Monday, May 23
Goodbye and Good Luck, Konotop
“In the past two years, you’ve become family,” says a dear Ukrainian friend. “Now as I look around, I realize that we are not the only ones. I see that you are family to many others here in Konotop.”
The day of my “Thank You Konotop Party” is unfolding. It’s late on a Sunday afternoon and about 45 well-wishers gather for a final farewell. Diverse segments of the community are here. They have come together for some chi and cake, a little wine and of course to say goodbye to me.
I remember Gregory saying that if he was still living, we would have a big party before I went home to America. He did not live long enough, but both Illya, his grandson, and I agree that he is smiling upon us.
We’re in the midst of toasting one another. Ukrainian people are so eloquent. They dip into their poetic souls to say some of the most touching phrases.
The Director of the Konotop Institute reminds us of the great Ukrainian poet - Taras Shevchenko. He tells me his statue is in Washington, DC near the FDR Memorial. "Please send us his photo." I readily agree.
I try to express my appreciation in my best Russian. “I came as a strange. You did not know me and I did not know you. I could not speak much Russian and everything was so new. But then I began to meet the kind people of Konotop, especially you in this room. Two years later, we have become good friends. We’re so comfortable with one another. True? And of course now, I speak Russian… but only a little.”
My friends smiled broadly. They have been so generous and patient with me. We joke that I need a translator to translate my Russian into Russian. But I manage and as I look around the room, my eyes swell with happiness. Yes, we are family and this one is Ukrainian.
If God is Love and I believe it is so, then today God is touching Konotop. We all are getting a glimpse at how good life can really be. Amazingly, children of the Cold War who once were taught to fear one another, now embrace as adults.
For nearly three hours we talk and remember. There are first meeting stories, funny happenings, holiday dinners, forest picnics, project adventures, silly mistakes, cultural differences, keeping in touch wishes, and so much more. Where words fail, body language takes over and says the rest. There’s an abundance of hugs and cheek kisses. I'm all smiles.
I have prepared a self photo. It gives me a chance to speak with eachperson and write a little Russian/English message on the back. One of my young friends puts it in his shirt pocket and looking at me, says, “Next to my heart.” If only he and so many others knew what a big part of my heart they occupy. But then again, maybe they do understand and it is mutual. I feeling so deeply blessed.
Our final farewells go slowly. We don’t want to let go. We begin by saying goodbye at the tables and then in the doorway. Outside we gather in circles and share more final stories – again and again. I love denial. It can be wonderful at times like these.
But eventually, a few turn to go home. I watch as they stroll down the street. My Ukrainian friends are disappearing from life and entering into the timeless realm of memory. Two or three look back and wave a final goodbye. And then they are all gone.
I ’m thinking how fortunate I am to be alive in this place at this time. Goodbye. Я люблю Конотоп. Спасибо и удачи.
Copy the Russian into Google translate.