Tuesday, November 30, 2004

In Case You Missed It

In the avalanche of imagery that buries our daily memory of what’s happening in the world, you may have missed this picture of a Ukrainian man, crying in the great square of Kiev.

Kiev_manHe’s in his sixties by the look of him, a working-man no doubt by the rough hands that gently hold flowers, as at a christening or funeral.

I know him.

He was here in Czechoslovakia in ’89 in the crowd on Wenseslas Square as the Iron Curtain came down---that same unmistakable look of heart-stopping wonderment that a man feels as he first sees a newborn son, bloody and dripping and squealing with life. Will he be okay? have all his fingers and toes? love me as I love him? Look again at the tear-washed face and see the bitterness and lost dreams of his six decade life tremble in the hands that hold the flowers.

The Czechs became free in ’89 and watched as freedom siphoned off their wealth to the same old power brokers over the next ten years, old commies and new mafia merely pushing different levers. But it was only wealth and wealth can be made again---it’s freedom can’t be manufactured and they have that in all the splendor of its inequity. Because freedom is meant to be inequitable, a shaking-off of what Churchill called communism’s right for all men to be equally destitute.

Kiev---Prague---Budapest---names from storybooks, lands of our fathers, roots of our American nation.

We see many Ukrainians here in the Czech Republic---mostly they are our builders---smoking cigarettes and buttering mortar on bricks like jam on bread, sending their money home to a country the Russians just won’t let go. Ukrainian doctors and lawyers and university professors up on those scaffolds, working for the lowest wages in an already low-wage country because there is nothing at home in Ukraine.

But now, in the great square in Kiev, in the tear-streaked face of the man holding flowers, you see the crack in the iron that has held Ukraine to Russia. Leonard Cohen tells us “there is a crack, a crack, in everything---that’s where the light comes in.” If you look closely at the other faces in the crowd behind this man, they’re younger and they’re sober and serious but they don’t have the rapturous look of a miracle at hand. That belongs to him and now it belongs to you and to me if we take a moment to hold it in our minds---not let it slip away among the Christmas images---maybe even bow our heads for a moment to one man’s hope.

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