Thursday, February 25, 2010

40 dnei Andreya

The 40th day came and life slowed down to remember a loved one. Since I heard the news of Andrei’s passing, it slowly seeped into me that someone I cared for is truly gone. It took a few days for me to get over the shock and come to terms with this news. If I knew earlier, could I have helped him? Why didn’t I know earlier? Why didn’t I call to find out? These were questions that kept going over in my mind. But in the end, it doesn’t bring him back to life.
On Tuesday, I was feeling pretty down and alone—not around anyone who knew him well. I wished I could transport myself to Russia to gather with his friends and family. So in a small, quiet way I honored the memory of my friend. Of course a few shots of vodka were done (7 to be exact) and words were said (maybe he heard them). In addition I went to a Russian Orthodox church to light a candle and have the priest pray for him (panikhida is what they call it).
Lighting a candle and sitting in the dark church, alone with my thoughts, was a real comfort. I needed to do something a little more serious and heartfelt than down 7 shots of vodka to a friend and a panikhida, as recommended by my friend Liz, was just the thing. I wrote Andrei’s name (first name only, no last names) on a piece of paper and put it in an envelope with $17 (suggested donation). With the change from a $20, I lit a big $3 candle and placed it at the designated spot in front of an icon of Jesus on the cross. It’s like a little stand, always on the right side when you first walk in to any Russian Orthodox church. I stood in the growing darkness of this small church, the sweet smell of beeswax candles, the rustling of people in the lobby and the pitter patter of rain on the roof. In my own quiet way, I said goodbye to Andrei and knew that his soul was in good hands. This small ritual may seem silly, but it brought much peace to my heart.
As I left the church on my way to teach, I felt a huge release of energy off me. The sadness was gone and I was embraced by a sense of comfort and goodness. On one hand it wasn’t so much that I was saying goodbye to a friend on the day when his soul leaves this earth and ascends into heaven, as the Russians believe, but rather that I was upholding a tradition I learned in Russia, and after all these years of not living there, still found value in it. This act reaffirmed how accultured I became in Russia and how much of Russian traditions, values and ideas are still in me. It’s nothing to be ashamed of, it is a part of who I am—an added layer to my way of thinking and feeling. And on a cold, rainy February afternoon in a small Russian church on a busy street in Brooklyn, it was the most important thing I did all day.

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