I wrote this speech and delivered it yesterday, on August 8th, 2017, at a Toastmaster's Meeting. This was my first opportunity to speak. It was an icebreaker that asked for me to introduce myself. There are many things I could have said, but I decided to take a look at the years 1983-1985. Hidden in those memories are the reasons why I now live in Canada.
This is the complete speech.
It would have taken fifteen minutes or so to deliver, but I only had seven. I actually had four, but the toastmaster in charge of the buzzer, let me speak for seven minutes and twenty two seconds. I did not use any notes, but spoke from the heart.
Here is the speech.
This is a beautiful painting created by the amazing and talented April Mansilla (www.aprilmansilla.com). It coincidently arrived yesterday, but I don't believe in coincidences. It came the same day I delivered my first speech at Toastmasters. Thank you April. I have been branded.
Good evening Madam Chair, fellow Toastmasters, and wonderful guests.
My name is Greg Kieszkowski and the purpose of this talk is to break open the story of my life.
To help you stay focused I want you to remember five dates.
1972. 1983. 1984. 1985. 2017.
I was born on August 12th, 1972, in Bydgoszcz, Poland and in a few days, I will be 45 years old.
Before I tell you about 1972, I need to put 1935 and 1939 in context.
My dad, Franciszek was born on September 21st, 1935, and my mother Irena was born on January 9th, 1939. This was just nine short months before Adolf Hitler invaded Poland from the west, and Joseph Stalin invaded from the east. They met and shook hands in the middle.
And thus, my story and my journey begins.
After the second world war, while Canadian and American soldiers were happily returning to their homes, Poland was a gutted desert, struck to her knees, but the worst was yet to come.
In late 1945, she was once again brutalized by being sold to the Soviet Union, by her Western Allies. I understand why they did it. It was a way to maintain peace in the West, but it was a false peace, and it came at a tremendous personal cost of a lot of beautiful people.
This diplomatic act is how Poland was abandoned, and held hostage by the Red Terror, as described in the powerful works of George Orwell and Alexander Solzhenitsyn.
The terror finally lifted in 1991.
So far, this story of my life, is filled with abundant suffering.
Life was not easy for me.
It was not comfortable living in a Soviet satellite state. There was tremendous unrest, fear, political tension, not to mention injustice and an overall sense of misery.
There was much poverty, and long, long lines. Lines full of people that never ended, and most of the time only led to disappointing rumours of something, anything, arriving somewhere.
I lived in abundant suffering, but I experienced abundant love.
After all, I didn’t need the whole country to love me. The love of my parents was enough.
It is their love that has filled my mind with so many happy childhood memories.
I lived a life without very much, yet looking back I had an abundant existence, that included everything I ever needed.
I’m 9 years old.
Between 1981 and the summer of 1983, the People’s Republic of Poland declared martial law against its own people.
We were not allowed to be outside past 9pm.
I remember vividly, on the television screen and outside of my balcony, our streets and our alleyways, patrolled by military police, with tanks, and armoured vehicles.
People were imprisoned. People were hurt. People disappeared.
Martial Law had a profound effect on my father.
Franciszek was one of the founding member of the Solidarity movement in our city and he led the movement from within his Chemical Factory.
I am not sure how much you know about communism, but it is often referred to as the Iron Curtain.
It is a very fitting metaphor.
The Iron Curtain refers to the fact that a symbolically curtain was erected between the Western and the East. The whole point was that nothing got in and nothing got out.
Polish citizens were purposefully kept ignorant of any truth that didn’t serve the political cause. They had very little knowledge of what was going on inside and outside their own country. All news was fictitious. Spun, like a spider web, for convenience and passivity.
To fight the Soviet governments throughout the world, Ronald Regan financially backed a radio station called Radio Free Europe, which is still in existence today. Radio Free Europe would broadcast in multiple languages, including my native Polish.
Daily, they sent out reports, truthfully and accurately, letting anyone who managed to listen what was actually happening within the Polish borders, and in the Free World.
The Soviets of would try to neutralize this information by generating a horrible wall of static, that drowned out most of the words, and made things almost incoherent.
This is where my father’s abundant courage and stubbornness comes in.
I remember it vividly, watching him listen every night to barely coherent news reports, drowned out by ear piercing waves and static. He tried desperately to learn the truth, to undiscernible some of the meaning, and he always made abundant notes.
After checking with his colleagues, he would add some detail and summarise the most important news of the day and distribute it anonymously through leaflets in his factory.
He was arrested.
Outside the leaflets themselves, no further evidence was procured.
There were no credible witnesses, just KGB informants.
Nothing could be proven.
So, my father, along with other members of solidarity, was put on trial.
He was convicted.
He was sentenced to one a half years in prison, and made to pay a substantially large fine.
