In this season of light it is at the darkest moments that we must pause, breathe and enfold ourselves in the promise that this time offers: the birth of a savior, the rebirth of the sun, the transformation of night by a heavenly star. It is that very promise that can escort us to a place that soothes the sorrow that feels all encompassing in the moment. My family suffered a loss on Christmas this year, my brother-in-law passed, and the emotional punch was raw, surprising, humbling, and of course very, very sad. Yet it offers an opportunity to draw together, to comfort one another and find gratitude in the safety net of family and to celebrate a wonderful man.
David was many wonderful things, but I believe his greatest gift was kindness. In the most unsung yet powerful way, he extended that gift to those who lost loved ones as a funeral director. He was the mechanism behind the final farewell. He escorted the departed on their final journey toward salvation with kindness, gentleness, calm and grace. He took the lead and held countless families by the hand to find comfort and resolution in those final moments of life’s journey. It was a job many could never do and David was so very good at it.
Regardless of the physical challenges he faced in his last few years, he was still always kind. His needs were simple and he loved his children and grandchildren, mother and siblings, nieces and nephews and I believe was comforted that a little part of him would continue on in this world, whether it was through lineage or just a good story. I don’t know if he ever realized the deep impact he had on the lives of those he served and loved in life, but I know he is aware of it now. He is no longer broken, he is healed and alive in the best sense of the word and is still shining his light and kindness to all. I can picture him on the heavenly side escorting those who are finishing one journey and beginning another into the gates of heaven with joy and comfort. Rest in Peace David, rest in peace.
Today’s post is somewhat tawdry, and deals with some antiquated ideas perhaps, but in this new era where truth is false and falsehood true, I’ve chosen to get a little down and dirty. My intent is to shed a different light and a little humor to point out something about power. And we all know how powerful sex is, right? It sells things, draws attention, allures us and awakens desires. It compels behavior in both good and bad ways. Most importantly, what would the world be like without it? Yet the same goes for truth, what would our world be without it? While studying World Literature, I will always remember the play “Lysistrata” by Aristophanes, the plot of which centers on a woman, Lysistrata who, fed up with the constant fighting and poor decisions of the men in Greece convince the women to withhold sex as leverage to negotiate a peace to the Peloponnesian war. It was one of the few Greek plays that literally made me laugh out loud (especially at a Catholic University)…and yet gave me great pause knowing full well the power of sex in a male dominated culture. (This is not to say the culpability falls on men alone or in general…OK, that’s bullshit, for my purpose here, I am saying exactly that). My friends, wouldn’t it be great if we could connect sex and truth together and harness that same carnal power to force the present culture to negotiate a peace to the war on Truth?
Here is one of my favorite exchanges from the play:
Lysistrata: “Here goes, then; no need to beat around the bush. Ladies, if we’re going to force the men to make peace, we’re going to have to give up—”
Calonice: “Give up what? Tell us.”
Lysistrata: “You’ll do it, then?”
Calonice: “We’ll do it, even if it means our death!”
Lysistrata: “All right. We’re going to have to give up—the prick. Why are you turning away from me? Where are you going? Why are you all pursing your lips and shaking your heads? What means your altered color and tearful droppings? Will you do it or not? What are you waiting for?”
Calonice: “Count me out; let the war drag on.”
and after some convincing…
Calonice: “Well, what if we did abstain from, uh, what you say, which heaven forbid: would peace be likelier to come on that account?”
Lysistrata: “Absolutely, by the Two Goddesses. If we sat around at home all made up, and walked past them wearing only our diaphanous underwear, with our pubes all plucked in a neat triangle, and our husbands got hard and hankered to ball us, but we didn’t go near them and kept away, they’d sue for peace, and pretty quick, you can count on that!”
