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A Soldier's Kiss

I was way beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone.

Memories of that evening will stay with me forever. I was way beyond the boundaries of my comfort zone; I was way beyond the boundaries of my own country. And I was embarking on a journey that would take me way beyond the boundaries of NATO. All I had was my husband, my17-month-old little daughter, and my American passport.

I should have been scared out of my wits. Instead, I was just focused. We were on a two-week reconnaissance mission to arrange our permanent assignment for living in Communist Poland. This trip was designed to answer two basic questions: exactly when should we move in; exactly where should we live?

Our brief stay in Vienna, selected as our base of operations, gave us just enough time to feel comfortable in this glorious city. A marvelous mixture of culture and cosmopolitan, this was a paradise of all things lovely - architecture, museums, palaces and pastries. The music of Mozart and the art of Klimt imposed on us the feeling of “Ah, this would be a fabulous place to live, a wonderful place to call home.” Every passing day made it harder and harder to prepare to leave. 

Finally, the tedious paperwork was done. The official visas were in hand, and the designated day of travel arrived. Our bags were packed, disposable diapers, a luxury, were purchased, and hour-by-hour, we watched the clock. The Chopin Express, the name given to the train to carry us across Austria, across Czechoslovakia, and into Poland, left at 10 pm from the Südbahnhof. Our entire day was structured with the departure in mind.

Conversation on our drive to the station grew quieter with each traffic light.  The inhabitants in this part of the city were certainly different from the ones who walked along Kärtnerstrasse and the Graben. 

When we stepped from our car, we sensed a foreboding atmosphere surrounding the Südbahnhof, the large terminal for all trains traveling to the Communist-held countries of Eastern Europe. Following instructions, we bade good-bye to our colleague at the curb on the side of the station; he should not be seen with us on the platform. 

Our little troupe merged with the crowd, assuming we would blend in. Wrong. Heads turned, and then turned again. The unspoken question on faces was consistent: “Why on earth were these two Americans taking a Baby and traveling beyond the borders of Austria into Eastern Europe, and why were they traveling in late winter?” 

But this was a scene where questions were never asked. Here all travelers guarded both their travel permits and their purpose for travel with urgency and confidentiality.

Suspicion, secrecy, and sensitivity were unspoken realities in this somber setting.

Practical matters at hand urged us forward. Larry carried the bags, and I carried The Baby. Shoving past bodies, we climbed on board and located our sleeping compartment. Once our bags were stowed overhead, we collapsed into our seats. The journey had not even begun, and we were already exhausted. 

While the train was still in the station, we busied ourselves getting our little girl ready for bed. We removed her small boots, took off her bright yellow snowsuit with red and blue trimming, and put on her coziest fuzzy sleeper. With care, we made a pallet on the floor, and put her down. In no time, she was fast asleep. Our youngest traveling companion had no idea of the historical mission ahead; she only knew she was with Mommy and Daddy, and she was safe.

The giant station clock struck ten, and the conductor blew his whistle. Our train lurched forward to leave its house in Vienna. With that motion of machinery, Larry, Debby and AnneColeman officially embarked on our first journey into The East, a journey that would forever change our lives. The three of us, our small family, were leaving the Free World and heading into parts unknown. Poland was our destination, and it would take all night to get there, but it would take a lifetime to come back. “Oh God, please protect us.”

Ker-click, ker-click, ker-click. Sounds of the wheels on the track were constant. Into the impenetrable blackness, the train swayed left and right, back and forth. Across Austria, across Czechoslovakia, we traveled. Off and on all night, we heard the loudspeaker, in one station after another, blaring in an indistinguishable foreign tongue, another name of another town we were passing through. Sometimes we would clear the foggy window and peer into the darkness. The ice on the window let us know just how cold it was outside.

All the while our Baby slept undisturbed on the floor. 

More ominously, each time the train crossed an international border, weapon-bearing soldiers boarded, and one-by-one, examined each person’s travel documents. Anyone suspicious would be expelled from the train. 

I tensed when the footsteps approached our compartment. The routine was consistent: a pair of soldiers pounded the door, shoved open the door, flipped on the light, and demanded to see our passports. Somehow the border checks in The Sound of Music were more sanitized than this. I shoved down my fear and prayed while Larry served as designated buffer between these men and me.

All the while our Baby slept undisturbed on the floor.

Finally, we crossed the last border. The procedure seemed exactly the same: heavy fists pounded on the door, loud voices barked commands. Larry unlocked the compartment door, the obtrusive light was flipped on, and the routine began. “Passports!”

The uniform of the soldier, only one this time, identified him as Polish. Pause. Oh my. Here was our first encounter with the first person from the nation destined to become our home. A soldier.

Welding a machine gun, this soldier carried out the formalities of his assignment just as all the other military guards throughout the night had carried out theirs. He seemed especially tired, and I was alarmed with how careless he was in handling his weapon as he let it wave back and forth, pointing down at the floor, the floor where my Baby was sleeping!

Unable to remain calm, I inserted myself into the international transaction. Using urgent sign language, I pleaded: “Please be careful with your machine gun! There is a BABY on the floor, on the floor where you are pointing your gun!”

What occurred next can never be explained, but will never be forgotten. This Polish soldier reverently removed his hat to reveal a head of combed blond hair. With obvious care, he put his machine gun behind his back, and knelt down on his knees. Shoving aside all military protocol, and with the tenderest of affections, the soldier bent and kissed our little sleeping Baby. Right then and there. 

one couple…
       one baby…
              one soldier…
                     one Polish soldier

I quietly gasped; hardly able to believe what my eyes told me was true. 

Just as quietly, the blond-haired Polish soldier stood again to his full height, placed his hat on his head, handed Larry three passports, and left.

The click of the door left behind a holy hush. Did that just happen? Yes. Yes, it did. On a bitter cold March night in no man’s land, Poland, God warmed our hearts with an unmistakable awareness of His Presence. God sent an angel in the form of a Polish military officer to remind us of His holy care on this holy mission. He revealed to me the true heart of these people, and let me know we could make our dwelling among them.

All the while our Baby slept undisturbed on the floor.

“My Lord and My God.”  (John 20:28)