Saturday, August 18, 2007

The Russians Are Coming, The Russians Are Coming

Do you ever feel life is like a river and if you can let go and just float, you'll drift to where you should be? Yesterday Chuck and I had that sort of experience. We visited a dear friend who is dying of Lou Gehrig's disease. He never shows an ounce of self-pity. He is grateful just to hear the birds sing. After we'd spent some time chatting and laughing, we got up to leave.

Our friend asked us to stay and see some of his friends come over and sing. We demurred. He insisted. He won. We went away and came back a few hours later. We were in for an unexpected treat.

A good friend of his brought 6 of her friends, all clad in traditional Russian garb. They are part of the group called Kedry. They started singing folk songs that were from 200 to 2000 years old. Each singer came from a different part of Russian. The two Olgas, Irina, Tatiana, Natalya were from Moscow, St. Petersburg, the Ukraine, the Upper Volga, and Siberia. I never thought about it before, but Russia's people are as diverse and Americans.

The ladies sang a cappella. The songs had a similar harmony and rhythm to African folk songs. And the acoustics in the living room had an odd way of absorbing some frequencies and projecting others. So, 100% of the sound was coming at you from the front, but only 70% of the sound was coming at you from behind. Very surrealistic.

Then, a strange thing happened. I looked at Irina, a petite blonde blue-eyed pixie and saw my grandmother! They could have been sisters. But of course, Irina was younger than I ever knew my grandmother to be. I was transfixed. She looked like her, she talked like her, she had the same mannerisms. It was uncanny. I was overcome with emotion. I hadn't seen my dear, dear Grandma in many, many, many years.

I used to ride my bike over to see her on Saturday mornings when we lived in New York City. I'd knock at her door, she'd answer and always say, "Oh what a surprise! Come on in darling, and have some cookies that just came out of the oven." It was our little joke. She pretended that she wasn't expecting me, and I'd pretend right along with her. Then, we'd sit down and she'd ask how my week went. Sometimes I brought a friend with me. I vividly remember her house smelled like mothballs and she had lace doilies on the armrests and headrests of all the chairs in the living room.

I've only recently come to realize just how precious those Saturday mornings were. I really wish I could have just one more Saturday morning with Grandma or at least I wish I had a little movie of just one of our Saturday mornings together. Sigh.

Then, I'd jump on my bike and pedal home. Eventually my parents put a stop to my visits because I was taking the Long Island Expressway to get to Grandma's place. There was no way I could get there by surface roads. But it was so sweet while it lasted.

If we hadn't been visiting our friend, we never would have seen the singers and I wouldn't have taken a little trip down memory lane. Being 3rd generation, Russian was certainly never spoken in my parents' house. But I felt a deep connection to the songs the singers sang, and the melodies, and the beat. Several times, we all got up to dance, while the singers sang lively songs.

Following the dancing, our friend had arranged to have a feast of homemade strudel, fruits, nuts, candies, cheeses and assorted meats spread out before us like a banquet. What a gracious host. What a thoughtful man. Even though he is confined to bed or a wheelchair and breathes through a tube, he still thinks of others' comfort. What a guy!

What makes a person who they are? Is it their physical beauty? Or is it the personality inside? Our friend has been ravaged by a savage disease and yet he is still who he always was. He is still loyal, responsible, caring, funny, poetic, compassionate, loving, honest, and many more things.

Our friend is so brave, so honorable, so inspiring. He considers himself to be lucky - yes lucky! - to have lived the life he has and to love and be loved by three wonderful sons. Rather than a somber memorial, he's planning a wild and crazy celebration very soon, while he's still here to enjoy it.

He has a picture on the wall of himself, after he ascended Mount Damavand, one of the world's tallest mountains. He did it before the illness appeared. Maybe he had a premonition. I dunno. But I'm glad he did it. Here's a man with no regrets. Our only regret is that we didn't spend more time with him.

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