This message is laid in red tiles on the corner of the building next to our. What does it mean? Why is it written in English? Is it a plea of some kind?
This is our little friend Gresha (Gregore) who got baptised three weeks ago. He loves us. We love him, but all we can do is smile and give him a hug.
I have been thinking a lot about being isolated. I don't mean just us, but the whole idea of isolation; being alone. I have been fascinated by the people and the dichotomy of their lives. Even further, I have been looking for the really poor, the deformed and disabled, and they are not visible. Where are they? Finally, I have been aware of our own isolation and how limiting it is not being able to communicate with those around us.
As we ride the metro or walk down the street, the people are all wearing masks of indifference. I talked to Olga the other day about this. Actually, not about this to begin with, but it came up. She had returned from the bank and asked if I had taken some money out of the ATM recently. I had taken some the day before and said so. She reported that a worker in the bank had some money to return to me. It seemed that I had been overcharged a commission and they wanted to return the excess.
I was more than surprised and said that this country is full of surprises and contrasts. I mentioned the faces of the people on the street and the gruff attitude of store clerks and other workers. And then there is elder Lunt's box that got bagged up for him and now the bank wants to give me money. This is all very inconsistant. What's going on?
Olga quite openly said, "We wear a mask to protect ourselves." That spoke volumes to me. The people on this local commuter train don't even acknowledge one another. When people need protection from one another and that need becomes acculturated generation after generation, there is great meaning there. It also suggests to me that there may be someone behind the mask who MAY just be longing to get out from behind the mask; to have some personal, honest human contact with another person. As I looked back on it, that was what the stumbling lady proved to us.
Last Monday, after our apartment inspection at elders Lunt and Worthen's, we received a gift from Heavenly Father in answer to our sincere longing for some kind of interaction, some kind of personal contact with a Russian on the street. Just a normal, human, personal interaction.
As we walked east up a slight hill toward Octyabreskiya, the main street that runs north & south in front of our office, we saw a rather large (200 lb) middle-aged woman stumble on the uneven sidewalk and go to her knees. We both quickened our pace, but each of us later admitted that each of us had suppressed our natural response to run to her and help her up. As we came to her, she had struggled to her feet, holding on to a short fence in front of a business and was trying to compose herself. Cindy reached out and touched her arm, trying to reassure and steady her, saying "are you all right" and looking into her down-turned face. She looked up into Cindy's eyes and with the most sincere expression said, "spaceba bolshoya" (thank you largely) and other Russian words. Without hesitation Cindy said, "No panimayu" which, when it came out sounded like "Ya panimayu" which is Russian for "I understand". At that moment, these two children of God emotionally touched one another and spiritually embraced for just a moment. Both were unguarded and totally honest.
Well, the lady recovered, stood erect, put on her mask and we all went our way, but that encounter was real. She felt Cindy's care and love and Cindy felt her gratitude. It was a precious moment that proved to me the humanity behind the masks.
We are feeling very isolated, mostly because of the language barrier. We cannot speak to anyone beyond "good morning" or "thank you". It is a terribly frustrating experience to want to touch people is just so simple a way as to ask how they are and understand their response. We have the missionaries, Lydia (the ex-Temple Square missionary), Olga, and sister Gushina, but that is our world. We need more. We need people, and especially Cindy needs people and the interaction that comes naturally. My solution is to learn some basic Russian phrases so we can have at least that interaction with the people at church who WANT to interact with us.
Where are the old, the crippled, the blind, the poor? They are isolated in a very physical way, in their, or their children's, homes. Disabled people cannot move here. Stairs and steps, not to mention the uneven roads and sidewalks where they exist, make movement impossible for these people. There must be thousands of them who are prisoners of their inabilities. It breaks my heart to think of that kind of isolation; trapped in an apartment, or even a room, without hope or human contact beyond a small circle of family. Maybe we can do something; I don't know, but it gives perspective to our own isolation. We can do something about ours; and we shall. What do you suggest?
Whoa! That was a heavy piece of introspection wasn't it. I feel better already. We are going to breakout of prison. It is going to take some planning and work, but we can do this. I'm going to start right now. Harashol!
What an experience. What a country!