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New Tradition, New Year

With the new year upon us now, ornaments will be taken off the family Christmas tree, packed away, and the tree itself will either be left on the curb, if it was real, or boxed away until next year, if it was not.

Today, I will be taking the ornaments off of our tree. But the tree's journey will just be beginning as I partake in a new tradition.

My co-teacher, Jim, gave Ramon and I a small potted Christmas tree. Though, he left it sitting on a table with no note, message, or explanation, Ramon and I knew it was from Jim. And it was. His daughter, my good friend Danika, told me that he only buys potted Christmas trees. It is the ecological farmer in him.

Weeks later, when we joined them on Christmas Eve for dinner, I discovered that there was more to this Christmas tree tradition when they took the ornaments and lights off of the tree and planted it in their backyard. Beautiful, I thought. While most Christmas trees' journeys are ending, this tree's journey was just beginning. Each year, when Christmas is over, the tree is planted in honor of friends and family they have lost in that year.

...Today, I will be planting the Christmas tree Ramon and I were given in honor of my friend Donna's mother, who recently passed, and of my friend Alan's family's significant loss in 2007. Donna and Alan are friends and colleagues from The Rebuilding Alliance, so this tree's life will honor not only their personal losses, but the losses of so many in the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and will symbolize hope for a more peaceful future and honor the commitment of so many working tirelessly for that future.

The Good Long Road continues in 2008. I hope it will bring new traditions, new opportunities to love and to share in the act of being peace.

Happy New Year!


  1. Hi Jennifer and Happy New Year!

    What a beautiful tradition. This past year I lost my only sister and miss her tremendously. Had I known of Ramon's tradition, I would have bought trees for my niece and nephew. Even though she is not with us in person, she remains alive with us and a tree is the perfect reminder.

    Thanks for sharing and lot's of love,


  2. Dear Jenni,
    It is a dark Saturday night. The night sky is clear after so many storms. The details of the upcoming Rebuilding Alliance speaking tour seem to be falling into place now. I am less frantic -- and at last I made time to read your blog.

    Thank you for planting a tree in my mother's memory, in memory of Alan's family too.

    If it is ok, I would like to post what I wrote about my mother's passing.


    My Mother's Passing
    by Donna Baranski-Walker, Virginia’s Daughter

    My mother, Virginia Helen Baranski, passed away on December 15, 2007. I had the honor of sitting by her side in the long week that brought her to death. It was a journey of pain, of heart, and, surprisingly, of music.

    Music has been of central importance to my mother throughout her long life. She was a member of the Lutnia Singing Society from its earliest days and a founding member of the Polonez Chorale that sprung from it. My mother was a delegate to the Polish Singers Alliance of America, a member of Friends of Polish Art and numerous other music and educational organizations, including the board of the University of Michigan Dearborn Alumni Association. My mom was also 4th grade teacher at St. Barbara Catholic School for some 20 years, and her students learned a lot about music through her lessons and the holiday performances she designed for them.

    Just a few weeks ago, while still in reasonably good health, my mom told me that she remembered her father, Casimer Prusinski, singing "Kiedy ranne wstają zorze" as he was shaving — and so she found herself singing it each morning too. It became the song that carried us through this, her last hospital stay. At first I sang it in terror — could she recover from the hemorrhagic stroke she suffered? Would the pain ever stop? And then, through the week, with hospice care and my mother's encouragement, our fears eased and the music gave us both comfort.

    As my mother sunk into paralysis, Eva Siarkowska Depa brought recordings of my mother's award-winning choir. My mother immediately responded to the music and her vital signs returned to normal. Although she was still paralyzed, unable to swallow or even open her eyes, she communicated how much music and song meant to her by squeezing my hand and encouraging me to keep singing to her. Our family came and sang to her, prayed too. Choir members came to sing. I sang through the night, then hummed, and then, a little squeeze, sang again.

    In the long week of dying, many members of our family were able to visit to say goodbye; others called in and I put the phone to her ear. Her brother, Richard Prusinski, and his wife, Alina, came many times. Her sister, Genevieve Rymarz, spent hours at her side, along with treasured nieces, nephews, and friends. The hospital let me transform her room with a candle in the window, tiny white lights, and her beautiful tea set on the window ledge. They fed me guest meals as I stayed on the couch beside her. Her granddaughter, Andrea Walker, flew in early from Boston, and then returned to finish exams. My mother waited for her grandson, Marc Walker, to come from California, and her son-in-law, Martin Fong, to join me beside her. Then, with all as she wanted it to be, my mother passed peacefully away on Saturday, December 15th.

    Her funeral was on Thursday, December 20, 2007 at Jarzembowski Funeral Home. Her choir, the Polonez Chorale, sang nearly a full concert at the viewing the night before. Gabriella Kash, an angel-voiced soloist, sang “Kiedy Ranne” and other Polish and English music at her Mass at St. Linus, after which we drove in procession across all Detroit to Mt. Olivet Cemetery. A luncheon at Stefan’s Banquet Hall gave us, her family and friends, one more time to share stories and sing together.

    In memory of my mother’s life-long song and her love of teaching, our family has created the Virginia Helen Baranski Music Education Fund. Administered by Friends of Polish Art, the fund will help teachers develop their music program and students, young and old, with their music lessons. And so, my mother's song will continue.

    P.S. Here are the words to the song that sustained us, as it has so many others through centuries:

    Polish original by Franciszek KARPIŃSKI, 1786

    Kiedy ranne wstają zorze,
    Tobie ziemia, Tobie morze,
    Tobie śpiewa żywioł wszelki,
    Bądź pochwalon, Boże wielki!

    A człowiek, który bez miary,
    Obsypany Twymi dary,
    Coś go stworzył i ocalił,
    A czemużby Cię nie chwalił?

    Ledwie oczy przetrzeć zdołam,
    Wnet do mego Pana wołam,
    Do mego Boga na niebie,
    I szukam Go koło siebie.

    Wielu snem śmierci upadli,
    Co się wczoraj spać pokładli,
    My się jeszcze obudzili,
    Byśmy Cię, Boże chwalili.


    English translation by Donna Baranski-Walker, 2007

    When light’s first rays rouse the seashore,
    Your earthen ground, Your great ocean,
    All Your singing, all creation
    So be praising God all greatness!

    One who is not overloaded,
    Can feel Your gifts pouring for them.
    Gifts which raised and cared and saved them,
    What else to do? Sing Your praises!

    I barely open my eyes up
    Before I call out to You, God,
    To my God up high in heaven,
    And search You out all around me.

    Many readied for their night’s sleep,
    But with dreams fell into their death.
    Yet here we are, awake once more
    So to You, God, for be praising.


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