However, there is more to my father's
story than just being blessed by benefactors and kissed by dumb
He didn't make it to America only by being wafted there on fortunate
If you look beyond the superficial
can see that Dad made a number of decisions at critical moments that
all his own. And these had a determining effect on what
The first vital decision that he made --
some but not all of his fellow students -- was to enlist in the White
That was a statement that he wasn't going to stay in Voronezh any
but was going to do something about his situation.
The second major decision he made was to
and medical authority, and rise from his bed, ignore his pain, and limp
after Ivan through the streets of Ekaterinodar when no one else in the
hospital was ready or able to do it.
The third decision he'd made was to
attempt to cross
the Caucausus Mountains in winter with General Savin when he might have
chosen instead to remain behind in Russia with Ahmed.
And his last crucial decision was to
out the door into the ongoing snowstorm when it seemed that only a
would be enough to get them over the pass to an unknowable future.
Even when it all looked like nothing but
a bad dream
to him, my father's feet had still kept moving.
In fact, what I really
think happened was this:
I don't think that the bad dream had
for Dad when he spoke of it to Ivan before they left the base
I think that the nightmare had started long before that, back in
Life in Voronezh must have seemed
weird to my father.
He'd done his best to pretend that he
a normal life as a botany student in spite of the capriciousness and
of the Communist rulers of the city. But day by day his
possessions had continued to slip away from them and the possibilities
of his future to grow more uncertain, and the only hope they had of any
protection from sudden, arbitrary destruction was the Red cavalry unit
that had taken over their stables, occupied half the house and chopped
their orchard down. And all the while his father was there to
him that everything that had gone wrong in the world was the fault of
like him who'd lost proper respect for traditional authority, as though
if Dad had just been willing to go back to church, all would have been
There was madness all around
him. And I think
that my father wanted nothing more than to be in some saner place than
this where it was possible to live a rational life. I think
he wanted it so much that he made it come true.
He didn't accomplish this by rational
because that wasn't possible.
Instead, the method that he adopted --
of course, Dad would never be capable of admitting it either then or
not even to himself -- was to act like the innocent, good-hearted,
youngest son in one of Tihon the coachman's folk tales. He
followed his nose and put one foot in front of the other until almost
he'd found himself over the mountains and across the sea.
Or, to put it another way:
My father wanted desperately for the bad
his current life in Russia to be over. But since there wasn't
reasonable thing to be done about it, every decision that he made, he'd
necessarily had to make by intuition -- his nose had told him what to
And all those unreasoned decisions put together amounted to a
resolve to keep on moving until he'd walked through the bad dream and
the other side.
I think the fundamental difference
between Dad and
the rest of his platoon which made every difference was that he really
wanted to be some other place entirely and he never stopped until at
he found himself there.
And if it took the good will of other
more than one miracle for it to happen, well, that's the way things
in this world: Good will -- like the good will that was shown
my father by Ivan -- is attracted by a determination to
And miracles are able to happen -- or are perceived as happening --
when they are absolutely necessary.
But this assistance was just the means
for my father
to get to the sort of place that he was secretly longing to
the evidence of what he actually had in his heart of hearts all along
the moves he made when he wasn't under any outside authority or
anybody else's direction, and when the opportunities that were
to him didn't have the appearance of miracles.
It was his choice to go to the United
And I don't believe that it was just an accident, but rather highly
that in order to qualify to go there, my father had to pass an academic
examination. I think this was a confirming sign for him, and
nothing less would have been acceptable.