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Agnieszka Bleja - Rays of hope


This is a story about a ten-year old boy named Olek who lived in Poland in a town called Kielce.


Oh well, it’s quite a different story really: the boy’s name was Oleh and he came from the Ukraine. When asked his name, he would say “Oleh” and often heard the remark: “Oh, Olek - what a wonderful name!”, something he would simply shrug off.  Lately, he would shrug off such remarks most of the time. If his dad had seen him act this way, he would surely have claimed that Oleh was a world champion in shrugging off so many things. Dad… whenever the boy thought of his dad, he felt a lump in his throat and had itchy eyes.


Here’s how this shrugging things off all began: one morning at home in Kiev, his dad woke him up early and said in a mysterious tone of voice: “Son, there’s something important I have to say. You’ll be travelling to Poland with your Ma and Grandma, because things have gone bad here and it’s not always safe. I’ll be staying behind to take care of our home and make sure things are right until you can come back”. Of course, Oleh wished to protest immediately that he wouldn’t go anywhere but would stay with his dad. But when he looked his dad in the eye, he reckoned that this time he had to go along with what his dad had said without arguing. He took his schoolbag and packed a few things – crayons that he always needed for drawing, a book, two dinosaurs and his favourite baseball cap. And soon he was seated in the car. It was not until they were on the outskirts of town that he noticed he had left his greatest treasure behind: the shiny seashell Vova, his best friend, he had given him and which he kept on the bookshelf. The seashell was very special because you could hear the  ocean when you held it to your ear. Oleh promised Vova he would never lose it. ”Mum, we’ve got to go back to get my seashell!” he cried out when they were in the car and Mum was driving. Grandma glanced at Oleh and said: ”We can’t do that now, dear. Too bad. Just shrug it off”. And from then on, Oleh simply shrugged off plenty of things that were important to him or perhaps were no longer important …


When after a really long journey the boy, his mum and grandma reached the town of Kielce, they moved in to Ms. Czesia’s place. Ms. Czesia, an elderly lady his grandma knew, did her best to be friendly and kind. She told them repeatedly to feel at home and assured them they were now safe. It often crossed Oleh’s mind that he had another home and that his Dad had stayed behind in that home… but when he was about to bring this up in conversation, he merely shrugged it off onceagain.


One morning in spring, when the sun was shining brightly, Ms. Czesia said: “Look, Oleh, Hania, our neighbour’s daughter, who is just your age, will pop in soon. Wouldn’t it be a fun idea for you two to go to the neighbourhood park? There’s a nice playground there”. It was on the tip of Oleh’s tongue to say that he had no intention of going to a dumb park, especially with a girl, but instead … he merely shrugged off the idea … And a few minutes later, there he was, walking wearily behind a freckled girl in red sneakers, his head hanging low. He spotted the freckles because there were so many of them, and the sneakers because he kept his head down stubbornly.


Once on the playground, the girl quickly ran over to the jungle gym. Oleh sat heavily on a nearby bench mulling over the thought that he didn’t want to be there at all. After some time he noticed the red sneakers approaching him. “Go play by yourself” he muttered – but the freckled Hania’s sneakers didn’t move an inch. He raised his eyes and saw a shiny object in the open palm of her hand. “Look what a neat pebble I’ve found!” she said. “It has tiny crystals of quartz that beam back sun rays.” “You can have it, if you want”, she added extending her arm towards Oleh. As he was about to say that he had no use for stupid pebbles, he recalled that he had had a seashell from Vova and quickly had to close his eyes with all his strength to not shed a tear.


Hania looked at him seriously. ”You’re worried and homesick”, she stated. Oleh shrugged his shoulders and looked down at her red sneakers. “I think I know how it is”, she said. ”You don’t know a thing; there’s no war here”, Oleh was about to spurt out, but deep inside felt he was merely shrugging it all off. Hania continued in a low voice:

“Last spring, when it was getting warmer, leaves were sprouting, birds were singing and the air was full of sweet scents, my only friend Zosia got badly sick and had to go hospital for a long, long time. We had lots of plans; there were so many things we wanted to do together. I was so mad at her, even though I knew it wasn’t her fault. And I missed her badly. Most of all, I worried what would be with her. One day, when I was walking home with my head hanging down like yours,  I passed Ms. Czesia without noticing her. I bumped into her and we both nearly fell over. Ms. Czesia is really smart and knows lots of things other people don’t know. She told me that my sorrow won’t help Zosia one bit, but that there was something that might. That made me curious, so I asked her what it was. “You can collect rays of hope for her. It’ll give her more strength to get better”, Ms. Czesia said. “How am I to do that?” I asked. “All you need to do is look around, listen to spring and smell it, then share it with your friend Zosia. You can tell her all about it, draw it or sing about it…” That’s just what I did. I looked keenly at the world and made a drawing for Zosia every day. It all added up to a booklet of drawings which Zosia’s mum brought to hospital to her. And then, when Zosia came home and we were able to meet again, she told me that she looked at my drawings every day and imagined us walking through the park together, enjoying the spring. It all gave her lots of strength …”


Oleh kept his eyes cast down … Hania jumped off the bench quickly and raced to the slide, leaving the pebble behind. Oleh clutched it in his hands and rubbed it gently. He stared at the gleaming sunrays on its surface, raised his head and looked around. He saw the blooming yellow leaves on forsythia bushes and a yellow-beaked blackbird hopping across the lawn. Oleh lifted himself from the bench and felt his feet on the grainy, scrunching sand. He heard the laughter of children playing.


When he returned home he took his crayons and began drawing. Ms. Czesia looked over his arm and gently nodded her head. “I see you’ve gathered lots of rays of hope” she said. For the first time in a long time, Oleh no longer wanted to shrug off her remarks. He just quietly said: “It’s for my Dad”. And from that day on, his mum took a picture of his drawings every day and sent them to Oleh’s dad. And here’s what Oleh’s dad wrote back: “Many thanks for the specks of hope you send daily. They help me believe that soon we will all be together for sure. Son, I am so proud of you”.



A psychologist,  certified psychotherapist and supervisor trainee. Graduate of Psychology at the Adam Mickiewicz University in Poznań and member of the Polish Psychological Association.

Has completed many trainings in Ericksonian psychotherapy, systemic and short-term psychotherapy. Has been providing specialised psychological support to children and teens and their families for many years, offering diagnosis, consultations and psychotherapy in a psychological and guidance counselling centre. Has led psychotherapy training sessions at the Polish Ericksonian Institute in Łódź.