A lady once came up to me on the street. It turned out that she read my stories. She thanked me for them and said that they give her strength these days.
“You know, I even envy you,” she admitted. “Your stories about all that stuff are so spiritually uplifting. It’s easier for you. You aren’t afraid.”
“Who? Me? I am afraid! It’s one thing is when you write about things. And it is an entirely different matter to do what ‘a spiritual smart aleck’ like me has written. Writing, like talk, as they say, is cheap.”
So, here I am, “stoogin’ around” between what I wish I could think, feel, or act (besides, doing the right thing!)—and all of my fears, weaknesses, and breakdowns or, what’s even worse, things that keep lurking deep inside my soul… It’s like when you are on a swing… Praying now, feeling depressed then… Believing here, being in turmoil there… Repenting here, and immediately picking up all the dirt there. If not by deed, then definitely by thought… So, no, it isn’t any easier for me.
But what I know for sure is this—we can’t live without prayer these days. Weak, struggling, quiet, but still… Or, maybe it’s even loud! Any kind of prayer! Plus, we can’t survive without repentance. We’ll simply perish.
And also… without a smile. Yes, you heard it right: a smile! We should keep on smiling! No matter how hard our life may be. Through tears and fears, just keep on smiling. We must share a smile with others and laugh at ourselves. We simply should! Because we can always find the reason for it. Sure, the times are such that the reasons to smile may sound odd.
Like the things that happened to me recently, for example.
I came to our church. I was away for almost a month, because I accompanied my youngest daughter Masha to a resort in Crimea. And it was exactly when certain new developments unfolded in our country.
So, I was meeting my fellow parishioners—well, for the most part, my lady friends among the parishioners. We shared hugs, greeted one another, sighed about the said developments, reassured and soothed one another, only to get worked up again…
“Did you hear, Vovka [diminutive of Vladimir.—Trans.] got mobilized?” one of them tells me.
Vovka is a young guy from our parish. We all knew him since childhood and thus love him dearly.
I felt queasy.
“What? Vovka too?! That’s too awful!!! He’s way too young!!!”
“Well, I know, Lena. He’s there already—driving an APC,” sighs another.
“Yes! On the APC,” agrees a third. “In the air assault division. But, God willing, he’ll come back alive… We are all praying…”
“How’s his mother doing? He’s her only son!” I wonder.
“You know… She’s crying, of course… Her boy’s on the front lines. But the Lord is merciful. We all pray for him here. For Vladimir the soldier. We have his name added in our commemoration books.”
“I will too,” I tell them…
As I was leaving our metochion church, I thought to myself: “I should support his mother, yes, I’m going to call her. How is she doing, poor thing… Maybe I can do something to help.”
I called her:
“Hello! How are you doing? Are you hanging on?”
“Hanging on,” she says. “Like the rest of us.”
“Well, you know… Don’t give up. It is terrifying, I know, but everything will be all right with your Vovka. Prayer works miracles. Everyone prays for him here.”
I hear something odd happening on the other end of the line. As if someone was gradually but steadily sliding down to the floor.
“Whhhat’s wrong with him?” the boy’s mother mutters inaudibly.
“Well, you know… He got mobilized. Driving the APC. He’s on the front line, isn’t he? An air assault division. But don’t you worry, we are all praying for your Vladimir the soldier…”
“What do you mean, mobilized?”
Now I definitely heard it: She had collapsed.
“Wait!” I tell her. “Was Vovka mobilized or not?”
“No, he wasn’t, he didn’t even get the notice paper yet. What, do you know something?”
“Hmm, I was told he was driving the APC… Everyone was praying… Goodness sakes! I am so sorry! They’ve got it all wrong.”
So, I rush back to our do-gooders at church… And tell them using my finest Russian:
“Well, why are all you so and sos spreading fake news?! Because of you, I almost gave poor Vovka’s mother a heart attack. Trying to comfort her, so to speak.”
“Well… Maybe we haven’t heard it right, or misunderstood, or someone misled us… What have we to do with it? We didn’t do anything! We simply kept praying for Vladimir the soldier. So, you mean, we don’t need to?”
That poor mother, once she came back to her senses, called me back to find out whether it was really a mistake or I was hiding certain confidential information from her.
