In the avalanche of imagery that buries our daily memory of
what’s happening in the world, you may have missed this picture of a Ukrainian
man, crying in the great square of Kiev.
I know him.
He was here in Czechoslovakia in ’89 in the crowd on
Wenseslas Square as the Iron Curtain came down—that same unmistakable look of
heart-stopping wonderment that a man feels as he first sees a newborn son,
bloody and dripping and squealing with life. Will he be okay? have all his
fingers and toes? love me as I love him? Look again at the tear-washed face and
see the bitterness and lost dreams of his six decade life tremble in the hands
that hold the flowers.
The Czechs became free in ’89 and watched as freedom
siphoned off their wealth to the same old power brokers over the next ten
years, old commies and new mafia merely pushing different levers. But it was
only wealth and wealth can be made again—it’s freedom can’t be manufactured
and they have that in all the splendor of its inequity. Because freedom is
meant to be inequitable, a shaking-off of what Churchill called communism’s
right for all men to be equally destitute.
from storybooks, lands of our fathers, roots of our American nation.
We see many Ukrainians here in the Czech Republic—mostly
they are our builders—smoking cigarettes and buttering mortar on bricks like
jam on bread, sending their money home to a country the Russians just won’t let
go. Ukrainian doctors and lawyers and university professors up on those scaffolds,
working for the lowest wages in an already low-wage country because there is
nothing at home in Ukraine.
But now, in the great square in Kiev, in the tear-streaked
face of the man holding flowers, you see the crack in the iron that has held
Ukraine to Russia. Leonard Cohen tells us “there is a crack, a crack, in
everything—that’s where the light comes in.” If you look closely at the other
faces in the crowd behind this man, they’re younger and they’re sober and
serious but they don’t have the rapturous look of a miracle at hand. That
belongs to him and now it belongs to you and to me if we take a moment to hold
it in our minds—not let it slip away among the Christmas images—maybe even
bow our heads for a moment to one man’s hope.