You never know who you may meet while traveling. Last week I spent some long hours on the plane from Riga – Moscow – Bangkok. Sometimes you have an encounter and think, “Interesting timing! Why am I meeting this person here and now?”
When boarding the plane in Moscow, I noticed that I would sit next to an old man. I thought to myself, “He will probably sleep most of the way, so not much talking here.” I don’t mind to talk to strangers; I like to meet new people but sometimes it is nice to put the headphones on and just watch movies. The old man had an English newspaper and I asked if I could borrow it after he finished reading.
He answered in English with an American accent and asked where I was from. “Latvia”, I answered and heard the common reply, “I have never met anyone from Latvia.” As I had guessed, he was an American but living in Thailand. And we started to talk… and continued for many hours.
Read on and you will understand why he is still on my mind. He was traveling back from Russia where he had attended the Victory Parade on May 9 in Moscow. Then he had traveled to Crimea, the peninsula of Ukraine that was annexed by Russia last year. Why so interested in Russia? All four of his grandparents had lived in parts of Russian Empire before the communist revolution of 1917 and had emigrated to the USA because of pogroms and persecution. So, I discovered he was Jewish…
Why live in Thailand? Well, he was trying to be a Buddhist and wanted to spend more of his life in meditation. As we talked though I discovered that he was still very far from finding that inner peace. He was a very angry and frustrated man. Mad at so many things – mad at his own country which he considered the most evil nation messing up the world, mad at his family which he blamed for being pro-Zionist and conservative, mad at his friends in Thailand who wanted live a relaxing life without worries… basically he was mad at the whole world.
Except Russia. He respected Russia and felt like this nation is totally misunderstood. He went to the Victory Parade out of gratefulness that Russian people had sacrificed so much to defeat the Nazis. Then he went to Crimea to see it for himself and to hear the stories. He came away convinced that Russia today again was protecting people against the great evil of ‘Fascism”.
My mind was racing… If you read my reflections from two weeks ago, you will understand why. What to say? We had to travel together for many hours and I could tell that he would get very angry if I disagreed with him. I told him that he was obviously a seeker. Seeking peace and truth… Well, I am a seeker of peace and truth also. I told him that actually I teach about peace building and reconciliation. He was very attentive now. I said that I cannot speak for Russia or Ukraine but I can speak for Latvia. I shared my family’s story and he admitted that he had never heard this side of the story. Story of the small nations that were caught in the middle of power struggle between two totalitarian regimes and two totalitarian leaders – Stalin and Hitler and how people in Latvia suffered under both.
I talked about ‘Shalom’ – peace with God, with yourself, with others and with creation. He asked, “Are you Jewish? How do you know about Shalom?” I said that I am a Christian, that I read the Bible and that I believe in the vision of this universal, cosmic peace. Then he started talking how Jesus was a ‘communist’ since he gave food and healthcare for free, stood against the establishment and rich classes and then was killed for it.
During our conversation I realized that he was very leftist in his thinking and had a positive view of former Soviet Union. Now you know what I mean… what a mix of ideas. An American Jewish guy who thinks like a communist but tries to be Buddhist. No wonder his inner person was in such a turmoil. As we left the plane, he looked so lost and lonely… still not finding what he is looking for. I wish him to find ‘Shalom’ that is so incredibly close to us that we too often miss it.