Many of us have vivid memories of high school, when we were looking to figure out who we are, trying out different versions of ourselves, and figuring out how the adult world works. Some of us kept diaries or diaries of those days as we fell in love or not, reconsidered our religious beliefs and tried to make sense of what was going on. Few of us go back to these journals and turn them into a book like Sarah Hinlicky Wilson did.
Wilson offers here a glimpse of a year of her teenage life. She graduated from high school in upstate New York a year earlier so she could move overseas with her family. His father, the Lutheran theologian Paul Hinlicky, is of Slovak origin and he had been invited to teach at the Lutheran Theological Seminary in Bratislava. The Hinlicky family moved to Slovakia a year after their peaceful break with the Czech Republic, known as the Velvet Divorce. Paul and his wife, Ellen, were there for six years.
Wilson only stayed for a year, which she writes about in month-to-month chapters. She reconstructs the year largely from written sources, including her diary of her first month in Slovakia, 27 letters she wrote to her high school friend Colleen, and a series of letters her parents wrote to their parents. parents. Much of the book is written in the panting prose of a teenage girl, but every now and then she turns a mirror on herself as a teenager, reflecting as an adult on the process of her self-discovery.
Sarah (whom Slovaks understand as dcera, or her daughter) initially considered herself returning home, reconnecting with her Slovak roots. She dreamed of becoming a Slovenia, a Slovak woman. But soon she found out that the label didn’t match who she was becoming. She came to see herself as an American shaped by her Slovak heritage.
Back home in New York, Wilson had been a nerdy girl, with braces and glasses. She read eagerly. In the village of SvÃ¤t’y Jur (St. George) where the family lived, she became someone else: an object of pursuit by Slovak boys. To them she was truly a Americanka with a hint of Slovak. She reveled in the attention, such a change from New York. Originally, she had planned to take a few classes at the seminary, but found that she was not interested. However, she landed a temporary job in the seminary library, where she was discovered by even more Slovak boys.
Wilson struggled to learn the Slovak language and its nuances. She heard her parents make some missteps in Slovak, but as she relates, she won the award for the biggest mistake, which is not appropriate for publication in this magazine. The book’s title, I am a brave bridge, is a translation of the first Slovak sentence that she and her brother Will composed: I feel the most. odour is a versatile Slovak adjective that can also be translated as bold, confident or fearless.
Sarah found a home in her church youth group, something she had never experienced at home, where there were too few young people. In the youth group, she found her peers living out their faith, a new experience for her.
At the end of the year, Wilson returned to the United States to study at Lenoir-Rhyne, a Lutheran school in North Carolina. By the time she left Slovakia, her identity could no longer be confined to American or Slovak. She was more than that. The Slovak boys who were chasing her, especially MiÅ¡o, realized that they could never live in her world. And she realized that their warm welcome hadn’t made her a Slovak. On the contrary, it had defeated him as an American.
Like her father (and grandfather) before her, Wilson eventually became a pastor and earned a doctorate in divinity. After two deeply unsatisfying years leading a Slovak-American congregation in New Jersey, she joined the Ecumenical Research Institute in Strasbourg, France, specializing in the unlikely combination of Eastern Orthodoxy and Pentecostalism. Today, she is associate pastor at a Lutheran church in Tokyo. She arrived in Japan with her husband and her son 25 years to the day after arriving in Slovakia.
Wilson’s year in Slovakia served as the backdrop to his vocation to serve as a bridge between peoples. Her year in Slovakia detached her from her Americanness. She explains it as follows:
The house as a place and a people is the only thing that will not be returned to me. This is the way for many, maybe for the most part, but not for me. My vocation is to link them to each other; translate, even if badly; interpret and connect, whatever the cost for my comfort and my pride. My place is not the solid ground on either side, but the space in between.
She is indeed a courageous bridge.