Roots & Wings

Insights from a trip to the USSR

One of the articles in Governance (IC#7)
Originally published in Autumn 1984 on page 57
Copyright (c)1984, 1997 by Context Institute

ARRIVING AT MOSCOW AIRPORT after flying exactly half-way around the world is like having the novocaine wear off immediately after the dentist has been drilling your teeth for an hour. "Pashport, Pajaulustah," says the concrete- faced soldier in the steel booth. He looks not at my eyes but in the slanted mirror behind my head. Does he think I have contraband taped to the back of my neck? His grimness seeps into me and I become grim. The whole world becomes grim and I shudder at the thought of 3 weeks of Soviet grim. I even flash on a life of grim should he decide that I am a spy. The floor will open up and send me plummeting through a tube to Siberia, never to be heard of again.

Next in line is my 14-year-old son, Michael. "Pashport, Pajaulustah," says the grim-faced soldier. "Whatever, Dude," says my son with a grin. In panic I look to the floor, which will surely open up now. It doesn’t. I look at the soldier. A tiny upward curve of the corners of his mouth gives way to an almost-grin. He stamps Michael’s visa quickly and waves him on before a full-blown smile might break through. And I begin to remember what it’s really all about. Thank you, Michael.

The next day, most of our group goes to School 15, a Moscow elementary school, to meet kids and teachers and to present a beautiful hand-made peace quilt from the children of a school in Seattle. I stay behind, waiting for Vadim and Vladimir. Vadim is a professor of Philosophy at Moscow University, and Vladimir is secretary of the US/USSR Friendship Society. Both were guests in my town six months ago. We housed them and taught them to square dance and to get drunk on California wine. Now it’s their turn.

They nearly crush me with their hugs, and off we go on a crazy taxi ride through crowded Moscow. I am unsure whether the ride or the cigarette smoke will get me first, but I feel so good about the genuine affection of these two Russian brothers that it doesn’t matter.

At Vadim’s apartment, old and small and cozy, we eat Lithuanian sausage that his mother sent, we spike the vodka with his homemade cranberry liqueur, we sing like fools, as another Vladimir, head of the Soviet Sister-city association, bangs on Vadim’s old Mexican guitar. They tell jokes about Americans, I mimic the soldier at customs. Laughter fills the room, and I wonder where’s the enemy? Perhaps Pogo was right!

But that’s too simple. Amidst the joyful sharing, probably because of it, I begin to feel into the psyche of a people who have a very old and very different way of relating to one another, a different game-plan for survival. There is a bondedness here, a strong web of connectedness that I do not know. I like it, and I don’t like it. I feel nurtured, protected by the group. And I also feel constrained. Like in a little village where the same people have lived all their lives. Everyone looks out for everyone. And everyone also makes sure that no-one "colors outside the lines." Group consciousness is high; individual initiative is not valued.

In Leningrad I watched a woman walk up to a little girl, a stranger, and proceed to button-up her coat as if she were her own child. This is totally acceptable behavior, and it speaks of the caring and the group consciousness of Soviet society. Carried to extreme, it becomes social control. Our group visited "refusenik- families," who are Soviets who have applied to leave the USSR and been refused. Many of them experience severe treatment, less from the government than from their own peer group, who consider them deserters of the Motherland. So much fear and yet so much love.

I have read some old Russian folk-tales which have provided a glimpse into the Soviet psyche. In American folktales, the hero (male) rarely dies, right? In Russian tales, they (usually a group of men and women) frequently do die. A typical scenario might be that of a small town which is being attacked by some horrible enemy. The heroes and heroines block the pass while the townspeople escape to the mountains. After the townspeople are safe, the defenders fling open the gates and die gloriously in a final, futile but valiant battle.

Can you feel the difference? Not quite your typical American happy ending.

Until we learn to accept and honor the basic differences in our cultures we will never be able to work together for peace. And no one culture can do it alone. In fact, we may have co-created this planetary mess that we are in so that we can learn that very truth!

The name of the prize is not just peace. The US and the USSR have so much of value to share with one another, that we have before us not only the possibility for peaceful coexistence, but also the opportunity for a quantum leap in planetary consciousness. It’s as if the US had one of the missing pieces to our shared puzzle of conscious evolution and the USSR had another. We need one another to complete the puzzle, and yet we spend most of our time and resources trying to protect our piece instead of offering it. It’s so hard to admit that the "other team" might have the puzzle piece we need to complete "our" puzzle. I guess we will not be ready to complete the puzzle until we are willing to see that there is really only one team.

In Tbilisi, the capital of Georgia, I talked to a man about our planetary family, about our need to move beyond political boundaries and to recognize that we are all citizens of planet earth. He hugged me, and then he picked up a handful of dirt and held it as if it were a sacred object. He said, "Yes, I know. But do you know? You Americans, you have no roots. My father’s father’s father’s father died to call this little piece of land home. This land is me, I am this land," he said; and he held out the dirt to me as one would hold out one’s newborn child for a blessing. And I thought, "My God, there is so much I do not know." There is so much we can, must, share with one another. Roots and Wings. We need to know about roots, and they need to remember their wings. They have forgotten how to fly, to soar; and we have, or at least I have, strained my connection to the sacredness of "place." Sure, anywhere I hang my hat is home, but that freedom from attachment to the place where my great- grandmother’s/grandfather’s bones are laid has cost me something. And hopefully, in my openness to re- member, to relearn about roots from these Soviets, I make myself vulnerable to them. And in that moment, our hearts touch and we are, as I had dreamed, of one family.

When I was leaving this man, as I was turning away, he grabbed me and kissed me. No peck on the cheek; a full, on the mouth, moustache-crusher kiss that curled my socks. It was wonderful. We stood there, our eyes filling with tears and I thought, Robert Bky’s "wildman" is alive and well and living in Soviet Georgia. I would give my life for that man and I was with him perhaps two hours. That is the quality of connection that is there, in the people, in the earth.

Back in my room, I got it. I understood what we must learn from one another. He can teach me how to truly love where I am. And I can help him to expand this passionate love beyond his little piece of earth. Together we can learn to love the entire planet with the fervor he feels for his Georgian soil. And then we can both, authentically, call our entire planet home, with no more boundaries and borders and ideologies over which to kill each other.

The Soviet Union is a tight, guarded society. But in the hearts of the Soviet people there are millions of "butterflies-in-potential," yearning to fly. I will return to the Soviet Union, probably soon. And again, I will find ways to move beyond the official tours and meetings and into the places where I can share my wings. And they will teach me how to touch the earth with my soul. Will you come with me?

Danaan Parry is the Director of Holyearth Foundation. The Foundation’s Earthstewards Network sponsored a 3- week goodwill mission to Soviet Union in May. Thirty- four Earthstewards from many parts of the U.S. and Canada visited schools and homes, gave 20 peace-quilts to Soviet children’s groups, held joint US/USSR wine- tastings, and generally "got-lost" on the back streets and country towns in Russia, Georgia, Crimea, the Ukraine and Abkhazia. Danaan will return to the Soviet Union during Easter 1985 with a plane load of adults and kids. Danaan puts it thus… "We now know what works, and kids cut through the rhetoric and get to Soviet hearts like magic." For information on Holyearth’s programs, write them at Box 399, Monte Rio, CA 95462.

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