Sometimes I become very frightened to realize how lucky I have been in life.
First, I was born in a rich country, in a wonderful, safe small town to loving parents who protected me from danger. I never knew hunger or real want, had access to books about everything, and, although a mostly indoor child, still ran around and swam and went outdoors enough to have a reasonably healthy base.
I was also blessed that I was not cut off from my heritage. Our town was too small to have organized Sunday school or language lessons or dance classes or the like, but we did have our Ukrainian Orthodox Church where not only did I learn a Faith whose indescribable value I would only much later start to appreciate, but I also got to know the amazing, often heartbreaking stories of these almost invisible people, who worked as farmers, janitors, or factory workers, with an occasional schoolteacher or engineer, people who spoke two or three or five languages, read two newspapers, and exchanged magazines and books from overseas. They were intelligent, hardworking, God-fearing people, but there were some other people who looked down on them or treated them unfairly, sometimes even with violence, because they were different. That was wrong, and sad, and unjust, and a waste.
Later, I lucked into one of the best decisions I ever made in my life when I chose to attend a big university far from my home. Just like in an old movie, my parents dropped me off at the train station with my trunk, and a day later I arrived at the gates of the university. There, I was blessed to spend four years among people from all over the world, rich and poor (for the first time realizing I was of the latter), Faithful and Atheist, money-hungry and philosophical, every race (although some much under-represented), and people with many, many different ideas of how to live. I learned about other people, but also learned much more about myself, to feel stronger and more comfortable being me, and valuing what I could learn from people who were different than me.
I Fail a Test
Free to be strange at the big school, I did many strange things, including signing up to be a volunteer test subject in psychological tests. Most of the people did this because of a class requirement or to get paid, but I had fun seeing the tests from the other side, and, I hoped, advancing science. (Even though, with the prejudices of an engineering student, I was dubious about calling psychology a "science".)
One of the first tests I did involved looking at a number of questions and, for each, a set of answers given by two different people, one, we were told, by a person who was mentally retarded, and the other by a "normal" person. We were to mark which answer we thought was "crazier". We scribbled on our sheets. I tried very hard to ignore which column the answers were in, finding it really, really hard because the answers seemed either both quite clear or both quite strange. I finished and put my pencil down and waited.
We handed in our sheets, and then the researcher got us to talk about some of the questions and answers. I cringed when some of my fellow students said things like, "when in doubt, I just picked the retarded person" and everyone laughed, and sometimes I did try to defend some of the "retarded" answers, but I never did speak up and say what I really thought, to question those prejudices or those words.
The researcher then explained the real purpose of the test. The answers were all selected to be matched pairs, with equal level of craziness, and we were being tested for our prejudice toward mentally challenged people. I was so ashamed of myself. Yes, I had tried to avoid prejudice in my own answers, but when there was a time to stick up for a group of people who I thought were being treated unfairly, I said nothing. I was not like the good people we learned about in church, but like the bad people who stood by and watched the woman stoned, those who walked by the hurt man lying in the street, those who disappeared when our Lord was crucified. I was crushed because I saw inside myself and how I had been my whole life.
Let Us Be Strong Together
It makes me so happy when I see people act in the opposite way, embracing those who are different from themselves. Although a time of horror, I cannot describe how deeply I was moved when I saw Atheists and Orthodox and others working together to organize the field hospital at St. Michael Golden-domed Monastery which treated the wounded from the Maidan, or, more recently and wonderfully, when almost all of Ukraine, people of every ethnicity and faith, embraced with joy the wonderful gift of a Muslim Crimean Tatar, Jamala, who reached the world with her music. Things like this give me pride, and make Ukraine a stronger, prouder nation.
If we really wish to see a Ukraine that is different from the dark countries in the world, including the one that wages war on us, we must embrace our difference from them, and our diversity within. If we wish to be able to march safely in our streets singing our own songs, if we wish to be free to gather in our own churches and worship in our own way, if we wish to follow Christ and leave to God the judgement that is His alone, then we must ensure that every other person enjoys the same freedom from fear, the same freedom to enjoy God’s first gift to our forefathers Adam and Eve, the freedom to grow closer to Him by making our own choices. This is not a choice to give up on who we want to be; this is something that we must do to become who we want to be, to close the gap between that person and who we are.
I pray to God that He will this week give us the strength to prove ourselves His followers, to prove ourselves worthy descendants of the millions who were starved to death and the hundreds of thousands sent East just because they did not want to give up who they were. Especially, we who would wish to call ourselves Christians can show that we are not like those who stoned the woman, not like those who stood by and did nothing, but like our Lord who guarded and protected her and showed her His love, If we do this, it will be yet another magical moment for Ukraine, the healing of another wound, and the binding in strength of another group of people, not outsiders, but our neighbours who have always lived among us, who stood by and bled with us on the Maidan, who dragged us to safety when we were bleeding.
I pray that next Monday will be another day for us all to rejoice, to look back and see that we Ukrainians, strong and peaceful, showed the world that we know what pride really is.