This website is my safe haven from everything that is hurtful and destabilizing and polarizing. My main objective when I write here is to make those who visit me feel inspired, deserving and connected. Or at least get you to chuckle at my expense.
Under almost all circumstances, to talk politics here would be sacrilegious, as I can’t think of anything that is less inspiring, more polarizing or destabilizing to one’s mental health than a political rant. Me doing that to you would be a betrayal, like if I promised you kittens and then dropped you into a snake pit. Also, I imagine you would stop coming to see me and then I’d just be talking to myself.
I promise to always stay clear of snake-infested territory, but I do need to address what has been consuming me for the last three days—the murder of the Russian politician (and former governor of the city where I was born) Boris Nemtsov. But this is not a post about politics. This, as always is about heart.
Until the 28th of February, when I found myself sitting on the forest floor, surrounded by vibrant ferns and dusty, blue-stemmed bamboo trees weeping into a salad, which miraculously even in my grief I was able to manage with a pair of chopsticks, I had never cried over the death of a politician. And here I was, lost both physically (texting and hiking don’t mix), and emotionally, trying to understand why this death, as horrific as it was ached so differently, so much more familiarly than all the other equally horrific deaths I read about in the news.
Yes, I agree with many of his political views. Yes, I agree with his belief that “to come to power in Russia, without the institution of elections, is only possible with a revolution. But I have to tell you something unpleasant: I am an opponent of revolution. I don’t want blood.” I agree with him that lasting change, change that doesn’t eat away at your soul takes the “sacrifice of time” and has to happen slowly, from within. Yes, it’s possible that without him the future of Russia is bleaker. Yes, it’s possible, as some fear that this is the beginning of the end for any semblance of a functioning society in Russia. But none of this, not my fears about what might come to pass, not my own sympathies with his outlook, nor any speculations about the toll his death will take on the future explained why I mourned him as fully as I did that day in the woods. As I still do in a hotel room in Kochi.
The answer came to me yesterday, after a day spent walking in the rain, and repeating the Heart Sutra, Buddha’s ten rules for wholesome conduct, and a prayer that I may remember that we are all one, and not apart. His loss to me is not political or patriotic. I mourn him because he is one of the few people I can name who was fearless in the way that is most meaningful to me—not because he wasn’t afraid to die (he was, admittedly) or even because he fought for what he believed in despite death threats. He was fearless in the way most of us, including myself, are cowards—he was able to look at himself in the mirror, without dimming the lights or taking off his glasses to blur out the cracks and blemishes reflected back at him. And he accepted the truth of what he saw. There is little that you or any of his opponents could say about him that he hadn’t already joyfully, publically and with colorful language confessed to. He knew his faults and unlike so many of us (again, including myself) he didn’t spend a nauseating amount of time trying to convince anyone of their nonexistance. He just went back to work. You can see that same level of comfort with the truth in the writing that’s now being penned by those who worked with him. Nothing of what his friends have written puts him on a pedestal or idolizes him. They are all warm, sincere and honest accounts of a man who was blood and bones and who lived with all of the complexities that come with that fleshy human costume. His friends will still, even postmortem call things as they see them, without glossing over the unpleasant bits, just like Nemtsov did himself. And in the end, I think because he never let his darkness overshadow his light, in the words of Nina Zvereva, “he was impossible not to love.”
The ability to find yourself worthy of life even as you acknowledge your demons inevitably affects how you see other people. The more compassion you have for yourself, the more compassion you will find for others. That is what I mourn about this man. Nemtsov seemed to be able to see into people and squeeze out humanity in places where others only see a drought, without compromising his own truth or his convictions. That is rare anywhere and almost unheard of in politics. He even managed to find some scraps of humanness in a man who many, whether rightfully or not, hold accountable for his death, a task some might consider on par with looking for an invisible needle in the world’s biggest haystack. Here is an excerpt from his interview with journalist Ilya Azar where Nemtsov tries to explain, using that colorful language I mentioned earlier how Putin got his head so far up his own rear end.
Boris Nemtsov: There is not one person around him [Putin] who will oppose him on any issue. For example let’s take you—are you married?
Ilya Azar: No
Boris Nemtsov: What about a girlfriend? Or are you…
Ilya Azar: I have a girlfriend.
Boris Nemtsov: Imagine that your morning begins like this “Ilya! Good Morning! You are a genius. I look at other journalists, and f**k, they are idiots, imbeciles, worthless nobodies! But you, you son of a bitch, are a genius. Like yesterday, you interviewed Nemtsov. Obviously it must have been boring as f**k to talk to that guy. I mean, who is he? But, what you f*****g wrote—it’s impossible to put down. You’ll definitely win an award for the best interview of the year.”
Now imagine that your girlfriend keeps telling you this for fifteen years and others keep encouraging her. You’re a normal guy, with adequate critical thinking abilities, but unwillingly you’ll start thinking “F**k, maybe I really am that good?” And that’s it, this **** person [Putin] thinks just like that.
There is a note tucked in among the sea of flowers now lining the bridge where Boris Nemtsov was gunned down that says “thank you for your example of honor and courage,” and that is what I am now consciously choosing to focus on when I look in the mirror—the gratitude for his life, even as I acknowledge the anger I feel over his death in my own reflection.
Full disclosure: Translation is my own, including the untranslatable richness of the Russian profanity used by Nemtsov. Full article in Russian here: https://meduza.io/feature/2014/11/21/gertsen-nam-by-ne-prostil