Tied Through Time

Personal statement.

This past summer, like many previous summers, I spent in Russia, or what my friends jokingly refer to as “the motherland.” To the surprise of the most sheltered of my acquaintances, I returned neither Communist nor raped, but enriched and aware. I spent two weeks in St. Petersburg, city of dreams, returned to Moscow for over a month to visit my grandfather and volunteer at a camp for disabled children, and discovered that I am a part of this clearly heroic, and yet mysterious land, and this land, its religion, culture, and history, is a part of me.Several times Petersburg’s early evenings bloomed overhead and the horizon, pearly behind the buildings, refreshed my eyes with aquamarine tints just when I thought it should have turned to darkness. From our ninth story balcony, I saw only a small portion of the city, heard only the distant echoes of music and honking, and sensed only the tiniest of raindrops hitting my hand, but I felt at home.As opposed to the slightly unemotional, detached, Moscow, a city full of rapid hustling and a certain tangible coldness in its manner that is almost obtrusive, St. Petersburg is welcoming, vibrant. The days themselves seem to be in harmony with the city’s people, as if the passing of time in such a stimulating, intellectually alive, architecturally stunning place were a gift and not a pressing matter. There are above all, two things in Petersburg, as it is now, or Leningrad, depending on your memories: history and beauty. Almost every building shares a story the two hundred and seventy-five museums, the churches, the palaces, almost every canal, a tale. Likewise, the outskirts guard a sense of eternity, not the eternity of time, mind you, but the eternity of that which is Russian: the religion forever entwined in the nation’s soul; the passion of both conquerors and dreamers; the obduracy of a people determined to endure. And there, amid it all, my mother and I roamed the streets, rode the subway up and down, up and down, drank coffee at the bakery where Pushkin had eaten on the day of his death, felt Dostoevsky’s city seeping through the cobblestones, gathered around food-laden tables with family members, stepped where the Emperors Paul I and Alexander II had been murdered, spent days in the Hermitage, and rode where czars, famous poets and writers, and victims of Stalin’s terror had stood before all tied to me, through time, by an invisible link.There came a moment, on the tenth day of our stay, when the reality of that connection appeared clearly before me; to Russians, of course, it is a staple from childhood. The Museum of Leningrad’s Defense and Blockade stands, a minute building flanked by larger residences and a modern playground a testament to the memories in the soul of every Russian. I stayed inside for several hours, discovering the years that have been a part of my ancestors’ lives: their losses, their fights, their physical hunger, and their national pride. Out they reached to me: the children’s diaries, witnesses of daily tragedy; the pictures of the food supply convoys running across the frozen waters of Ladoga Lake bombed along the way so only a percentage made it and of the dead piled up on sleighs; the voice of Olga Bergholtz as she read poetry to the somber city over the radio, a savior of lives and safe keeper of hope; and that map on which the pencil-thin red border didn’t gave way. For nine hundred days, three million people lived and died with little heat in the wintertime and rationed bread that was made from leather scraps and grass, surrounded by the presence of death and the smell of war. It isn’t that Russia’s history had never seemed real to me before I walked around the exhibit; it’s simply that its power had never seemed so true, so imbued into the fiber of my being.When we returned to Moscow, I discovered that sometimes it is the scarcity in life that makes a worthy existence, distinct from whatever illusions or delusions we may have, and that it is lacking this, missing that, and the wishing, the yearning, the longing, that create the beauty of hope from even the most unholy of situations. From their lives the Russians continue to draw both eternal faith and the strength to not only wish for, but also fight to regain the national identity that had almost been lost in the 1990s2E Outside, I heard the dreams of these people flowing from the windows and doors, making the air dense with belief. I looked at my Russian friends, some of whom I’ve known for seventeen years, and saw adults taking responsibility for the course of their nation, returning from Coke to kvas (national bread-based beverage), and acknowledging that despite a drastic decline in patriotic fervor just ten years ago, the meaning of their homeland has not been successfully eroded, and thirsty for a united, strengthened Russia2E To the surprise of some, modern Western influences, though inescapable and undeniable, are now being looked upon as a supplanted conscience; seemingly appropriate therefore, is the evident rise of the younger generations as champions of a break with superficiality and a return to, cliched and all, the heart and soul of their motherland. Our motherland.The first time I went to Russia I was three months old; the last time, seventeen. Over the years, I have witnessed much change political instabilities and social metamorphoses and have always felt tied to her fertile soil. However, never before had I realized that humanity is above all contagious, that most people question it, and that it is precisely in doubting it that we see ourselves as true, meaningful entities capable of both appreciation and change. I am a gardener there, the picker of fruits in my grandfather’s orchard, but I am also the “one from overseas.” Then again, sometimes, I’m really just Me.

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