short excerpts...other writings...upon occasion or as prompted...
The tiger in the water? A representation of my life -- spirit and environment!


Saturday, September 12, 2009

Three Vignettes and One Thought about an Enemy

In a most fascinating way, I once came face to face with the so-called enemy. That meeting remains one of my favorite memories. It occurred in a restaurant in Minsk in 1993. I was helping Academicians from the Belarus Academy of Sciences bring knowledge of individual differences in approaches to learning to the new textbooks being prepared in the Belarus language for K-12 students in a variety of subjects following the dissolution of the Soviet Union and the nationalization of curricula. The Humanities University gave us a place to work, and the president and vice-president took me and several other guests to dinner soon after my arrival. I sat catty-corner from Anatoly, the vice-president. For some reason, Anatoly and I began comparing our biographies and were stunned to learn that during the Cold War, I was an officer in the US Army and he an officer in the Red Army; we had both had the same specialty and held the same rank. For a brief moment, we stared at each other, then Tolya (after such a discovery, it was only natural that I would begin to use the nickname for Anatoly) exclaimed, “You were my enemy!”

“And you were mine,” I responded. We marveled about this discovery until long after dinner had ended. How could it be that two people who seemed to understand each other s poluslova (from half a word), as the Russians say, had been directly targeted against each other in an earlier time? Both veterans of the Cold War, we found we had even more in common than our scholarship. Thereafter, every day Tolya would bring me candies or cookies for our break, and we would sit and marvel again at how strangely fate had wrapped our lives together — and that we had found it out. We shared no military secrets; there were really none of any value by then, anyway. What we shared was a new understanding of the word, enemy.

With the recent cooling off of relations between the USA and Belarus, Tolya has become locked away from me for now, perhaps even forever. Who knows when winds of politics will shift again? But now I know what lies behind the old Iron Curtain that is being drawn again between me and a land and people I came to know affectionately a decade ago. And for one bright and shining moment, I stood side by side in friendship with my enemy.

Likewise, years ago, a Belarusan housewife discovered a similar thing about her enemy. During WWII, advancing German troops would burn down entire Belarusan communities. To escape detection, the citizens of the towns would flee to the surrounding swamps as the Germans approached. In one small village, a mother of many grabbed her children and fled, only to discover to her horror upon reaching the wooded swamp that she had inadvertently left her infant in his crib. She wanted to go back after him, but it was too late. The Germans were already at the edge of town, and the townspeople made the mother stay in the swamp for fear of her giving away their position to the German enemy. The mother wept for her lost infant for three days. When the Germans vacated, the townspeople returned to their razed town, hoping to rebuild it. The mother walked along with them, in the blackest of grief. As the townspeople reached the outskirts, they saw one house still standing, the house that contained the crib of the infant who had been left behind. The mother, hardly breathing as a result of overlapping waves of fear and hope that crushed the breath from her, rushed into the house. There in his crib was her infant, well fed and happy. A bottle was beside the baby, and next to the crib on a rocking chair, which had obviously been used to feed and comfort the infant, was a German soldier’s warm winter shawl. To the shawl was pinned a note: “To the mother of this beautiful child.”

I earned my PhD in Russia, at the time the land of the enemy and, I suppose, still the land of the enemy. Thanks to colleagues and senior scholars from the USSR Academy of Sciences, I was afforded the opportunity to finish the process that I had all but completed in the USA but would never have been able to finish because of arcane residency requirements and high tuition costs. The Russians allowed me to finish zaochno (non-resident). Because this was a first time occurrence of an American earning a doctorate in Russia, there was no bureaucratic way to charge me tuition from across the ocean. So, the university did not charge me anything, simply telling me that being able to claim me as their alumnus was payment enough. What does one say to such kindness to a member of an enemy nation? Perhaps one says what I said at the end of my public dissertation defense:

Двадцать лет назад я приехала в первый раз в Советский Союз, чтобы посмотреть на лицо врага, но за двадцать лет я не нашла не одного врага, а только друзей.
(Twenty years ago I came to the Soviet Union for the first time to look upon the face of the enemy, but in all these twenty years, I have not found any enemies, only friends.)


Veterans from opposite sides becoming fast friends? Humaneness in the middle of war in the form of mercy to a baby? A hand stretched out to a scholar and colleague across the ocean to facilitate degree completion and ultimate better job opportunities worldwide without regard to recompense? Could it be that deep down in the soul even of those at war flows an understanding of what the word neighbor means in God’s reckoning?

Modified and adapted from two of my publications (copyright 2003, 2009). Posted at the suggestion of Adoro at Adoro te devote.


  1. The story with the baby especially stopped me in my tracks. I read it a few times. God's great providence. I'm absolutely undone.

    Thank you so much for posting these!

  2. This is a very touching post! You have had a wonderful and diverse life! How wonderful! I enjoyed reading this post!

    I will make my commitment to the Sisters of Providence in November. Will you make your commitment soon? Good evening to you! Cathy

  3. It doesn't get any better than that -
    You keep hitting home runs. I see why a publisher drafted you.

  4. What a beautiful collection of stories. The baby story left me breathless. Amazing!

  5. That baby story was told to me be a relative of the mother. I think it was her niece, if I remember right. It was pretty overwhelming when she told it. I am certain I omitted some details and emotions, but the very fact that it occurred is overwhelming in itself.


About Me

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I am the mother of 4 birth children (plus 3 others who lived with us) and grandmother of 2, all of them exceptional children. Married for 42 years, I grew up in Maine, live in California, and work in many places in education, linguistics, and program management. In my spare time, I rescue and tame feral cats and have the scars to prove it. A long-time ignorantly blissful atheist converted by a theophanic experience to Catholicism, I am now a joyful catechist. Oh, I also authored a dozen books, two under my pen name of Mahlou (Blest Atheist and A Believer-in-Waiting's First Encounters with God).

My Other Blogs

100th Lamb. This is my main blog, the one I keep most updated.

The Clan of Mahlou
. This is background information about various members of the extended Mahlou family. It is very much a work still in progress. Soon I will begin posting excerpts from a new book I am writing, Raising God's Rainbow Makers.

Modern Mysticism. This blog discusses the mystical in our pragmatic, practical, realistic, and rational 21st century world and is to those who spend some or much of their time in an irrational/mystical relationship with God. If such things do not strain your credulity, you are welcome to follow the blog and participate in it.

Recommended Reading List

Because I am blog inept, I don't quite know how to get a reading list to stay at the end of the page and not disappear from sight. Therefore, I entered it as my first post. I suppose that is not all that bad because readers started commenting about the books, even suggesting additional readings. So, you can participate with others in my reading list by clicking here.
I do post additional books as I read them and find them to be meaningful to me, and therefore, hopefully, meaningful to you. One advantage of all the plane traveling I do is that I acquire reading time that I might not otherwise take.