Life behind bars becomes a force of habit for him. After all a human being can get used to anything, if you give them enough time to do it. For this reason, the government would release him, so that my dad could go home and enjoy the comfort of his family. A few days later he was rearrested, and the dance began once again.
My dad was an enemy of the people.
He had a choice to make. To join the communist party and prove that he had a change of heart, or to die.
I’m 10 years old
I spent so much time at church that I became an altar boy. The Catholic Church was not just a spiritual leader, it became the first line of defence against the Communist government.
I was part of a large parish. The parishioners numbered in thousands. We had fifteen priests, serving the parish, over one hundred altar boys.
We had mass on the hour, every hour on Sundays.
I was at church often.
I was there often, because deep down, I saw it as my own way of contributing something to the fight. I didn’t want my mom and dad to shoulder the responsibility alone.
I only served Sundays, and during Christmas and Easter, but on Friday, October 19th, 1984, I received a very special invitation and was asked to come and serve the rosary and mass by Father Jerzy Popieluszko.
I didn’t know who he was, just as I am sure you have never heard of him, but I went, because my father asked me, and because Father’s Popieluszko’s friend, was the wonderful priest who was illegally teaching me religion every Saturday.
I don’t remember much of the service. I was too young. I was 10 years old.
I did a lot of staring at my shoes, and focused my attention on not messing up.
That evening, on his way home, Father Jerzy Popieluszko, was driven off the road by three police officers. He was tied up, mercilessly and brutally beaten, and drowned in the Vistula river.
His body was discovered on October 30th, 1984.
He made international headlines and was the subject of whisperings throughout the world.
I’m 11 years old.
My father had no choice and needed help fleeing his own country.
On my mom’s birthday, January 9th, 1985, we arrived in Toronto, as political refugees.
We escaped with only six suitcases. With no family. No one to welcome us.
We were alone. With no language and an abundance of fear.
No direction home.
We lived out of a hotel room on Sherburne Street for the first month. We then moved from one apartment to another.
If you love irony, you will get a chuckle out of the fact that the first place we ever stole from was Honest Eds. $50 is sometimes not enough, to buy everything you need, that your six suitcases could not carry.
My father was a good photographer and successful Chemist back home, but in Canada he was old and a useless immigrant with no future.
He left Poland when he was fifty years old, and for the next twenty years he worked tirelessly, without complaint as a janitor and an assistant superintendent of an apartment building. A fancy title that basically means he was a janitor at home, as well as at work.
My father never complained.
I realize today that my mom and dad made the journey to Canada for me. They sacrificed their life for me. Their abundant love brought me here today.
Before I get to the final date, I would like to give you an insight about our lives in Canada.
In Poland, we had very little. We had next to nothing really. There was nothing in the stores. Which was just fine, because no one had money either.
If I showed you the photographs of our first two apartments in Canada, you may be amazed that every single piece of furniture in the picture, was brought there under the cover of darkness, from a garbage unit, or the side of a road.
This is abundance. We furnished our entire apartment, with the unwanted abundance of material possessions of others.
I’m 45 years old.
There is a tremendous abundance in this room.
I cannot tell you how excited and happy I am to come here every two weeks, and pretend we are important.
Be we are not pretending. We are important.
I have learned much from you, in such a short period of time.
I wrote this speech a week ago, but decided to change it a few days ago, once I received the notification that the theme this week would be about Abundance.
I tried to pepper my words with the idea of abundance as much as possible.
I want to take this opportunity to tell you that your life matters. It matters a great deal.
The fact that you are here, and nowhere else tonight, speaks about your character.
The fact that you honour your commitment to each other, is a tremendous sign of the abundance that you have in your life.
You cannot give what you do not have.
You cannot share what you haven’t lived or that you don’t understand.
I am here because I want to do more with my life.
I don’t know what I am going to do. I don’t know how I am going to do it.
I just know that it begins here, in this room, amongst you, wonderful people.
Some of you may have or are currently experiencing tremendous suffering.
Yet you still give anyway.
Let me close with the words that hang in Calcutta, India.
Mother Teresa was inspired by these words and read them every day.
These words were written by a young man in the United States who unsuccessfully tried to kill himself. He went on to become a psychiatrist and became an abundant comfort for others.
People are often unreasonable, illogical and self-centered;
Forgive them anyway.
If you are kind, people may accuse you of selfish, ulterior motives;
Be kind anyway.
If you are successful, you will win some false friends and some true enemies;
If you are honest and frank, people may cheat you;
Be honest and frank anyway.
What you spend years building, someone could destroy overnight;
If you find serenity and happiness, they may be jealous;
Be happy anyway.
The good you do today, people will often forget tomorrow;
Do good anyway.
Give the world the best you have, and it may never be enough;
Give the world the best you've got anyway.
You see, in the final analysis, it is between you and your God;
It was never between you and them anyway.