30 July 2008

Yalagin Street shorts

Today is moving day.

The landlord needs this place for his son, so we found out with nine days' warning that we needed to leave at the end of this month.

Looking for a new place was interesting. Elektrostal is a city of 150,000 but the rental market is tight, especially since we needed enough space to store our colleagues' possessions along with our own. We thought this would be a chance to move to one of the older buildings near the center of town, but we soon found out that those apartments can be both more expensive and less desirable than we had guessed from their external appearance. (And, concerning pollution in the northern half of town, one friend advised, "Carry a Geiger counter.")

Literally by process of elimination, we ended up choosing a place that turned out to be extremely close to where we live now--in fact, right across the courtyard. Much of the moving process will simply (although tediously!) consist of getting stuff down seven floors and walking them less than 100 meters across the yard.

Our new apartment is unfurnished--in fact, it's brand new; we're the first tenants. Thanks to thoughtful purchasing by our Northwest Yearly Meeting Friends who've already lived in Elektrostal, we have the basics already secured. Later this morning, I'm going to a warehouse in Moscow to retrieve some of those purchases, including a refrigerator and (we hope) kitchen cabinets. Our new apartment here is a bare shell, with nothing but wallpaper and light switches, so we've also been on the hunt for modestly-priced light fixtures, shower curtains, mirrors, toilet seat, towel racks, and other necessary items, which we'll buy and install as time and money permit. (Well, some things go in immediately!)

The building is not yet equipped with the Ethernet connections for Internet access that most large apartment buildings in Elektrostal seem to have. Nor is it set up for cable television, another (inferior) way to connect to the Internet, and we don't have a land line for traditional phone service, so we can't use our modems, either. We're assured that it's just a matter of time before this building is wired, but in the meantime we have to go back to borrowing and buying Internet time elsewhere, starting tomorrow.

One place we can do that is about halfway across the city--a small computer game club with about sixteen computers lining both sides of a room in a building they share with a dentist and travel agency, among other businesses. We found out about it from a local representative of the Noginsk-based Flex company, our current Internet provider. When he heard that the Internet was our primary way of staying in touch with our sons, he took us in hand, grabbed a wireless router and cable from his store's stock, and led us to this club's premises, where he proceeded to introduce us to the young people running the facility and (without my ever having asked for this!) to set up a wireless access point for our own equipment. For every story someone might tell about Soviet-style customer service here in Russia, I can tell another about someone going above and beyond.

So, if at all possible, I should be back next Thursday.

On our long bus and train trips between Moscow and Elektrostal, I've been reading and re-reading Anthony Bloom's О встрече (On Meeting), from which I've quoted before. (Posts are grouped under the label bloom.) One of his most inspiring chapters is on the theme of the Christian/atheist dialogue. Here's a small sample on the need to cultivate the ability to listen deeply:
Years ago I was a doctor, and often observed how sick people are visited by their friends. A person comes into the patient who is dying; but it's terrifying to the visitor to talk about death, and the possibility that the patient might raise the subject is equally terrifying. So the person carefully asks, "And so, how are you feeling today?" The dying person, seriously ill, can see that fear in the visitor's eyes, can tell that the visitor doesn't want to hear the truth, and so answers evasively or untruthfully, "Can't complain, better today than yesterday." And the one to whom the truth is terrifying grabs onto these words and says, "Oh, I'm so glad that you're better," and brings the visit to a hasty end to avoid the possibility of the truth surfacing. Maybe this hasn't happened to you, but I have a lot of experience in this connection; I was a doctor for fifteen years--five in wartime--and saw many dying people, and saw that awful scene--a person being left alone because others don't want to hear and see what terrifies them. What is required is self-renunciation, readiness to look at another person, to hear not only words but the voice's intonation, the voice's sound, weak and sometimes shaky, to see the eyes that say at times the opposite of what the lips are saying; and not to panic but to say tenderly and lovingly: "Let's not deceive ourselves or each other; I know thing aren't 'better'--let's talk, let's break open this circle of silence, let's break down the wall that isolates you and hopelessly isolates me, that separates us so that our mutual love can't unite us any longer."

You might say to me that often this kind of love doesn't exist between ideological opponents--that's even more terrifying, that's no comfort, to say that I can't speak with a person who is my ideological opponent, because a priori I've already excluded them from the realm of that love! Have I really already subjected them to the final judgment? Is there really not a place for them either in this world or in eternity, where I hope to be? That's an awful thought! But that's what is going on when we refuse to engage in a human encounter.

Suddenly, while my head was turned, a lot more Janiva Magness material showed up on Youtube. Here's a delicious sample, but nothing compares with seeing and hearing her live.

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