Friendship and Adversity

I have a friend, a man I have known for a very long time, but have never met in person..  In my youth, I  had a very large number of pen friends, and I reveled in the romanticism of contact with people from Europe, Africa, and Asia.  Only one was in Russia, and his name is Sasha.  He was (and remains) a rock musician and historian.

We wrote for a long time.  We educated each other about our countries and cultures.  I was an opportunity, for him to practice his English.  He was an opportunity for me, who had studied the Russian language for two years, to encourage his practice of English.  (I speak Russian very little, but just like a Muscovite.)  We corresponded for some years, then lost touch when communication between the US and the USSR was obstructed.  I answered letters he sent, but my answers were never received.

Several decades later, I happened to find Sasha on Facebook, and sent out a friendship request, which  he accepted.  We reconnected and caught up.  He’s still performing as a rock singer.  His son (whose last photo I had seen when he was two years old) is now a happy father of two.  We have both had many life changing experiences and stories with which we regale one another.  We talk on Skype once or twice every week.  It is great to have a friend, even if you have never met him.  We talk about many things, and he has been very helpful to me in writing my next novel.

Yesterday I received a present from Sasha.  It was a chotki (a prayer rope similar to the Western Church’s rosary) specially made of moonstone, and it was a beautiful piece.  Sasha went to a great deal of trouble (and, I fear, expense) to have this made by a monastic craftsman–for me.

He told me when he’d met the craftsman; he told me when he’d collected the chotki, and what it was made of, and how it looked.  He told me when it was shipped, and advised me as to the package’s progress from Russia to the US by way of the Netherlands.

You can easily imagine my impatience and excitement.  I was over the moon when it arrived yesterday.

What I found was that someone had deliberately damaged the chotki.  Beads when had been strung on very sturdy string were rattling loose in the carton.  The cross that held the two ends together was snapped in half.  I am  devastated by this senseless destruction.  It is not possible this was a shipping accident–there were other items in the box that were unharmed. The chotki materials were sturdy enough that this had to have been done on purpose.

I do not understand such hatred.  I appreciate that religion is not for everyone, and that some disapprove quite emphatically.  Such intentional destruction had to have been done by a customs official–no one else had access during shipping.  I wonder if the person responsible realizes that chotki not only represented something religious, but a decades-old relationship, an act of kindness and generosity from someone who went to great lengths to do something nice–out of friendship.  I wonder if the person responsible is aware how undeserving s/he is of the trust that his employment implies.

Friendships are based on common interests.  They are strengthened by shared vulnerability and disappointment.  My chotki is no more; my disappointment is deep.  Shared adversity makes bonds between people.  The bonds of friendship–most important of all–remain untouched.

Paul TN Chapman

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