“Battles and Blessings” again describe life here in Russia. This past month the battles have seemed bigger than before. Homesick! For the first time since we moved here well over a year ago I have felt homesick. I don’t mean I haven’t missed family and friends in America or things we did there before now. Of course we have missed aspects of our lives there and the relationships with folks we love. The shooting in Las Vegas, however, triggered a deeper sense of emptiness. Everyone felt it to some degree I’m sure, but for me it triggered a real sense of wanting to be in my homeland. The news of the horrors there were on the news here, and the Russian people were genuinely sympathetic. Somehow, however, I really needed to talk about it with other countrymen, and that was just not possible. Often in times of catastrophy I think we’ve all seen people pull together. For example, after 09/11 I remember the tremendous sense of unity and patriotism in the U.S. as we lived out our shock and grief together. I don’t know if it was like that this time in America or not. But I know I needed it, and when you live thousands of miles away it can’t happen. I noted in a post a few months ago that over time after you move from a country, you hear less and less from old friends. Life goes on there without you obviously. Now, I know that when we return to visit America we’ll pick right back up where we left off. It is just that when this happened I felt the presence of the silence more deeply.
Of course, there were other factors surrounding the deaths and injuries themselves that seem to intensify the sick feeling in my gut. The lack of any reason, motive or explanation for this violent attack left me more confused and distraught. It wasn’t on the news here 24/7, of course, so I had to pick up what reports I could. As the news kept coming and more information was available, however, things became even more confusing. I’m not a weapons expert, but I did have to go through a good bit of training with various weapons when I was in the Marine Corps. I can’t really fathom how one man could do that much firing in such a relatively small amount of time from 390 yards away even with the modifications of the weapons they described. The first reports I heard said he was “across the street” from the concert. He was four football fields away! That is difficult firing regardless of the weapons used. I think that I, like some others I heard, felt like there is more to this story than what we were first led to believe, and we fear we’ll never hear the full story. It was my hardest week since we’ve been here.
Another factor is my little daughter and I have had a cold and cough for almost three weeks. The fatigue and weakness just won’t go away. Nothing serious, but not being able to sleep without coughing worked on my already frayed emotions. Then the Fall here has not been nearly as pretty and sunny as last year. We have had a LOT of rain. The leaves are changing now, but last year we had many beautiful sunny walks together as a family. This year it has been too wet to walk.
The other “battle” is one I’ve written about many times, and that is the unceasing “Russiagate” chatter by politicians and news pundits in America. Several news organizations continue to run story after story on it without any real evidence. As a matter of fact, evidence isn’t mentioned much anymore. For the most part, the MSM have quit asking the folks they bring on about the evidence. They simply ask for opinions—that is, they bring in people who agree with them and then “lob” easy questions about their opinions. For example I saw one summary of an extensive set of interviews on CNN that went something like this with guest after guest: “Do you and others in the ‘intelligence community’ think the Russians were involved in hacking into our democratic process and impacting the outcome of our democratic elections?” They all said yes, and the conclusion was it has to be true, because I gather they meant truth is always determined by the majority opinion, right? A question like, “What evidence do you have or do you know of that clearly shows a Russia connection with our election?” just doesn’t get asked anymore.
I live here; I talk to people; I see interviews and press reports. Contrary to what one would assume from watching CNN or MSNBC, Russians are not in love with Donald Trump. Most Russians agree with Putin’s assertion that no matter who is President in America the foreign policy never seems to change. Obama sounded different from George W. Bush and promised to close Guantanamo and then after his election sent his Secretary of State Hillary Clinton to “reset” relations with Russia. He didn’t close Guantanamo, and in 2014 he called Russia “a regional power that doesn’t make anything.” His criticisms of Russia were just as bad as any president in a long time. News flash: Russia, like a lot of American citizens, doesn’t trust what any of our Presidential candidates say when running for office. Putin speaks for many when he says the president doesn’t actually set the agenda for foreign relations in America.
