Old Boots, Melting Snow, Half-Frozen Mud: Press On

Ever notice that literature from different countries has different flavors? Playful, arrogant, romantic, soaring, flowery, practical?

Russian writers have a certain flavor and one from which I think we can glean an important message about the human spirit, namely: How do you go through hell-and keep on going? An excerpt from their revered poet Pushkin:

Pushkin Died in a duel defending some lady's honor
Died in a duel defending some lady’s honor

Each day, every hour
I habitually follow in my thoughts,
Trying to guess from their number
The year which brings my death.

And where will fate send death to me?
In battle, in my travels, or on the seas?
Or will the neighboring valley
Receive my chilled ashes?

And although to the senseless body
It is indifferent wherever it rots,
Yet close to my beloved countryside
I still would prefer to rest.

And let it be, beside the grave’s vault
That young life forever will be playing,
And impartial nature
Eternally be shining in beauty.

Well, that’s not very cheery, we might say; that’s not very How-To-Win-Friends-and-Influence-People. Have you read War and Peace by Leo Tolstoy? How about Dostoevsky’s The Possessed? or The Brothers Karamazov? One Day in the Life of Ivan Denisovich? or the Gulag Archipelago by Alexander Solzhenitsyn?  Solzhenitsyn won a Nobel Prize in Literature in 1970 and was valorized in the U.S. for exposing the hideous gulag system of the USSR; but that was at the height of the Cold War and he was likely being used for political purposes.

When Solzhenitsyn was a hero
When Solzhenitsyn was a hero

Having suffered and survived under one regime for political purposes, he was unwilling to bend his principles for any political purpose. When he began to criticize U.S. society, “Poof” he disappeared from the American radar. He eventually returned to Russia and wrote, “Two Hundred Years Together” a history of Jews in Russia. This book REALLY did not pass inspection by the Western Thought Police, and while it is not exactly banned, it has been effectively squashed.

I object to squashing books for political purposes, don’t you? So I am providing a link for you to download the book, with all it’s 400+ pages and footnotes in Russian. It is, like so much Russian literature, searing, passionate and very, very, honest. Perhaps we in America don’t like those qualities in books. Perhaps we like vampire love stories better. Solzhenitsyn-200 Years Together

When I woke up this morning to finish reading 200 Years Together, I was struck by a visual image: Worn-out boots trudging through melting snow and half-frozen mud. Who knows where these images come from?

Maybe from the fact that Russians can endure beyond the comprehension of most of us-maybe from the fact that the Invincible Napoleon, having invaded Russia with his Grande Armee of 600,000 (!) lost 500,000 men on his retreat through the frozen mud of the vast Russian landscape; or from the fact that the Invincible Nazi juggernaut was crushed in the frozen mud of Stalingrad-and pushed all the way back to Berlin and the collapse of the Third Reich.

There is an important message here about the human spirit, about going through hell and keeping on-about putting one worn-out boot in front of the other, forward, always moving forward through the half-frozen mud and melting snow…

Because look-

the snow is melting

spring is coming

press on.

Press On art by Je'
Press On
art by Je’

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