A Christmas thought

as published in the Nanaimo News Bulletin, 23 December 1997
In a small urban park in Cheboksary, Russia, there is a set of swings upon which children play in the afternoon.
Kids on swings, Cheboksary, Russia, 1997

Kids on swings, Cheboksary, Russia, 1997

I don’t know what it’s like there at Christmas. In August I watched children laugh and cavort as all children do, under the shade of maple trees that were a gift from the Canadian government in 1945. I learned some important things in this place.

I learned that a stranger without benefit of language can be treated as a friend so long as he pushes with appropriate rhythm and is careful to leave no one untended. I learned that we’re all products of our environment, and that a hand-drawn map of the world by a Russian child shows everything that we know except in reverse perspective, with Cheboksary as the center of the universe.

Kids on swings. They simply can’t comprehend that five years ago Cheboksary was a “closed city” to foreigners because that’s where the Russians built some of the nuclear devices that were targeted at me, and you. High in the moment of an uphill arc, they could not appreciate that the bombs are no more, or that “ecology” is a global word, or that fifty years ago some anonymous bureaucrat arranged a shipment of trees. Or that a small-town Canadian boy who studies marmots would have to travel so far to learn such a simple human message.

That it doesn’t matter who you are, or what alphabet you spell words in. That smiles are important. And that whatever you sow, children will reap.

Merry Christmas everyone

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