Life Is Like A Box Of Chocolates, You Never Know What You’re Gonna Get
This is my first Toastmaster speech which I delivered in April 2013. It is a beautiful and very personal discourse from when I was a young adolescent boy. Already back then, I felt note quite right in my body, but it did not prevent me from enjoying tremendously the adventures of my childhood including the unforgettable emotions that come with the falling in love.
The winter of 1988 in my home Poland was very harsh which is why I remember it vividly. But I also remember it because so much were about to happen in the lives of two boys separated by just five minutes of time that it had taken their mother to bring them to this world.
It was an early, freezing, wintery Saturday morning as the two boys were making their routine journey through the snow- and mud-covered dirty city of Poznan, Poland. The smell of burning coal lingered over the dirty streets. The early commuters were already to be seen, waiting for the trams and buses to take them to work. They boys were on the way to the swimming pool for their daily work-out.
It was two years earlier that their father had taken them to the club master and asked to have them on the local team. And they were accepted and trained very hard ever since. And as their young bodies, minds and spirit were being sculpted by these daily work-outs, the world around was changing in ways that they could not yet comprehend.
And so, on this particular freezing Saturday morning the two boys – one of whom was I – made it to their swimming pool and did their usual practice run. And after they showered and dressed up, the coach took one of the boys aside and told him.
“Listen son. You have trained hard and well. I want you to come with the team to Italy for competition”
It did not take long for these words to sink in. The boy understood that he would be crossing THE BORDER, for the very first time in his short life. He felt honored by his coach’s request and excited by the prospect of peeking over the Iron Curtain. But at the same time his heart felt heavy because the honor was only given to him and not to his brother.
He fantasized on countless previous occasions being seated on a cloud and drifting westwards, towards what his father always told him to be the better world.
And so he went to Italy and swam well, along with his team. And he had his first can of Coke. And he took a plunge in the Mediterranean see. And he met all these people speaking these different tongs which he could not understand. He tried to babble with them but to no avail. All seemed so different… and he wished that his brother could be there.
And when he came back the life was never to be the same again. He took onto himself to learn English, to study hard and to become good at something one day, and to go and meet new peoples and see new worlds, and to make new friends… And his brother was doing all these things in tandem with him.
A year later the famous Round Table was hosted between the Polish communist authorities and the Polish opposition. This opened the door for communism to be wiped out from the lives of 40 million of his compatriots and many more millions trapped by the communist regimes of the Central and Eastern Europe.
Two years later the first parliamentary elections were held in his native Poland. Three years later the Russian language was dropped out from the mandatory curriculum at his high-school to be only replaced with German.
And four years after his return from Italy he met a girl, at a summer language camp in Hungary. She was from Belgium, from the beautiful city of Bruges. And he liked her from the very first moment his eyes laid upon her. As they talked for hours and hours it became quite obvious that these two had something in common. As the boy came back home, he made a solemn resolution to preserve the friendship which he and the girl had found in the remote town of Erd, near Budapest. It took six long years of hitch-hiking back and forth, on the buses, trains, trams, and trucks, in the rain, wind, snow and hail… But they made it through and married in 1998 to live their lives together.
Both shared the passion for different cultures and set out on long and exciting journeys backpacking through all of the continents. And they moved from country to country, not like the regular expats, but more like vagrants who go where the fate takes them. And along the way, they managed to connect and engage with others who were different. And they created new, shared meanings for them and for the others. And they stopped feeling restrained or uncomfortable around strangers as is all too often the case in today alienated societies. And they found the rules to meet the needs of nearly every situation regardless of where they were.
During all these years that have passed since this memorable Saturday morning at the swimming pool the boy cannot stop thinking how different his life would be today if his father did not speak with the club master, and if his coach did not ask him to go to Italy, and if he did not meet the girl several years later…But life is like a box of chocolate, you never know what you gonna get.
And during these same years the two brothers have stayed in touch and have always been each other’s best friends and the sounding boards for all that has troubled them or that has inspired them throughout the passing years.
I am now a father of two little boys myself who in many ways resemble the other two boys in that swimming pool 30+ years earlier. And as I think of them I realize that they are the sons of life’s long for itself, as I have been when I was a boy. They come through me but not from me, they are with me but don’t belong to me. I give them my love but not my thoughts, for they have their own thoughts. I house their bodies but not their souls, for their souls dwell in the House of Tomorrow, which I cannot visit, not even in my dreams. For life goes not backward nor tarries with yesterday. I am the bow from which my children, as living arrows, are sent forth.