March 19, 1991, 1 a.m. Time magazine came today. It talked about last week's referendum, about the clash between Yeltsin and Gorbachev and the continuing death struggle of the Soviet Union. Inside was a two-page photo of the several hundred thousand people who crowded into Manezh Square at the base of the Kremlin last week to demand Gorbachev's removal. People jammed against the fences of Alexandrovsky Park and plugged the side streets that filter into Red Square. It boggles the mind. I couldn't help but think of Slava and Irina in Kiev, and Natasha and Vanya in Moscow.
When Slava and Irina were here last year, they slept in the kids' bedroom just above ours. After a few days we could hear them talking late into the night, night after night. Not just talking, actually, but loud talking . . . arguing. It was too muffled, though, to understand.After several nights of this, I finally asked Slava if everything was all right. Yes, he said . . . except that there was a problem with Irina. She didn't want to go home. What a terrible emotional trauma to have to experience. It has colored all of my thinking since then, especially when I follow the spiraling depression that has intensified since they went back to their side of the line.
Boundaries are an odd thing.
Many species stake out their personal territory by going to all the corners of their claim and urinating to warn others not to trespass. It sounds crazy, but we do much the same. That is what prevented Slava and Irina from being able to stay, or of going home and getting Dima and coming back again if they wanted.
I think of the labyrinth of customs at Kennedy, and the high wall at the airport in Moscow, the glass portals one must go through, where a passport and visa allow entrance or exit. What craziness. What human humiliation.
Along the border with Mexico people are reduced to animals as they try to sneak from one reality into another. Vietnamese boat people stretch the moist membrane of false separation with their lives.
That is the power, I think, of the coming down of the Berlin Wall last year, a wall that for so many years symbolized all walls. And yet, given its reputation, it came down with such comparable ease, considering.
Markus and Johannes, who live in Berlin, and who have been staying with us the past several weeks while serving a clerkship in their medical training at Utah Valley Regional Medical Center, say Germany is a different place now. You can get in a car and drive out in the country around Berlin anytime you want. There are no checkpoints, no identity cards. They say the countryside is like a landscape frozen in time.
In the news tonight a 13-year-old Iraqi boy - the same age as my Andrew - was caught in a firefight on the border between two warring factions. Bewildered, he huddled in the coils of barbed wire between two worlds. An American soldier ran out into "no man's land" to bring him to safety, where, according to the news report, he was given a drink of water.
And the story ends with that.
But where do we go from there? What progress do we make with the borders that separate us from one another, the artificial geographies that have always burdened our humanity?
Somehow, I am not comforted by the end of the war in the gulf, despite my relief that it is at an impasse. I am troubled by the bodies that continue to fall as the factions our efforts have loosed go at one another in defining new borders.
I am troubled by the deaths that do not reach the nightly news, not only in Iraq but in the other two-thirds of the world starving beyond the safe confines of our "civilized" borders.
What bothers me is the argument that the way I am talking now is considered by many as irresponsible. Don't solve the world's problems, they say, until you've dealt with the problems in your own back yard. That may be true, but it may also be a lie. Who says that one commitment pre-empts the other?
We look back at Auschwitz and Bergen-Belsen and have quick answers about where our priorities would have been had we been there. But those old enough to remember, remember how easy it is to feel not responsible. What scares me now is what I ignore beyond the borders of precedent in the reality of now. What scares me is the possibility that I will let borders keep me from caring what happens beyond the fence lines of my own reality.