Newspapers and journalists are prone at the end of each year to writing tendentious reviews on the key events that transpired over the course of the previous year. These usually come in the form of “The Ten Most Important..” or “The Ten Best or Worst of…” and purport to summarize what was most important or worthy of our attention over the previous twelve months.
I thought of doing something similar in writing this column, hampered as my creative abilities were from many days of holiday celebrations and overindulgence. Such pieces are pretty formulaic and are fairly easy to put together, requiring little creative effort. I was restrained from doing so by my foremost muse and critic, namely my cousin Hryts from Pidkamin.
I had called him to convey my holiday greetings and found him in his usually jolly and feisty mood at the other end of a Skype video chat. I had, through intermediaries, bought him a basic tablet computer, and he had learned enough for us to engage in a face to face chat through the wonders of the Internet.
“Nu Hrytsiu,” I began, “What do you think of your tablet or ‘planshet’ as it is called in Ukrainian?”
“Meh!” he exclaimed. “It is both a blessing and a curse. It is sort of like a mother in law, sometimes useful, but mostly an annoyance, and just as demanding. Ever since the villagers found out I had one of these, I am getting pestered unendingly with stupid pictures of baby cats, inane messages about trivialities, and silly ‘GIF’s’ that are about as cute as my korova’s (cow’s) behind. It’s gotten so bad, that I leave it turned off most of the time, or what little is left of my sanity would disappear before my next birthday.”
“Umm, sorry to hear that.” I replied. “I thought it would extend your horizons a bit and enable you to explore a little of the world beyond Pidkamin.”
“Aha!” he shot back. “That turnip that you call a brain is once again making foolish assumptions. What makes you think that the world beyond Pidkamin is worth exploring? Here in Pidkamin I have everything I need to make me happy and content with my life. Anytime I hear anything in the news about what is happening in that big world of yours, I am dismayed. Political scandals, climate change, wars, refugee crisis, economic disparities, fires, earthquakes, and on and on. Here in Pidkamin I have everything I need. I have a barrel of kapusta (sauerkraut) fermenting in the summer kitchen, I have racks of garlic hung and drying from the rafters in the barn, the wood is chopped for the stove for the winter, there are endless rows of jars of ‘kompot’ (fruit juice) and ‘samohonka’ (moonshine) on the shelves, there are slabs of fine ‘salo’ (pork belly) curing in the ‘makitra’ (pot), I have a stimulating group of good friends in the village, and as fine a wife in Yevdokia as you can find on this good earth.”
“I can appreciate all that,” I replied, “But aren’t you at all curious about what is happening in the outside world? Things change so quickly, there is so much progress technologically, great discoveries in science, improvements in the quality of life, significant human achievements…”
“Nonsense!”, interrupted Hryts emphatically. “When it comes to us humans and the way we act, nothing significant has changed in recorded human history. We love and hate, praise and insult, help and exploit, give and steal, heal and hurt, create and destroy, lead and oppress, and learn and forget as much now as we did tens of thousands of years ago. We have changed our environment and developed incredible tools with which to remake this earth, but we have done very little to remake our basic natures. The more we change the outside, the more we stay the same inside.”
“Geez, Hrytsiu,” I sighed, “That is a pretty dark and heavy assessment of things. How can you live with such pessimism?’
“Durniu (Idiot)!” he replied laughingly. “If you have learned anything from our conversations, you will know that I am ever the optimist. Optimism comes from understanding oneself and one’s limitations. Having such understanding is the first step towards appreciating life for what it is. We have beauty and love all around us, but most of us choose not to see it. Opening our eyes to it gives us hope and having hope makes everything else possible. We should realize that despite our limitations, we are capable of achieving anything we set our minds to. That is the essence of hope, and hope is the beginning of creating a good life and a better future.