The world is changing and life’s circumstances develop, as everything collapses and then gets rebuilt from scratch again. But we, the parish ladies, all always the same. Well, there should be something that will never change, right? And you know, this news is somewhat upbeat, it almost inspires a certain amount of optimism.
When I related this incident on social media, I received a bunch of funny comments:
“Lord, help us, old Orthodox babushkas!”
“Old babushkas’ Radio”
“Mind the womankind!”
“So disturbing, I won’t need my laxative tonight!”
Later on, a friend of mine posted her own story beneath mine—one she witnessed recently.
She went to a local grocery chain store, and as she tried to open the door, it simply wouldn’t open. That store was usually open at that hour. Next to the store entrance, she saw a few men standing and discussing something.
“What happened? Why is it closed?” she asked them.
“Well, it seems they’ve got visitors from the military commission and they locked all customers inside to hand out mobilization notices,” answered the boldest of them.
So, he kept sharing his story to all newcomers who arrived to find the store doors closed. Soon we had a crowd, everyone was busy discussing the news and asking how dare they and how could it be possible. One young guy heard enough of it to admit:
“Okay, I guess I’m outta here.”
Others stayed put and continued their discussion. Soon, the whole neighborhood was aware of the developments: “They shut up everyone inside the store, handed out notices and sent them to the front lines right away!”
In the end, we found out that there was a robbery from the stockroom and the police were called in to sort it all out…
Or, there is another story… Going back to the modern realities of a parish life. Again, the world is changing rapidly these days, rumbling and rushing along God knows where, while we keep searching everywhere for the signs of the number of the Beast.
Again, let’s go back to our metochion church. I met a young man, one of the parishioners. He has some kind of physical disability.
Little by little, our conversation turned back to recent news, so we exchanged opinions—because you know what? All of us here are nothing short of military experts nowadays. We were medical experts in the COVID days—now turned the military experts these days. And it so happens that again, someone heard something and internalized what he heard, down to the minutest detail, and drew his conclusions based upon it (a trusted “inside” source, in short). So, now he knows for a fact that the whole shebang with the mobilization was conceived exclusively for the purpose of enlisting every single disabled person in order to bring them to the front lines and make mincemeat out of them.
I consoled him as well as I could: “Why the heck do they need you there? They have a gazillion other problems to worry about.” And went my own way. I think I calmed him down a little bit…
You can also hear a lot of interesting things by simply walking down the street. I was out walking recently and witnessed this scene: A young man is screaming at someone over the phone, sounding absolutely triumphant:
“Noooo! I won’t be called in! Thank God, I’ve got a brother who’s disabled and bed-ridden. Luckily, there is no one else to take care of him but me!”
And he is saying this simply glowing with pure happiness…
I kind of chuckled to myself at first, but then it dawned on me why he was so happy:
“My brother is disabled,” “Luckily, there’s no one else to take care of him.”
At what other time could we observe such a “Christian” attitude? Truly Christian words, aren’t they? It goes without saying they weren’t caused by the desire to serve God or neighbor (but, then, who knows…), but more like by out of fear for his life. At the same time, we all of a sudden can “take a deep dive” into the meaning of a well-worn phrase: “Glory to God for all things!”
Because, how else could we say, glory to God for everything! You grasp it these days more than ever. Because how was it before? You are old, sick, blind, limbless, you’ve got a group of hungry offspring waiting at home (why did you breed poverty, you fool?), even your family members are sick—basically, you are in over your head. So, well then, you are a dead loss. Because what was trending back then—being young, beautiful, and healthy with bristling biceps and heaps of money?
Now suddenly it seemed like our troubles have turned out to be our “benefits.” For now, at least. Maybe they even saved someone’s life, preserved him from greater “troubles.” The Lord has balanced it all out equally—earthly cares and life’s pleasures. And so that young man is rejoicing. It is possible that only yesterday he could have been asking God. “What did I do to deserve this?”
It’s like, you know, people are joking these days (truly our people are amazing—they can make fun of themselves under any circumstances). “This time around, the expression, ‘Who will marry you with four kids?’ will play out in fresh colors.”1
But it’s not so funny, of course. Yet, do you remember what the one and only Baron Munchausen2 said?
“I finally know what your problem is: You are way too serious. Ladies and gentlemen, making a smart face doesn’t mean you have brains. All stupid things on earth are made with exactly this sort of expression. Smile, ladies and gentlemen, smile!”
Let’s smile then! Even if it’s through tears.