After 19 years in a coma, a Polish railworker Jan Grzebski awoke this week. I found this story amazing – second only to the Cleveland Cavs pulling off a victory against the Detroit Pistons led by a kid the age of my college students. While I marvel at the abilities of LeBron James, I’m more intrigued by Grzebski. What would it be like to be him? My son is amazed that I lived in a time before videos and cds and that I grew up with two tv channels which later expanded to – what? 12? I don’t really remember. Imagine the other way around. Grzebski fell into his coma before so many things were invented that have become household essentials, before so many landmark events occurred in the world, before so many words ( truthiness for example) had not yet been coined)
He was asleep when Poland was still under Communist rule. Lech Walesa would have already won the Nobel Peace Prize but not yet been elected. He would have been familiar with Glasnost and Perestroika and the Fall of the Berlin Wall but not of the fall of Gorbachev. He would not have known that the dissident playwright Vaclav Havel would become last president of the Czech Republic , or that Nelson Mandela would lead South Africa and he slept through the end of apartheid altogether. Interestingly enough he would have been award that The Police broke up and he woke up just in time for their ignominious ( or so I heard) reunion. Grzebski would have been aware of the burgeoning AIDs epidemic and maybe even the clinical trials of AZT but not of the HIV vaccine and all the other drug breakthroughs around the illness and who’s going to be the one to explain to him that we can find cures for diseases old and new and yet people in Africa still die of them by the millions? Who will explain to him that genocide is bad, but pharmaceutical genocide is okay if the companies satisfy their stockholders? Was he awake when corporations were granted personhood? I don’t remember that date.
Said Grzebski: “Now I see people on the streets with cell phones and there are so many goods in the shops it makes my head spin." Indeed. He was asleep when we embraced IPOds cellphones and the internet – rendering them necessities so that 8 year olds don’t leave home without their cell in case Mom needs to text them about where to meet for carpool. Oh yeah and texting, googling, spamming, uploading, downloading are all part of the lexicon now (though in Polish they’re called texnitxh, spamzolisch, googlech etc) And we don’t have to run home for our favorite opiate tv show because we can TIVO it and watch it on our HDTV ( is that the same as a plasma tv – I don’t even know.)
More that anything he’s dealt with though – what must really blow his mind is that his four children have all married and produced 11 grandchildren during his years in hospital. Little wonder that he says “the world seems prettier now.”
What would it be like to enter this pretty new world, I wonder? It’s a story that holds such allure for us – Rip van Winkle redux. The world has gone on without us. It’s oddly comforting, I think. What could be so important – what missed train, what unfilled paperwork when your disappearance from the temporal world has so little effect on its progression/regression?
I feel like Jan Grzebski in one way. For longer than 19 years I have been out of the dating pool and am now just dipping a toe into the shallow end. That world has gone on without me and I don’t know the rules, the protocol, the extent of the real dangers, etc. But like Grzebski, I want to see the world as prettier, not scarier. I feel something like Miranda in the Tempest when she says “O wonder! How many goodly creatures are there here! How beautious mankind is! O brave new world: That has such people in't!"
I salute you Jan Grzebski and wish I could see the world the way you must see it right now – a series of marvels and miracles. There’ll be time for the stupid stuff once you acclimate.