Thursday, August 5
Pebbles - Seen and Unseen
Like most Americans, I like to feel engaged and productive. Give me a project to work on. I am happy. Let me develop a strategy for that goal. I feel energized. Give me a problem to solve and I feel like I am making a difference. Sure at times, I can get to feeling overloaded, but still I would rather be busy than not.
Interestingly, this Peace Corps experience is changing my perspectives. Here I am learning about life when it seems empty, when there is no new project. People go on vacations or tend to family or plant gardens or get sick or a dozen other things.
At times nothing much happens. Life is still. Whatever shall I do?
A box of stuff stares at me from the corner of my apartment begging for attention. I have been ignoring it for several weeks. It's the left overs from my move into my new apartment. I must have some kind of phobia about unpacking that final box. It just sits there.
But today I finally say “enough procrastination” and dig in. After all, it will fill the emptiness of a hot muggy day. Here in Konotop the temperatures are soaring over 40C or 105F.
On top of the box is a newspaper from Bangkok. I must have tossed it there upon my return. I can't resist picking it up and noticing a small article that I circled on the back page - “Life Amid The Pebbles.” Interesting, I think and begin to read.
The author observes how a few weeds have managed to sprout on the rocky pathway of his garden. I think, "Who sees such things? Who has time to notice unless you are no longer so busy?" Interesting....
He continues by wondering how those weeds make it through a thick layer of stones devoid of soil or sand or water. “How can life thrive and grow in this parched and unfriendly environment?”
Indeed! My mind wanders to the immense challenges facing leaders in Ukraine.
Within in living memory, Ukraine has absorbed so much death and destruction into its collective psyche. Stalin's agricultural collectivization created an artificial famine killing more than 3 million previously independent peasants. Some say it was more like 7 million. Then came the Nazi occupation killing another 5 million in the war and devastating the countries infrastructure.
According to the UN Relief and Rehabilitation Administration, losses were enormous. No less than 2 million buildings and 1600 industrial enterprises gone. 714 towns and cities destroyed. Another 2800 villages devastated. Even here in Konotop, I learned that 1000 Jewish citizens met death as the Nazi Holocaust swept into our little city.
No Ukrainian is untouched. Horrid memories live in the collective psyche. This is not hyperbole. Sadly, it's truth. I guess that's why I am so struck by the courage of Ukrainian people to embrace life again.
The story of my Center for disabled children comes to mind. A mother with a disabled child overcomes her own depression and collective fatalism to create a Hearts of Love Center. This week 45 children with all sorts of disabilities are enjoying Day Camp.
I see the young girl who could not stand at our Spring Beauty Pageant because of a bone deformity. She has had an operation and her leg is in a cast now. It's part of a long term treatment. She gleefully swings around on crutches. I think she is beautiful.
A young boy has another bone disease and cannot walk at all. You would not know it by looking at him. He exudes energy and is so cute. But then you see that he is carried everywhere by counselors or when they are not available, he pulls himself across the ground with such strong little arms. He wants to be part of the action and I think he will always find a way.
The author of my article reflects more about pebbles.
"These days we are short of people who are willing to be the first stones who pave the way so that other stones can be laid down. The stones on the upper and topmost levels are the ones seen and acknowledged by people and society, but the first stones have to remain at the bottom.
“We hardly find people of this nature – those willing to be first stones that pave the way for others. That’s why virtuous creations rarely come about."
What kind of stones have I met in Ukraine? What kind am I? I sigh reflectively as I cut out the article for my "Good Stuff" file and finish unpacking the rest of the box. The stillness is no longer so empty. Thoughts of pebbles fill my mind.
A week passes and I am sitting on a bench at the Hearts of Love Center awaiting the start of Camp. The stillness of last week is replaced by the energy of children. Everyone is excited.
A young woman spots me, waves and moves in my direction. She is one of the translators who will help the volunteers from the UK who have come to help with Camp.
"I am so glad to see you again...so very glad, " she beams. Again? Honestly, I am having a hard time remembering where and when we met before. Noticing my uncertainty, she adds, " I was the translator for your group project. Remember?"
During training all new Peace Corps Volunteers have to pull together a community project. My group did some Internet Research and held a round table discussion with a few city officials, some university students and Peace Corps trainers. I never considered it much of a project until now.
"Your project changed my life."
I could hardly believe what I was hearing. "After that meeting, one of the Peace Corps staff asked me to apply for a position. Of course, I knew about the Peace Corps, but I never would have thought about applying for a position."
I smile in astonishment and she continues, " I owe it all to your training group. If I had not been invited to be your translator, none of this would have happened. I just love my job with the Peace Corps. It's like a new beginning for me."
I marvel at this unexpected story and imagine how her leadership is already effecting others. What more will she accomplish in the 35 or more years of her professional life?
Pebbles. Sometimes you get to be a pebble...even when you don't know it's happening nor understand how important it can be in another's life. And sometimes your pebble can be part of the foundation for a virtuous creation.