The View From Here: Hryts and the virus

Volodymyr Kish.

I have been so preoccupied with coping with the COVID virus, that I neglected to keep in touch with my fount of practical wisdom, namely my cousin Hryts from the eponymous village of Pidkamin in Western Ukraine. I usually call him on a regular basis, if for nothing else than to reassure myself that the famous monolith the village is named for has not come tumbling down from the heights overlooking the village, and obliterated this bucolically pleasant little burg. I have stood next to this rock many times and marvelled at its precarious balancing act, amazed that it has stayed in place all these many centuries, if not millennia.

I have fond memories of sitting under the walnut tree in Hryts’ garden, sipping on Hryts’ wife Yevdokia’s famous cherry and moonshine “nalyvka” (liqueur), and listening to one of Hryts’ long but fascinating monologues on how that rock is symbolic of human life itself, striving to maintain balance against the irrepressible forces of nature. Hryts and that rock have a special relationship, and so long as that rock stands in place, Hryts is content that all is right in the universe.

I reached Hryts on his mobile phone thanks to a now ubiquitous SKYPE connection and found him in good spirits.

“So, Hrytsiu,” I began, “Is the rock still safely in its perch?”

“The rock” he replied, with a chuckle in his voice, “is still in perfect balance, in contrast to a certain Canadian cousin I know!”

That comeback told me that Hryts was his usual, undiminished feisty self.

“So how are you dealing with the coronavirus?” I continued. “Has it created any additional hardships or stress in your life?”

“Well, well, my turnip-head cousin” he answered, “I see that you are as devoid of comprehending our existence and reality as ever. There are no ‘hardships’ as you call them, in life. There are only challenges and changes in circumstances that enable us to use our God-given skills and talents to find interesting new ways to enjoy the life that we have, ways that we don’t usually even think of because we get into ingrained habits and ruts. Things like the coronavirus are really a blessing in disguise, because they force us to realize the precious nature of life, and to confront the question of what truly is important and necessary for us to live and be happy.”

“I can’t argue that, Hrytsiu,” I replied, “But what about all the deaths that the virus is causing, the disruption of the world’s economies, the unemployment, the curtailment of most social activities, the self-isolation?”

I could hear Hryts laughing halfway around the world.

“You, my dear cousin,” he eventually responded, “have the astuteness and comprehension of a horseradish! All those ‘hardships’ that you mention, are nothing new or novel. You forget that I have lived through wars, famine, epidemics, imprisonment, oppression, poverty and all kinds of tragedies. To you they are a big deal because you have gotten used to a privileged, comfortable and entitled life. When a disruption like COVID comes along, you don’t know how to deal with it. You see it as a catastrophe. For me, its just like a change in the weather. When a storm blows in, I hunker down and do what I must to lessen its destructive potential. I do not wail and weep and curse the fates. God gave you a brain and some common sense. Use them. Do what is prudent. Take good care of yourself and your loved ones. The storm will pass. It always does and life goes on.”

“But, but, Hrytsiu,” I stammered back, “This virus is deadly, it could kill me!”

Hryts was silent for a moment, then slowly answered “My dear cousin. That is always a possibility. But if we live our lives always fearing death, we are not really living. As one of the Psalms in the Bible tells us, though we may walk ‘in the valley of the shadow of death’, we should fear neither evil nor death itself. We should find joy and fulfilment in the life that we do have. You must always focus on living life to the fullest, and let death fend for itself.”

“Indeed!” I thought. A touch of Hryts always does wonders for my spirits.