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a peaceful protest

I was 16, and the thought of being forced to mention God as part of the pledge of allegiance was too hypocritical an act for me to play along with. Each day of high school began with this mundane recitation, as most people just stood with their hand jutting from a hip, the other dangling across their chest as they counted out the seconds until they could sit back down. They leaned against desks, and talked through it about what party and where it would be, if there would be a keg or a bonfire in the woods. I recited the words, omitting the "under God" part as a sort of half-baked protest. I was raised to flaunt my family's ramshackle atheism, as a choice of smug pride. We knew better, was the prevailing logic.

But one day, I could not stand and say any of it. It felt so rote, so hollow, so devoid of choice. There was no law that said I was required to say it. I knew this was my right, a form of free speech. My homeroom teacher was a legendary drinker, a trash-talking re…

a visit

Jews mixed with Russian Orthodox, the cemetery is a rough jumble of graves. Each one has a tiny fence around it, a crooked leaning mess that reminds me of an empty bed frame. A series of them extend in all directions interrupted by tall birch trees, like a train that stopped abruptly and never moved again.

The air is sweet and still, interrupted by tiny white butterflies that seem to be going nowhere in a hurry. A chainsaw whirs in the distance, and I can imagine its work, the methodical cutting into pieces that thump to the warm, wet earth. The pause when I imagine its owner is going to have lunch now or a late morning tea. And then the chainsaw continues, throaty cut after throaty cut as the work goes on.

Faces are etched in the stones, with mustaches, in fine suits. Women gaze with wet eyes. The impression is that they are looking at me, following my footsteps as I avoid the stinging flowers of krapiva bushes.


Some graves are overgrown, with giant flat leaves thrusting past their fences. Others are kept perfectly, fresh flowers sitting in granite pockets, often a chair or a bench there, glistening under a fresh coat of black paint in the midday sun. At one grave for a little girl that died, a security officer sits. There is gold here, enough valuable objects that the risk of them being stolen is a real one. I understand he has sat here for more than fifteen years.


And now the grave we are here to visit is revealed. Clean, open, simple. The green marble that surrounds it has turned grey in the Russian winter. There are bright shocks of marigold as orange as fresh egg yolks. I smell the wildflowers around us, and a patch of tiny wild strawberries that are close by. Tufts of white puffy seeds float in the air, drifting upwards into a cloudless sky. Hands are pressed to the warm black granite. A handful of stories are told. The eventual silence approaches, when nothing can be said with words anymore, just being here, sitting, watching ants crawling across the dirt, a spider skittering along some plastic flowers over there. 

I see a statue of an angel in the distance. It is made of white stone, and is slumped over itself, weeping.

Yes, here even the angels cry I think to myself.


As we drive away, I feel we have gone too soon. We should have spent more time. 

But now we are on the highway already past the loose string of auto repair garages, past the strange turn with no traffic light. Now I am looking at the hulking shells of buildings half-built, the openings for windows like empty mouths waiting to be filled.

Comments

Omgrrrl said…
Angels spend 95% of their time weeping. It's just the way it goes.
invisible woman said…
I find the idea of the security guard sitting there for fifteen years totally - awesome: moving and sad and amazing. Thanks for another beautiful piece which shows a corner of the world I haven't seen, and inspires me as a writer. Sarah.

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