The Return of a Prophet by Jillian Parker
"One should never direct people towards happiness, because happiness too is an idol of the market-place. One should direct them towards mutual affection. A beast gnawing at its prey can be happy too, but only human beings can feel affection for each other, and this is the highest achievement they can aspire to."
"Not everything has a name. Some things lead us into a realm beyond words."
- Alexander I. Solzhenitsyn
On May 27, 1994, after twenty years of exile, Solzhenitsyn returned to his homeland, which was no longer called the Soviet Union. That morning, I watched television footage of the grey-bearded author, peering out from under his furrowed brows, speaking slowly in spite of all of the fuss and noise around him, while his wife clung to his arm. By evening, I was in labor and giving birth to my second child. Within a week I would narrowly miss witnessing a mafia-related double murder...the memory of the thumps and bumps that I did hear, haunt me to this day.
This was a difficult time for the writer to return to his beloved home. The most pressing concern for the man on the street was hyper-inflation; most rubles were transferred into dollars at the money exchange points, that were as ubiquitous as liquor kiosks, then transferred back into rubles in a few days, so that one could buy food or make other purchases. The pressure on the nerves of ordinary citizens was such, that they really did not have enough energy to care anymore, whether a writer was coming or going.
I asked my neighbor, Galia, what she thought. She stood with her back to me in the doorway of her balcony, smoking. (She thought that by hiding the cigarette behind her hand, she could convince her husband that she had quit.) She flicked her smog, blew dusky plumes over her left shoulder, and turned half-way towards me. "Iulia," she said, "He wasn’t here. He hasn’t been here in such a long time. He lived in some fenced-in conclave in your country and then comes back here expecting everyone to just jump up and down. But he doesn’t know us, what we’ve been through in the past few years. He hasn’t lived it."
They were not ready for him. Not once did I hear someone say a positive thing about Solzhenitsyn, in those days.
That didn’t stop anyone from reading his books. Dyadya Goga, the omnipresent watchman in the gatehouse of the neighborhood garage complex, would look up when I entered the gate with my covered dishes, and nod, then his concentration would return to the book in his hand. Once, I caught a glimpse of the title of the tome, which was carefully encased in pages from The Commersant: The Gulag Archipelago.
We humans seem to need time to digest what is happening to us, and those who tell us the truth about reality are not always applauded, but eventually the truth percolates through us, and in those whose minds are open to it, it awakens a concern for our neighbors and our surroundings.