It had been quite a while since I last chatted with my sometimes crotchety though always thought-provoking cousin Hryts from that venerable village of Pidkamin. This humble hamlet on the main thoroughfare between Brody and Ternopil has long been known and famed (at least to its inhabitants) for the quality of it garlic and horseradish.
Some of the pungency and bite characteristic of these two mainstays of Ukrainian cuisine can also be recognized in the personalities of the good citizens of this little burg, and feature prominently in the nature of my cousin Hryts. Perhaps it is something in the soil or the climate, or the “terroir” as the viticulturists call it, that breeds these particular epigenetic traits in all that grows on these lands be it vegetable or primate.
Be that as it may, I have always treasured the opinions and insights of my kinsman Hryts, as they encompass a unique blend of common sense, folk wisdom and Socratic perceptiveness that never ceases to amaze me. What I find particularly remarkable is the fact that Hryts has managed to gain an impressive understanding of the universe around him while seldom having ventured beyond the modest boundaries of Pidkamin.
During my most recent Skype chat with him, I broached the subject of Ukraine’s current challenge at rooting out corruption and bringing some order and competence to what has been laughingly called a government for the past few decades. As I railed on about the persistence of the sleaze and graft common to all levels of the Ukrainian bureaucracy, I could almost hear him chuckling between draws on his trusty pipe.
When I was done ranting, he paused briefly and asked, “Do you recall the last time you were here in Pidkamin, some years ago?”
“You mean that time when I slipped and fell into that pile of manure while helping you clean the stable?”
I heard him laugh heartily before he continued. “Yes, yes. Although I am sure that you find yourself in that kind of situation often metaphorically, that was not what I want to draw your attention to. Do you recall what we did that morning?’
I paused while accessing the overgrown pathways of my memory banks. “Ah yes! We spent the morning weeding your garden.”
I should clarify that I use the term garden with a grain of salt. The size of Hryts’ garden would impress the most demanding Ukrainian Baba. Traversing it would require the better part of a day and a hearty lunch break in the process.
“Do you recall what struck you the most about that morning in the garden?” he asked, and even over the phone I could detect the grin that had formed on his face.
“Well, uh..” I stammered, “I guess it was the number and quantity of weeds that we had to deal with wherever we looked.”
“Precisely!” he exclaimed. “Whenever you try and cultivate and grow beneficial plants, it is the essence of nature that it will challenge you by inflicting an endless variety of weeds of all kinds. They are persistent, recurring and seem to spring up out of nowhere. Unless you go after them on a regular basis, they will soon take over everything and leave you with nothing to harvest.”
“Uh…yeah….well I guess that is true and obvious. But what are you getting at?” I queried back.
He chuckled as he continued. “Well, human nature is like that too. The government is like that garden. Unless you make a regular and determined effort to keep it clean and orderly, the weeds will infect it before you know it, and nothing good will come out of it. Just as in the plant kingdom there are beneficial plants as well as noxious weeds, human society also has its honest good people, as well as its “weeds”. Like the garden, the government needs regular and thorough weeding. Regrettably we have ignored that chore for too long.”
What could I say. Hryts, as usual, understood the situation completely.