Lampito: “Like Menelaus! As soon as he peeked at bare Helen’s melons, he threw his sword away, I reckon.“
In a modern twist, wouldn’t it be great to have a campaign to make truth as tantalizing as sex? Wouldn’t that be fantastic? Just think, instead of People magazine coming out with the Sexiest Man/Woman alive issue, they could have the Most Veracious Man/Woman alive. I can see it now, a centerfold of (feel free to pick your favorite flavor, there are plenty of truthful women out there too) Jake Tapper or Chuck Todd stripping away illusion like a well-worn suit, taunting us with tantalizing factual information rooted in multiple and verifiable sources. I had to stop writing for a moment, my blood pressure just skyrocketed. If truth were as powerful as sex, our news programs could begin with seductive, low lights and music…Baum chiki baum, baum…”Good evening I’m Wolf Blitzer (a perfect name for news porn), for tonight’s top story, only new objective and concrete evidence will be discussed and our esteemed panel, suited with lie detector machines will weigh in and get shocked whenever they spin (I had to throw a little 50 shades of Gray thrown in there). Like in Lysistrata, we would recognize the lying liars who lie because of how deprived they behaved. That deprivation, in the play, meant all the men of Greece and Athens suffered from constant chaffing because of, well, you know what rubbing against…let me just say we wouldn’t see Putin riding a horse for any time soon.
The un-augmented would be the fashion, truth tellers the new celebrity. Not hiding behind all the subterfuge would obliterate stress. Sex and truth would be desired equally. When we turned on cable news, we would simply be informed, there would be no need for endless panel discussion any longer unless the focus was pure problem solving. Of course that may mean some may lose their jobs, but running the world would be a whole lot easier. The truth has brought sexy back and made us free, and with freedom comes much responsibility (but a lot more fun). I will leave you with the last line of the play:
Lysistrata: “Come now, since everything has turned out well, take these women back with you, you Spartans. And, you Athenians, these ones are yours. Let each man stand beside his wife, each wife beside her man, and then to celebrate good times let’s dance in honor of the gods. And for all future time, let’s never make the same mistake again.”
My second trip to Russia was through Canada. We flew on the Soviet airline Aeroflot, a night and day difference from our commercial airlines. Cautious, I felt this would be a good thing, Russia from the perspective of the people. That hope didn’t last long. Beyond the clear evidence of what materially was not available to purchase in their home country, each citizen had bags and bags of stuff they purchased in Canada.
It is clearly evident that I am an American on a Soviet Airline. I feel like I’m on a 1950’s grey hound bus. All around me I hear incomprehensible Russian, full of enthusiasm to share the spoils of their trip with their loved ones at home. People have bags and boxes stacked on their laps and under their seats, unwilling to let go of the proximity needed to put them in the upper bins. Their “stuff” includes electronics, Reeboks, and blue jeans. I forget sometimes how accessible material things are to me (even if I can’t afford them). The air in the plane smells Soviet-a mixture of perspiration, musty air and an ointment like smell. It makes me feel like a prima dona because I’m more concerned about brushing my teeth and taking a shower. I helped a woman squeezed into the seat next to mine who looked at me suddenly panicked and I knew she was going to vomit. I grabbed the barf bag in the pocket of my seat and put it in front of her face just in time. I felt so bad for her because I know how awful it is to get sick in a crowded place (like I did last time I was in Russia). It is so easy to love when one who is so vulnerably helpless is forced to lower their guard and let someone help. I didn’t need to speak the language, only sit and be present with my hand on her back and give her a Kleenex when she needed it. She smiled and tried to communicate for the rest of the trip.
I have always loved Leningrad, now St Petersburg. The Summer palaces, the Hermitage museum and churches are exquisite. Plagued by citizens trying to swap, poach, buy drugs was unsettling. I did not feel safe as a young woman there and wore my glasses most of the time, like it would make a difference (remember that I was young and a bit naive) I had such high hopes for a newer, fresher Russia. I expected a sense of moving with the times, but what I began to understand is that this was a country that wanted the benefits of a western society, but either didn’t want to do the work, or was ill equipped to handle the transition. And they worked so hard to create a smoke screen to make it appear that they would still be equal to or superior to America. It wasn’t a very good one though.
