on to the You Tube videos of Stara Baśń, a Polish movie about the beginnings of Poland, over a thousand years ago. We talked a lot about Polish history as well as current Polish culture. I had tons of questions about how various holidays were celebrated now, as well as many discussions about life under communism. He was a deep font of knowledge. He got me hooked on some of the fascinating topics on ted.com, as well as other online sites. He was an amazing font of information.
We spent a fair amount of time talking about his sons. His older son is studying computer science of at the university in Lodz. Is younger son, Rafał, is going this fall to study computer science at the university in Aalborg, Denmark. He was a very proud papa. He shared with me the online video from Rafał’s studniówka, sort of the Polish version of an American prom. He was a very proud papa, and rightly so. I cannot imagine the pain and loss his sons feel. But I hope they have some idea of how much he adored them, how proud he was of them.
As of late, our conversations had strayed back to Polish and my learning of Polish. We went over some lessons together. He was a very kind and patient teacher, explaining to me many of the ins and outs of the polish language. And if I did not get the pronunciation right, he was right there to help guide me.
Each week, our conversations invariably started with a question from him, Jaka jest pogoda na Florydzie… “what’s the weather like in Florida.” He was always amazed at the heat and warm temperatures here, year ‘round. We always had a good laugh about that and I got pretty good at translating Fahrenheit into Centigrade, too. I still have my “cheat sheet” here on the computer. I cannot bear to throw it away.
I learned so very much from Jurek, and now I cannot even thank him, and that saddens me deeply. But I am and will be eternally grateful to him. His encouragement, tutoring, mentoring, and his friendship meant quite a lot to me. Life goes by quickly. I am sorry I never stopped and just told him what his friendship meant to me. Yet I’m sure he know. I learned of his death from his son who sent me a brief message from Jurek’s email account. His son knew we were friends, and I guess that really counts for a lot to me. He was a very good friend, and I miss him a lot.
Jurek was young, about 55. I hope someday to visit the town he lived in. Finding and visiting his grave would be a great honor for me. But for now, I am burning a candle in his memory. I miss him, I miss my friend a lot. Mentor. Teacher. Tutor. And above all, friend. He inspired me. Life for me will go on, a bit sadder, but I will honor his memory and continue my Polish studies. To you, my friend, Jurek: Świętej Pamięci. I will remember you. You have changed my life, for the better. Thanks. Thank you very much. Jurek, I will never forget you. You made a difference in my life. Dzięki za wszystko! Rest in peace, mój przyjaciel! Nie mój znajomy. Nie mój kolega. byłeś …jesteś… będziesz zawsze, mój przyjaciel!