Andrei and his wife.
While fishing today, and not catching anything, and grateful to be outside enjoying the fresh air, I was thinking about how lives are so very different depending upon where people live, but also how they view their lives. And what seems like little to some, is plenty to others, and what seems like a lot to others, not so much with some social circles. I suppose, that has a lot to do with opinions and priorities, and how people share their time. But I didn’t want to get into all that. I was thinking of something more singular.
Andrei Sakharov, some might say, was Russia’s equivalent, or peer, to our Einstein. In his memoires, he takes you down the road to becoming a nuclear physicist, working together with other scientists, developing nuclear weapons that their country would not live in fear of other nuclear powers. And he shares some of his (and others’) thoughts, the weighing of purpose and meaning, but also the life of being a scientist in the former Soviet Union. And I found it, let’s say, very interesting, even a “culture shock or twinge” in seeing, as best I could by reading a book (meaning, not very well), how others viewed their circumstances. How they described their lives. How what they thought about.
In the former Soviet Union, and perhaps it’s still that way in many places in Russia, a family having two rooms and sharing a bathroom with another family would be a luxury. Andrei, his wife, and their children, often had only one room to live. For some time, they were living in a building with (I believe) five to eight other families, and sharing the bathroom was a necessity. They lived with difficulty in obtaining vegetables, and learned to live with less, and often walking was the method of travel. For them, passing through a house’s hallway with other families was quite common. Being around people all of the time, the norm. In some periods of his life, Andrei’s study (where he worked at home) was in the same room as the family. Sometimes, they had a second room, and that was shared as well.
There’s no way I am going to be able to “paint” a picture of this in the reader’s minds, but one day, perhaps in the years ahead, I will read the book again, and perhaps then I will have better words to frame understanding of how I perceived day to day living. But for now, I will just say, they were often a happy people, but how they perceived material things, family, and the social was very much unlike how I’ve become accustomed. But I also think, in many ways, though they were living a communist existence, within their lives, they learned what was more and most important. As I understand, to them, family was everything, and friendships were lifelong. And of course, Andrei Sakharov, who had known Natan Shiransky, helping the latter’s fight in the gulag, had worked for a democratic Russia, speaking up for human rights, including the rights of emigration.
I don’t remember, in strong details, but I do have impressions. I was thinking about the money he earned. While fishing, it occurred to me that our grade school teachers probably earned more than Andrei Sakharov as a top nuclear physicist, perhaps. For how he described the foods and clothing they could afford, how they lived, left certain impressions upon me. But there’s something else. He saved money. Somehow, while being married, his wife taking care of the home and their first child, he was saving, spending very little for himself. I imagine, for when they would need the money. And, after his first wife had passed away, when he wasn’t quite himself, he gave a lot of it away to charity.
At the time I read that, I was thinking, here’s a man, a top nuclear physicist, having no car, and was still thinking of other people, how he could help them. From his experience, from the world he saw all around him, having two rooms in a building was more than enough for their family. In fact, by many Soviet citizens of those days, it was quite extravagant. And I believe, working hundred hour weeks was not uncommon. For in his time, doing all you can for a cause was common. When he had the time, he helped others, also working to bring freedom to communism.
The reason for this article is perspective. I know of people who watch their retirement, watch their 401 Ks, watch their savings while diversifying, and watch all they have. Now, having said that, I am a firm believer in the U.S. Constitution, know capitalism is the means of success and independence, and know that the rich people are the ones providing jobs in a free country. No one asks a homeless person for a job. Government doesn’t know how to create real jobs: they can only take money from others, then use money they haven’t earned to create jobs that don’t improve an economy. There’s a real reason for that, but I won’t go into that here.
I have met people who have plenty, some rich, and they live thoughtful, hardworking lives, some creating jobs, and some giving to “real” charities, not the politically correct stuff. And I have met people, who are financially well off, but miserable. I gathered from this, early in my life, perspective is everything.
But, I encourage people to read Andre’s memoires. I think the perspective and his experiences might bring awareness of values many have forgotten. While communism is a terrible and horrific system, and we see efforts to turn America into that, there are those within the suffering that learned lessons of life that are above their circumstances. And no, I would never encourage causing suffering that people might learn. Far be it from me to even suggest that. But we can learn from the experiences of others, as they shared in books. We can learn that what is happening, via the media and thought police, and all those medicare commercials designed to get you living in fear of health problems, led to what others stopped in their countries on the way to better circumstances. Many of those in former communist circumstances are wondering how we don’t see what we’re throwing away in this country: our freedoms and opportunities.
But the biggest thing, I got from the book, his memoires, was perspective and importance.