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Tag Archive: Nasta & Yulia

July? What July?

Posted: Wednesday, July 29, 2009 (11:41 pm), by John W Gillis


ccp2 What a whirlwind! Nasta & Yulia have returned to Belarus after a whirlwind month of activity. These girls were very much like other girls I’ve known, but they possessed a truly remarkable courage. They were just little kids, of course, but they really impressed me in how they handled themselves. There was much more bustle in the house than I am accustomed to, while they were here. There was a constant chatter going on in Russian, which at first seemed out of place in the home – as if the house were a train station or airport, and not my sanctuary and refuge – but which quickly became just another background element of the domestic fabric. I miss it.

Being with and around the girls added an interesting contextual layer to my thinking about some issues that have rapidly come to the foreground of my thought these days; issues around technology & medicine, sickness & dying, etc. A number of public and private concerns have had me reflecting yet again on these matters, which seemingly have never been far from the surface since my own brush with death two years ago.

I think the train of thought got started just a day or two before welcoming these two young kids, whose lives are part of the sad legacy of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor disaster, when I coincidentally picked up a small book that I had been uncertain how to classify in my library, and began to read it. It was by Pedro Arrupe, who at the time of writing it was the Superior General of the Jesuits. Roughly the first half of the book was a recollection of his experiences on the ground in Hiroshima in 1945, where he was stationed as a missionary when the first atomic bomb was dropped. Arrupe had studied medicine for five years before entering the seminary, and he had to call upon every thread of his experience in dealing with the crisis. It was a sobering read, to put it gently. My intellectual circumstances snowballed from there, and I soon had several thematically related posts sketched out in my mind, but have been so strapped for time that I’ve little more to show for it than a couple of drafts, and a bucket-full of good intentions.

I’ve had so little time to write that the idea of publishing a blog is beginning to look a bit silly, and I’ve been finding myself (again) tempted to use the blog for publishing blurts & blurbs, instead of somewhat longer pieces, though that’s really not what I launched the site to do – I wanted to use it as a vehicle for stretching out my thinking. I almost always find the idea of publishing blurts uncomfortable when I’m working on more substantial things, even though the majority of articles I at least mentally sketch out never see the light of day, eventually ending up in the dustbin of good intentions. In my saner moments, I continue to think I should be able to strike a better balance here. My preference would be to find more time to write!

Living Spaces

Posted: Monday, June 29, 2009 (11:31 pm), by John W Gillis


Having a small family in an eight-room colonial tends to leave quite a bit of flexibility in terms of space – and this has certainly become quite a small family again since Kelly, and then Leigh, moved out. I’ve wanted for years to be able to offer a guest room, and it took quite a while to work through all the machinations necessary to reach that point. But six months worth of shifting, consolidating, lifting, and remodeling have finally borne fruit in a finished bedroom available to friends, family, and other passers-through.

Nastia and Yulia will occupy the room through most of July, and the space is earmarked during the coming school year for a Korean exchange student – a school-mate of Abby’s from the Montrose School, named Zoey. We will likely continue to host exchange students for most of the next decade as our girls complete their schooling, but sooner or later I would also like to be able to offer safe room and board on a transitory basis to some of the needy young mothers who come to the Church’s Pro-Life office seeking help.

office_empty That’s down the road, however, as the day-to-day lives of my two youngest children will dictate the pace of domestic living for several years to come. To that end, a major part of the reconfiguration I did in the house over the first half of the year was to prepare a room on the upper floor into which I consolidated the “office” space in the house – moving myself and most of my collection of about a thousand books out of a basement area I’d refinished when we bought the house at the beginning of the decade, as well as the remnants of Joyce’s former home office from a different room on the second floor. I liked the basement (especially the inherent coolness during the summer months, which I particularly miss on days like today), but I seem much less isolated up here from the rest of the family when I retreat to read, study, or work on something at my desk.

office Getting that desk up here was a bit more of an adventure than I’d bargained for. I shouldn’t complain – it went well, after all. My friend Rich came over to help me with it, and we got it and all the bulky stuff moved in under an hour, but I ended up leaving work with chest pains a few days later, and it’s hard for me not to draw causal conclusions from that, given the overall lack of discomfort I’ve had since my second stent procedure last September. The desk is an old, post-WWII, green linoleum-topped steel office desk, a clunker I made a little less unpresentable some years back by painting the steel black and adding sleek drawer pulls. I’ve been lugging this thing around since I bought it for $10 in 1980, and it almost got me this time. Someone around here would like to see it gone, but it would cost me over $1,000 to replace functionally – and frankly, I’ve grown rather fond of it.

The third key driver for this project, apart from opening up a guest room and getting my work space out of the basement, was to move Abby and Rebecca out of the only bedroom in the house lacking a safe fire exit to an adjacent porch or garage roof. That was done by repainting Leigh’s old room, and moving them in there. I then remodeled their old room with enough shelf space to accommodate all my non-fiction. The finishing work included what I took at the time to be the supremely silly effort of sanding the hardwood floor with hand tools (and not very well, I should add). When I moved on to the final (guest) room, I discovered that I could do even sillier things, as I went out and rented a drum sander to handle that floor.

Whatever possessed me to think I would be able to get one of those things up to the second floor, two years (to the weekend!) after having a heart attack, I surely do not understand – I was afraid I’d trip the ticker just lifting the thing into the van to bring it home! I improvised a ramp to handle the bulk of the distance on the larger set of stairs, and otherwise just prayed it wouldn’t be my last act on earth – who, then, would apply the varnish, after all? Man, am I glad to finally have this job behind me.

But as I settle into this latest phase of my life – what with my new digs, my return to school, and the prospect of hosting lodgers – I need to think seriously about understanding my quickly changing limitations. I need to lean more on other people, so that I can do things I’ve never done before – or at least be around to try. Times change, indeed. Some doors open while others shut, as we all march relentlessly toward life’s final curtain.

From Russia, With Zest

Posted: Tuesday, June 23, 2009 (11:59 pm), by John W Gillis


ccp1 Well, here we go. A few months ago, Joyce proposed that we should pick up on an old idea, and host a couple children from the Chernobyl Children’s Project this summer. Nasta and Yulia arrived this evening (pictured here along with Zoya, a very nice local woman with Russian roots who was serving as a volunteer translator for the evening). We managed to get them home, acclimate them somewhat to the house (including Mungus, our frisky young cockapoo), feed them a little something, settle them down, and get them into bed, but it sure is going to be an adventure dealing with the challenges of the language barrier between us.

Abby told me later in the evening that her life had changed today. Never lacking for melodrama, that one, but she’s right in a way. You don’t bring anyone – especially a child – into your life without being changed in some way. It is going to be very interesting to see how our family is changed over the next four weeks by these zesty little girls whom fate has consigned to grow up in an area poisoned by radiation – and who deal daily with the inevitable medical consequences of that misfortune.