So the national tragedy, my own health, and the continuing barrage on Russia by people who really don’t know ANYTHING about Russia have been my battles of late. There are blessings as well, however. Our kids are doing well. Roman is in college. He has it tough academically, but he perseveres and likes his school. Clearly he is getting a good education. Gabriel, our nine year old, is also doing well. His teacher told Oksana that she must have really worked with him on his Russian this summer, because he both speaks and understands it much better. The teacher said there are very few times when he just does not understand. The truth is we really did not spend a lot of time on it, but he stayed with his grandparents more over the summer, and has picked up a lot from them. He also attended a summer camp here in Luga, and I think playing with kids all day helped his Russian immensely. He has his struggles in school just like any kid, but we continue to be pleased. Our three year old Marina Grace goes to a class a couple of days a week, and loves being around her teacher and the other students. It is funny to hear her try to say those long Russian words! When your children are happy, you can survive a lot of other batttles.
Despite the setback from my illness, I’m enjoying retirement more now. Oksana has been pretty busy because the class she teaches at the private school is much larger and has students of different levels in it. My big contribution has been to spend more time keeping Marina Grace. I love it. She’s old enough now to occupy herself some, so I can study Russian, read my Greek and do a bit of reading on other topics I enjoy. My current “project” is analyzing a Russian translation of the Greek text of the Gospel of John. Challenging, but I am thoroughly enjoying it. But my favorite thing is still daughter-daddy times every day with Marina Grace. Also, I decided to teach only one class at school, and it is mostly students I had last year. They are much more accustomed to my “native English” voice, and they are really doing well. I think the fact that they’ve now been in my classes for over a year and have discovered they really can converse with someone whose native tongue is English has motivated most of them in their studies.
Since Marina and I have been sick we’ve missed church for the last couple of weeks, but we are glad to continue our relationship with the folks at the Orthodox church we’ve already grown to appreciate. So national events and news reports and coughs and colds can make life tough sometimes. The good news is despite this being the toughest time yet for this American in Russia, I can still say I’m glad we came. I hurt for my home country. It wasn’t just the one tragic event. It is the arguing, and the political and social in-fighting that seems constant as well. Russia, by comparison, is much more stable socially and politically right now. Don’t get me wrong. It is not ideal. Politicians and locals disagree, but on the whole, there is decorum in their disagreements. I know of only one national politician (Zhirinovsky) who stoops to the level that seems to be common now in American political and social discourse. There is crime, violence, and terrorists still try to wreak havoc in Russia as they do everywhere. On the whole, however, life is stable here, and there is a feeling of security and a greater sense of shared beliefs and values even among those who disagree on specifics issues.
On the political front, Russia is greatly concerned about global terrorism and seeks common ground with other countries that share the belief that terrorism—not computer hacks—is the real “global enemy.” No one knows for sure, but there are estimates the U.S. has anywhere from 800 to 950 military bases outside its borders. Russia has six, plus the troops that were invited by Syria to come there. Russia also has a military storage facility in Vietnam. Russia has been able to build a stronger military with a defense budget of less than one tenth the military budget of America because it does not try to have a “presence” everywhere in the world. Despite what Western hawks say, the real evidence shows Russia is very reluctant to take up arms with other nations. Russia, like most every other country, thinks the leader of North Korea is someone of whom the world should be very wary. Most here think he’s not only dangerous, he’s just plain weird. They believe, however, the wisest course is for an array of countries to present a united front based on solid diplomacy rather than the U.S. resorting to threats on its own. I struggle with the fact almost none of this is reported in the MSM in America. So I have decided to use this little blog to pass on what information I can about perspectives many Americans never hear. I could curse the darkness, but I’ve decided to turn on what little light I can.
So after a time of emotional turmoil I took a deep breath and thanked God for what we have. We have great medical care that is not expensive; we eat healthy, natural food that cost far less than in America. We are not burdened by debt and the high cost of living we shouldered in America. The people at our kid’s school, the colleagues and students at the school where we teach and at the medical clinic we go to, go out of their way to be helpful and gracious to all of us. They really try to take care of me.
“Battles” in this world—whatever your country of residence—cannot be avoided. Mine are teaching me to evaluate and change my priorities. I have learned to appreciate my time with family here and also to confront and confess my own sins and failures. Seeing the great evil in the world ought not make me forget Solzhenitsyn’s warning after his awful suffering:
“Gradually it was disclosed to me that the line separating good and evil passes not through states, nor between classes, nor between political parties either — but right through every human heart — and through all human hearts. This line shifts. Inside us, it oscillates with the years. And even within hearts overwhelmed by evil, one small bridgehead of good is retained. And even in the best of all hearts, there remains … an unuprooted small corner of evil.”
Both the battles and the blessings are teaching me more about humility and gratitude. I’m thankful for what we have here.