Monday, June 09, 2008


So, some smartass..........Fishmugger, a Castle commenter, decided I needed to read "All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten".

You see he read this post and I was trying to explain that it didn't mean I was nice. It simply was another example of me being in the wrong place at the wrong time. It was yet another incident where I was forced by fate to do something good. It doesn't mean I'm good.

Still he argued. He said that I needed to get this book and read the essay about "The Mermaid" and then look in the mirror.

Then he said it would make me a better person.

I don't want to be a better person.

He kept at it, and being more gracious than I, he sent it to me.

So fine, I'll read it.

So I skipped right to "The Mermaid"............ I'm still thinking about it.

Anyway, before Fishmugger sent his nifty, new "reconsidered, revised & expanded" version, I had decided to see what this was about and secretly went out on Ebay and bid on a couple of copies. Figured I had to win one of them. Well, I won two, lol. So now I have three copies of this book. But they are all slightly different. One is a worn paperback that I tossed it in my gym bag. They are little essays so it's fine for the bike or one of the leg machines.

So tonight, I am at the gym. It's been a long, hot day. I pull out the book and I am reading from machine to machine.

Then I get to the essay about the Russian soldier. This older, worn paperback doesn't have titles like the new one. It's the story of Nicolai Pestretsov.

THE RUSSIANS ARE A ROTTEN LOT, immoral, aggressive, ruthless, coarse, and generally evil. They are responsible for most of the troubles in this world. They're not like us.

That's pretty much the summary of the daily news about the Russians. But sometimes something slips through the net of prejudice, some small bit of a sign that is so clean and true and real that it wedges open the rusting Iron Curtain long enough for us to see not an enemy but fellow travelers, joined to us by membership in the Fellowship of Joy-and-Pain.

See Nicolai Pestretsov. I don't know much about him, I don't know where he is now, but I'll tell you what I know.

He was a sergeant major in the Russian army, thirty-six years old. He was stationed in Angola, a long way from home. His wife had come out to visit him.

On August 24, South African military units entered Angola in an offensive against the black nationalist guerrillas taking sanctuary there. At the village of N-Giva, they encountered a group of Russian soldiers. Four were killed and the rest of the Russians fled, except for Sergeant Major Pestretsov. He was captured, as we know because the South African military communique said:"Sgt. Major Nicolai Pestretsov refused to leave the body of his slain wife, who was killed in the assault on the village."

It was as if the South Africans could not believe it, for the communique repeated the information. "He went to the body of his wife and would not leave it, although she was dead."

How strange. Why didn't he run and save his own hide? What made him go back? Is it possible that he loved her? Is it possible that he wanted to hold her in his arms one last time? Is it possible that he needed to cry and grieve? Is it possible that he felt the stupidity of war? Is it possible that he felt the injustice of fate? Is it possible that he thought of children, born or unborn? Is it possible that he didn't care what became of him now?

It's possible. We don't know. Or at least we don't know for certain. But we can guess. His actions answer.

And so he sits alone in a South African prison. Not a "Russian" or "Communist" or "soldier" or "enemy" or any of those categories. Just-a-man, who cared for just-a-woman, for just-a-time, more than anything else.

Here's to you, Nicolai Pestretsov, wherever you may go and be, for giving powerful meaning to the promises that are the same everywhere; for dignifying that covenant that is the same in any language - "for better or for worse, in good times and in bad, in sickness and in health, to love and honor and cherish unto death, so help me God. "
You kept the faith; kept it bright, kept it shining. Bless you!

(Oh, the Russians are a rotten lot, immoral, aggressive, ruthless, coarse, and general evil. They are responsible for most of the troubles of this world. They are not like us. Yeah, right.)
So there I am at the gym. All choked up.

I gave up and went into the shower. I wanted to come home and look him up.

He was real. Pestretsov was captured during something called Operation Protea. There was mention of his capture in Time magazine and his release in The New York Times.

Damn Fishmugger! there is no crying at the gym!

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