Sometime in my older elementary years, when the world was fraught with air raid drills in school and the notion that we should all have air raid shelters, I thought about the countries that seemed unreachable, Russia in particular. The Cold War implied that never the twain would meet between Russian children and me.
My curiosity was piqued and I decided to write to Khrushchev. I do not recall the exact words of my letter but I asked for a gift from Russia.
After wondering for a few days if my letter would be answered, I completely forgot about it. That is the nature of childhood…on to the next thing.
Months later a wooden box from Russia arrived in the mail. It was one of those moments of surprise and sheer, giddy excitement. Unlike any package I had ever received, the wooden box itself captivated me, wrapped with wire and with authentic Cyrillic script and Russian postage. I had no idea what I would find inside.
The box held a beautiful Matryoshka doll. Now a bit chipped and worn, I still have her, a sign that there was someone friendly, and a human being that cared in that country that felt so cold. I wish I still had the box and letter too; I do not recall what happened to them.
Until a few weeks ago, I have viewed the nesting dolls with thoughts of, “Oh, how sweet!” The largest doll is the mother figure…and as I take each doll apart I find the continually smaller one, ending with the tiniest baby. Pretty…decorative… fun…connection…treasure…extraordinary gift…some of the words the doll brings to mind. She is also a lesson that when we reach out to the unknown we often receive a startlingly beautiful response. My view of the doll has corresponded to how Matryoshka dolls are seen. They are the design of similar object within object or like an onion; the peeling of each layer reveals a next layer of the same essence.
My new perspective has more energy and life; it is not so sweet and static…it is vibrant, alive, palpable and ever evolving. It starts with the tiniest doll rather than the largest.
That tiniest doll represents my beginnings, not so much in physical growth but in who I am as a person. For a long time I stayed small and contained, even though I always sensed an urge to grow, to explore, to burst out of the sameness. In that smallest doll are my roots, the underpinnings of family, faith, home, land, relatives, school, pets, and all of the foundational pieces that were provided to and for me. All were given in love and best intentions, but limited. Questions had pat answers and dialogue about differences was not encouraged. Perhaps that is what was at the root of my sending the letter to Russia…a longing to break out of the paradigms and assumptions I was hearing and explore for myself…to open the dialogue with someone not like me.
To make what could be a long blog short, I began to outgrow the littlest doll. I had to break out of her and move into the next size and the next and the next and the next…often tentatively, quietly, and much of the time only breaking out of her inside my own head and heart. I knew I was growing but I struggled with how to let that be known. My roots are near and dear. They serve me in significant ways and I need them; at the same time I want to make room for the new. At times, fear and uncertainty hamper me.
What I know is that I have not yet grown into the final Matryoshka design that is uniquely mine but I am determined to keep listening to those who are not like me, who were not raised as I was, who do not necessarily have the same beliefs, who represent worlds and cultures and teachings that are as much their roots as mine are for me. With each bursting out of one size and into a bigger Matryoshka doll I feel liberated and rich. My colors are becoming clearer and more detailed, albeit still not complete.
I struggle with what to hold on to and what to let go, as if at times I am shattering the very foundations I was given. But in my core I know that is not true; I am building on the foundations…I am learning, changing, building up and out and growing my space to accommodate other views and allow them to challenge and change me for the better. It is not throwing into the air all that I believe and that is important to me, letting it land where it may but rather, taking in and mulling and exploring and processing that which I encounter. It is not about always adopting or adapting, though that does happen. It is about respect and doing my best even in the “Are you kidding me?!” feelings to let judgment remain at a distance. That is, perhaps, the hardest.
There are days and weeks I feel I have decreased in size, back to some of my old paradigms. The childhood roots are strong and I hear those age-old words, “What would your mother and father say?” I shrink back into prejudices I never asked for…or lack of compassion…or opinions that stir me up and shut me down.
Gratefully, and more often than not, I find that with each new incremental opening of heart, soul, mind and spirit, I learn. I do not necessarily learn answers, nor do I feel I need them, but I learn that humanity…all that has come before me, all that is present, and all that will come to be…is astounding. Curiosity, listening, dialogue, and the invitation to others to share their stories add the tiniest dots or sweeping strokes of glorious color and design to who I am still becoming.
I am like a Matryoshka doll that will never be finished…the Designer is continually growing me to the next size and loves to introduce surprise…new shading or a whole new color and design detail…sometimes when I least expect it. It is a magnificent process.
I will always love and be grateful for the treasured gift of my childhood. I had no idea then what she would mean to me now.