Thursday, March 26, 2009

Marina's Story

I wrote the following entry over a year ago for my family blog. Seems this is a good place to share it as well.


Marina came to work with me in a small office back East in the mid-1980's. She was young, perhaps 20, short brown curls framing her cherubic face. She spoke with a very slight accent. Marina was a Russian Jew who had moved to the United States with her family-- father, mother, and a brother-- about a year before. She told me her story. Her father felt it was time for them to leave Russia. Knowing they would not be granted permission to leave, they made plans to "visit" her uncle in Israel. They took only what they would need for such a trip, leaving behind treasured family mementos and all other personal possessions, knowing that taking even such things as family pictures would arouse the suspicion of authorities and would likely jeopardize their plans. They did go to Israel, but spent only the time necessary to get visas to come to America. They left behind their former lives, family, friends and all but two weeks worth of clothing to come here. I was in awe.

I was also impressed with Marina's ability to speak and understand English. She had taken English in her Russian school, but said that most of her language skills had come as a result of signing up for classes at the local community college there in Maryland. Wasn't it hard, I asked her, to take classes having only a very basic understanding of our language. Well, yes, she said, it was, but she caught on quickly. And she was getting good grades, despite this handicap. Each new revelation about what she had been through amazed me further.

I asked her what some of the things were that she enjoyed here that she didn't have in Russia.



Yes, gum.

Didn't you have gum in Russia?


Why not?

Well, the government didn't think it was necessary.

Strange, I thought. Something that I wouldn't even think of as significant, this girl thought was a treat. And what's up with that -- the government didn't think it was necessary?

What has been the hardest thing to get used to in the United States, I asked her.

The freedom, she replied without hesitation.

She went on to explain that her father had taken a job in another community when they first arrived here. After a short time, he realized that the job was not a good match for him. He wanted to change jobs. In Russia, she explained, they had little, if any, choice where they worked or where they lived. If they wanted to change jobs, they applied to the government which, if it decided was a valid request, would find the individual a new job and different living arrangements if the job was in a different area. Here, her father had to apply to various companies, go for interviews, decide which job to take, find a new place to live when he accepted a position with a large company in our area, make arrangements to move his family, and follow through. It was a daunting process to one who had never experienced this way of doing things.

I don't remember the rest of our conversation on these lines. I do know the things I've just written gave me much reason for thought and consideration for a long time.

Seeing my country through the eyes of Marina had been enlightening, somewhat a paradigm shift, so to speak. The things I take for granted each day, without thought, were novel for her. Something as simple as a piece of gum. But the real eye-opener for me was that freedom, so natural to my family and all (U.S.) Americans, was challenging for her family. They had to learn how to live in a free society.

I lost track of Marina when one of us left the company we had worked for. But over the years I have thought of her many times, usually as I think about what I sometimes take for granted as a citizen of this unique country we live in.

A few years after the USSR dissolved and the people of the individual countries struggled to transition from their communist form of goverment to something more like democracies in which the free market has a place, I thought of Marina. Her former countrymen didn't know how to live in a system where they had choices to make. For many generations, the government had taken care of their basic needs and they didn't have the luxury of thinking beyond that. All of a sudden, the "system" changed, and they had the opportunity to create, to innovate, to strive, to work and to think for themselves. I know this is over-simplified. There were many issues which affected the people of the USSR in their individual countries during this transition. But hearing of the difficulties these countries had after the breakup of Soviet Union, I thought back to the things Marina had told me -- how difficult it was to adjust to having the freedom to do for oneself -- and it seemed to me that the newly free people of the USSR were also learning that hard lesson.

Fast forward. September 11, 2001: the World Trade Center buildings fall at the hands of terrorists who are acting out their disdain for us, for our way of life, for our capitalistic and democratic government. Wait, you say. What does this have to do with Marina? Well, generally, nothing directly. But please stay with me here.

A little bit of my story

Until this time, I had been only obliquely interested in news and politics. Yes, I listened to the evening news. Yes, I read the newspapers. I voted. I considered myself a good citizen. I remember a pollster calling me in the early 1970's with questions about the then-current political atmosphere in our country -- these were the days of Vietnam, Watergate scandal, and Roe vs. Wade. One of the pollster's questions was "How much influence do you feel that you have on these issues?" On a scale of one to ten, I probably selected "one". I honestly felt I had little or no influence on what was happening in the whole scheme of politics and important issues in our country. I was about 25 years old at the time. I had just had a baby, and my life revolved around taking care of her. While I recognized that these other things were important, I didn't feel there was a thing I could do that would make a difference. Even my single meager vote in any election seemed meaningless.

On September 11, 2001, I went to the computer to check email before I left to tend my grandchildren for the day. I saw the report of the first plane crashing into the WTC. My immediate thought was that some pilot made a wrong turn over New York City. I turned on the television for a more thorough report. A few moments later, the second plane hit. My heart sank. I knew immediately this was no accident. With the rest of America, I was glued to the television for the remainder of that day, and for many more after that. This event began my new relationship with the news and my interest in what is going on in the world.

I've only been blogging for a short time. I've read many blogs, most of them the work of women approximately the age that I was in the mid-1970's. I may be "old" in their (your) eyes, and I understand your lives are filled with all the same things my life was at your age. But I hope you will keep reading because I have learned some really important things that I would like to share.

