Our family has a dear friend, Hannah, a young woman in her late twenties who moved to Moscow to learn the Russian language roughly six weeks before the country went on lockdown due to COVID-19. Her host family has made her feel welcome, but neither Russian nor English is their principal language. Uzbek is spoken in the home, which makes Hannah feel somewhat isolated during dinner conversations. She spends the lion’s share of her time alone in her small bedroom studying Russian online. As a stranger in a strange land during the time of the pandemic, she has held up remarkably well. But it has been difficult.
She emailed me several days ago with the following report:
“Hope” is the youngest daughter of the family I’m living with. She’s 13, and she pretty much made friend status with me this past week. Recently she acquired the card game version of Settlers of Catan, and Wednesday and Thursday, from as soon as I was available until well past my bedtime, that’s all we did. Friday night we watched a movie together (the other girls weren’t interested) and Saturday evening she prevailed upon me and did my hair and make-up, which she thoroughly enjoyed, and I more or less quietly endured.
My “to-do list” was neglected, but Hope and I spent HOURS together every day since Wednesday, and it really helped me to get my balance or something. It was a great moment when she came to me at 11:30 am on Thursday wanting to know why I wasn’t done with Russian yet, and when could I play. Suddenly I have a social life, and the blessedly normal problem of explaining to someone that I can’t come right now, but at such-and-such a time we can do the game, or the movie, or the makeup, or whatever it is . . . and regardless of the fact that I’m not that into games, or movies, or makeup, life seems more real.
What struck me about Hannah’s words was how human they are. Our world is very concerned with planning, goals, and rights. In their place, each is important. It is a blessing to be able to set goals and make plans, and certainly a blessing that we enjoy rights which allow us to do those things. But how easily life can become all about me—my goals, my plans, my rights. Yet life, in general, often seems to care nothing about either my plans or my understanding of my rights. And sometimes, neither do the people who are close to us.
In the end, Hannah’s email was about family, and how we impinge upon one another’s time and desires. When we are asked to do things we don’t really want to do, we often do them anyway simply because we ought to do them. We take joy in letting a little sister apply makeup because she is enjoying it. In other words, the way we impinge upon one another is sometimes unwelcome, but it is nevertheless a good thing. Even a beautiful thing. For it is only as we willingly allow ourselves to be impinged upon that we learn to take joy in the joy of others. Insisting that the world make way for me and my plans, without regard for others around me, makes for a dark life indeed.
Our cultural obsession with planning and rights comes at a cost, the greatest of which may be our humanity.