We’re in Leningrad-and it is the white nights. At 2:30 in the morning it looked like the afternoon. I met Leonard Bernstein in a shop. I was completely star struck. It was phenomenal, and he was surrounded by people here too.We went to tour the Hermitage Museum, such amazing beauty and art A young man came up to me and wanted to trade, which isn’t unusual, but then he wanted to know if I smoked or did coke and stared exclusively at my chest. I said “no” forcefully. It felt good, but I was mad that the only people who speak to me here-want something-money exchange or other stuff.
There were people we met with who really wanted to make a difference, but I never got a sense that they had much power or backing to really do anything about it. We met with a few peace summits, as they were called but there were always less than a dozen people present. You could hardly call them a summit. I give these people credit, though, they were working hard to make a better life for the people.
I had a wonderful conversation with a man named Demetrius at our peace committee meeting. It was refreshing to talk to someone young who is educated and open. He gave me his address and said they would invite me to visit again. Maybe, someday. I also went to the ballet it was wonderful, of course-I’ve been lucky enough to see the Bolshoi Ballet in the States. We went to the tea room afterwards, simple and relaxing. No one to bother us. One thing I’ve noticed this tour, is that there are no visits to war memorials, last time we were inundated. The talk of war is almost minimal except for a breed of hatred for Stalin.
Landed in Kiev on another greyhound type plane. It is much more relaxed than last time. I stayed in the same hotel, and this time had no less than three marriage proposals. Must not be a good place to plan a future. The peace meeting here, too, was just like last time-all party line.
My time in Crimea was wonderful and awful. I had never been, which I now see for what it was, sexually assaulted before. I am thankful that I was surrounded by people and members of my group to support me, and empowered by my own willingness to punch his lights out. The picture it painted for me was that I thought there was a license to treat women in a way that was unacceptable in Russia, and I unfairly blamed them for a long time. When I returned home and the growing awareness of sexual violence that continued to permeate my own culture, and more personal experiences on a much smaller and subtle level, I had to come to grips when the fact that it wasn’t exclusive to a reforming communist country. Yet, I’m glad that I only wrote about the wonderful and kind people I met there in my journal. When I saw the news that Crimea was annexed by Russia, I knew why. It is the crown jewel of the Black Sea, of the Ukraine, and like Russia seems to always do…it takes what it wants.
We are in Yalta, the vacation paradise of Russia. The hotel is magnificent, the beach crowded with people, families unconcerned about body image, just happy to be on the beach, work first, though. We went to a pioneer village, a youth camp and we only met one official, which was quite disappointing.One distinction beyond the same universal educational curriculum for the last 10 years, rock music is no longer suppressed, and some pictorial art.
Back relaxing in the pool, a very attractive man swam up and tried to sell me lacquer boxes. I splashed him off and then felt bad. I saw him that night in the disco and danced with him and nearly punched his lights out when he started to mall me. Whatever decorum was present last time is not present this time. It is very disturbing.
Back in Moscow at the Hotel Rus (*which is now an office building…original built in 1894) and there were cockroaches. Someone stole a pair of my shoes from my room. I am ready to go home.The city tour was OK, it is dirty now.
That was all I wrote about Moscow the second time, except for one funny ditty I wrote in my journal “Hotel Rus, 6000 rooms with 6000 unused bidets”. We did have gala dinner to conclude our trip and I remember it as lovely, but full of other tourists. I couldn’t wait to go home. The only memory of my return trip was that I had to convince so many on the plane when we stopped over in Ireland not to spend all their money in the duty free shop there. It was hard to convince them that Canada would have everything they needed. Going through customs took forever, one of our party got in trouble for trying to smuggle in caviar. I missed my connecting flight and stayed in Montreal at a new friends family home. My sadness returning home would have been oppressive, but I was ready to start my new teaching job. I didn’t journal for months, so I can hardly recall what my feelings were. I did pack up all my Russia books and materials and put them into storage…which speaks volumes.
Both trips to Russia were an instrumental gift in my life. How it presented and continues to present itself in my life may seem blurred at times. I do know that my devotion to truth and cutting through political subterfuge is a result of those journeys, and is the number one reason I am so pained by what is happening in the world right now. I have paid a price for it, but one that I accept readily. Jesus says the truth will set you free…I walk in that belief and understanding every day.