Marina's lesson is -- when we are not "allowed" to take care of ourselves and be responsible, we forget how to be responsible. We become complacent. We become willing to let others do things for us that we, being endowed by our Creator with the freedom to act for ourselves, should be doing. We relinquish our freedom to that entity (be it an individual or a government), and in the process, we become subservient to that entity which is "taking care" of us. We become enslaved.

Aunty Mary's story

My great-Aunty Mary lived to be 101 years old. After she married at the age of 27, she became a homemaker and did not work outside of their home after that, despite never having children. My great uncle worked for an engineering firm and made decent wages. They put money into savings for their retirement (no 401-K's in those days). When the time came, he retired and they lived well within their means on Social Security. Uncle Gordon passed away in 1981; Aunty Mary lived another 21 years. She continued to receive social security benefits but she also had her "nest-egg" to provide a safety-net for unexpected emergencies

Aunty Mary's emergency came when she was 99 years old. She was still living in a second story apartment by herself, extremely self sufficient. In fact, she shoveled snow for her landlord until she was into her 90's, and planted flowers in the back yard until she was 99. On Christmas Eve when she was 99, she fell from a stepladder in her kitchen and broke her hip. With the loving encouragement of our family, she went -- figuratively speaking, but almost not figuratively -- kicking and screaming into a wonderful assisted living home operated by the Masons.

I took her to the home to see it, to meet the people who ran it and the staff who would be helping her. She was concerned about the expense, and what would happen when her savings ran out, although she certainly didn't expect to live long enough for that to happen. They assured her she would be cared for regardless of her financial situation. She did not have to pay them anything "up front". Almost two years later, she beat the actuarial odds, and outlived her savings. She was absolutely horrified that she would be living "on charity". That almost killed her. A few months later, she fell again, and died as a result of a broken hip.

I have to add here that the people of the Masonic organization treated each person in that community with dignity and respect. None of the other residents ever knew Aunty Mary's financial situation, and of course, she did not know theirs either. I have the highest regard for the Masons, though neither I nor any of my immediate family have had membership in their organizations.

Self-sufficiency has been ingrained in me by the example of my family. Not just Aunty Mary, but all of my family.

Why am I telling you this?

As I've watched and pondered the politics of our country, I see that many people feel that the government is there to "take care" of us. In the name of "compassion", many feel that the government is the instrument through which "poor people" should be helped -- i.e., given money, health care, housing, whatever else they "need". I, too, believe there are many people who genuinely need help, and that I have a moral obligation to help them. But there are many ways to do that, that don't put a government bureaucracy in the position of being the caretaker.

Families come first. We should take care of our own. Churches and charities also provide assistance to members who are in need. The church to which I belong teaches provident living, and also provides assistance to those in need while offering them the opportunity to serve others. The basic premise of church welfare is and should be to help people help themselves. Giving someone something for nothing is not helpful, with very few exceptions.

I'm not eloquent, and I don't have an advanced education in economics, politics, government, or social order. But I am a thinking person, and I've given much thought to what I have heard in the news and have seen happening to our country over several decades. We're losing our freedom. It's that simple. And if today's generation of young adults doesn't give some serious thought to the things that are happening around them, and consider the ultimate consequences, and then get involved, their children will be like Marina. But they will have nowhere to go.

While the boiling frog allegory has no basis in reality, it paints the picture that what we would never buy into in one giant leap, we may accept one tiny step at a time until it is too late to extricate ourselves from the mess we've landed in.

Here's what you can do

We don't have time to wait for this generation to finish raising their children before they open their eyes to what is happening to our country. The time is now. The person to make a difference is you, and me. The way to do it is to listen to the news and commentary -- a variety of it from many sources. I've linked a few good websites that offer other individuals' viewpoints. You won't agree with everyone you listen to or read. But you will begin to see a pattern. You'll begin to understand why I am writing this blog entry.

Vote. But not unless you really understand what or who it is that you're voting for. Don't be like another woman I worked with who voted for Bill Clinton because -- and this is a direct quote -- "He's soooooo cute!" You only have to listen to the "man in the street" type of interviews on the Glenn Beck program or Jay Leno to see how really uninformed a large percentage of the population is about our government.

Find out who your representatives are in Congress, then hold their feet to the fire on important issues. Make sure they know who you are. It really doesn't take too much time to zip off an email or letter to them. Yours added to many others who do the same does influence them. I've seen it happen. See the links to contact Congress on the side of this blog.

Set an example and teach your children. Teach them to respect their country, its flag, and its leaders. Peaceful, respectful disagreement is part of the process. Dissing our country is not. There's a right way and a wrong way to get things done. Be part of the right way.

Encourage your friends to get involved.

If you love the life you're living, please take time to consider these things carefully. What Marina gained by coming to the United States we stand to lose if we continue to give up our freedom by putting the government in charge of the details of our lives. They'll take the money we've worked hard for and give it to people who are capable of doing the same, but who just don't want to and are using government-provided loopholes to avoid it. They'll make laws to tell you how to raise your children, and if you don't obey those laws, they will take your children from you.

Think about it.

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