Gain a new perspective! Become more grateful! Which comes first – the chicken or the egg?
Hearing this story from my Russian friend, Yelena, gave me an entirely new, deeply cultural, and frighteningly relevant spin on the relationship between gratefulness and perspective.
Coffee Time With Yelena
I gazed into Yelena’s eyes, aquamarine pools with deep story to tell. Three years in the U.S. with her husband of ten years. Higher education – his – turned the key in the door for them to come here; hers is now providing the status for them to continue on.
A team in tandem, they’ve found ways to make ends meet amid some formidable odds. And, they are not searching for the return door.
Tragedy As Motivator
Several years as the mouthpieces of high Russian government officials meant their lifestyle back in Moscow was much better than the average. For sure, they could have kept on. So why leave?
An early tragedy, and a string of successive incidents, convinced her, and then him, that they must find a way out.
Yelena’s eyes spoke a mixture of deep, unrelenting sorrow, with a glint of hope. A young woman with perspective far beyond her years, she shared. “They took both of my parents. I cannot go back. We will do everything we can to not have to live there ever again.”
The sharing of details ebbed and flowed through the aching pain. “They hanged my father. I never got the full story. It was covered. But it still stabs my heart like a knife. I was twelve years old.”
Silence. This was a moment where words failed me. Reverence.
She went on and told me that last summer they returned to Russia for a month. They were expecting a time of sweet reunion with family and friends after two years in the U.S. But they were greeted by yet another harsh reality.
Yelena’s 57-year old mom needed an operation. Something about lungs, but the details were never made clear. She was admitted to one of the better hospitals in the Moscow region. The operation seemed to go off without a hitch. She called her daughter from the recovery room.
“Everything’s fine. I think I’ll be out in a day or two.”
That time never came. The phone call was the last her daughter heard from her. A hospital infection led to sepsis and sudden death.
“I know this is my country’s fault. Our system is so corrupt, our economy run down, and this led to such conditions in the hospital.”
Like a Cancer
I listened to Yelena share about the plague of evil at the highest government levels. “This is not all about Putin, although I realize that in the West it seems to be all about him. This is a sickness, kind of like a cancer, that has taken over at all levels in my country.”
In truth, a part of me didn’t want to hear that last statement. I’ve been so conditioned by western media to find the scapegoat, and in recent years Putin has certainly emerged as one. It provides a convenient way to isolate the problem.
But Yelena's story offered me new perspective in this way, too.
“You know, people in Russia are so suspicious of each other. There is constant criticism and pessimism. We felt that immediately, not just from strangers but even from the people who should be closest to us. My husband and I, we don’t want to live this way.”
Trying to wrap my western democratic mind around all this proved formidable. I want to believe in the will to improve society. To believe that Russia might become something better “out of the ashes” of the Soviet Union. (That’s what Reagan and Gorbachev believed over 20 years ago.) I want Russia to be the proverbial phoenix.
“This year has also been so hard because of the economy. My husband works virtually and receives rubles. It is for our daily expenses here in the U.S. while I’ve been doing my one-year advanced graduate degree.”
But what happened when the ruble took a nosedive in December of 2014?
“Suddenly, he was working for half of what he was earning before. But our expenses here? They stayed the same…. It was rough.”
Perspective was a harsh, but trustworthy, teacher.
How Can I – An American – Truly Understand This?
For a moment I closed my eyes. Could I imagine a life like this? I live in a land of safety. Of freedom. Of opportunity. While it is not a perfect land – nothing on this earth possibly can be – it has been a haven for people like my friend.
“We’ve been here for three years. And we know it’ll be a fourth. Since I got a great paying internship that starts soon. My husband is my dependent. He’ll still get paid in rubles, but I’ll get paid in U.S. dollars. We are pretty hopeful.”
It was clear her background helped pave the way for her buoyant perspective.
Yelena continued. “You know, there has not been a day during the last three years in the U.S. when I’ve woken up and I didn’t feel thankful for being here. I know what the alternative is.”
The Message to Us All
Grateful for each day. I let that sink in, grappling with the hard truth that I don’t always feel that way myself. Indeed, I realized I have so much to learn from this friend.
How about you? Does Yelena's story motivate you to reconsider your own perspective, especially when it comes to being grateful?
Image Credit: JackMac34 on Pixabay