Why I love Romania

 

I recently saw a campaign organized by Yvette Larson from Bucharest Lounge: why I love Romania. Of course, it provoked me to ask myself the same question. I realized that I cannot say why I love Romania. I just do. I do not think Romania is more special than other countries, but it is special to me.

Romania is the warmth of my grandmother’s, mama mare‘s, apple pie, the taste of apples with cinnamon. It is the sweat of my mother staying an entire day in the kitchen to make gurite. It is my dad’s listening to Radio Free Europe, putting the pillow on the phone because of the fear to not be heard by the Securitate, the secret police.

Gurite

Romania brings back the beauty of early mornings during Holy Week, when we woke up at 6:00 am or even earlier to go to a priest in one of the villages, so that we would make our confession before Pascha (Easter) (going to church during Communism could bring upon one’s family the wrath of the Party, so my parents avoided to go to church in our own town). It is the walking home during the night of the Resurrection, with lit candles.

Romania is also the nights when mama mare took my cold feet between her legs so that I warm up. It is her gesture of lighting the candle or of making the sign of the cross, staying peacefully on her old, beautiful knees. Or it is her showing me how to sew a button (mama-mpunge si eu trag, ce frumoasa haina-mi fac).

Romania is also my tata mare, laughing like a kid when he was jumping with a sleigh over a bench. It is his love for muzica populara, folklore, and his playing the flute although he had no idea how to do it.

Romania is also the sound of toaca when we went to monasteries.

Romania is the one teaspoon of heavenly sherbet that mother Epraxia, one of the nuns at Agapia, offered each one of us when we visited her.

Romania is so many other things. But I do not love Romania because of them. Romania is made in me out of them. Unique relationships that contribute to my person. I do not love Romania against any other countries just as I do not love my mom or my wife against any other women. Each one of them is part of me in her own way.

For me, there is no choice. I do not love Romania because of something. I just do.

A lonely superhuman with simple arithmetic

 



In Dostoevsky’s Crime and Punishment, one of the characters wonders whether “thousands of good deeds will wipe out one little, insignificant transgression.”  The “insignificant” transgression is murder. “For one life taken, thousands saved from corruption and decay! One death, and a hundred lives in exchange–why, it’s simple arithmetic!” The same question troubles the main character, Raskolnikov. I will not discuss the novel here. I will say, however, a few words about the question: how disastrous it is for the one who entertains it and how easy it is for it to take a hold, in various forms, of one’s soul.

Of course, the first reaction to such a question may be abhorrence. The lack of consideration for another human’s life seems the attribute of brutes. Such attitudes, one may say, are absent in a civilized world, and only a deranged human being would disregard the life of another to such an extent. However, as we too often discover, this idea is prevalent precisely in modern “civilization,” because modernity usually entertains the thought that it can beautify the world according to its own principles.

When we consider this attitude at the level of political regimes, the “arithmetic” is terrifying. Criminal regimes have brought death to millions in the name of creating a new order. I would include here Nazism and Communism (in August 2015, at the Tallinn conference, several Eastern and Central European countries initiated the process to create an international institute for the investigation of the crimes of Communism). Both regimes claimed the superiority of a new man, the Arian or the Worker, respectively. For their victory, the others were just expendable numbers.

Let us come back to the individual. How can a person consider someone else a number, an object that one can destroy for the “benefit” of others? How can anyone become so blind that he would consider becoming a “hero” for many (“thousands saved from corruption and decay”) by sacrificing a life, even a miserable life, as the one murdered in Crime and Punishment?

Well, let us consider a few phrases: “the world would be just fine if ‘that country’ did not belong to it.” “My country would be just fine if ‘this kind of people’ did not belong to it” (this is especially applicable to election seasons). “My family would be just fine if it weren’t for that crazy uncle.” In each of these situations I murder something: a country, a group of people, or a person. For me, they become expendable. I would be happy if my world did not contain them. And it would be for the “good,” for it would increase the beauty of my world. Beauty minus ugliness equals just beauty. It’s simple “arithmetic.” So it feels as if I have a responsibility for accomplishing this arithmetic.

By these “simple” thoughts, I have already committed a murder–several, for that matter. The first one who died is me, for I have extracted myself from the world given to me and I have created one for me alone, according to my views. In doing so, I have destroyed my constellations. Martin Buber is often cited for two types of relationships, I-thou, in which the other human being is an infinite person with whom I enter an infinite relationship, and I-it, in which the other human being becomes an object and is used merely for the function that he or she may perform in the relationship. But we forget that in the I-it mode of existence there is no “I.” The “I”–a person–can only be an “I” with other “I”s. When “I” relate to an it, “I” am no longer a person, but an object myself. “I” have created already a world for myself, and I am alone in it: a murderer. The world that has been given to me has died; the persons who were in my world have died; I have died as person and have become an individual. I have died to life, but I continue to exist: a lonely superman with simple arithmetic.

*

I read something on Facebook today. St. Porphyrios apparently said, “You don’t become holy by fighting evil. Let evil be. Look toward Christ and that will save you. What makes a person saintly is love.” St. Porphyrios may not be well known. Then trust Yoda. He says a similar thing.

 

On Equality


Photo by Andrei (who is not equal to any other, as each one of us)



I do not think humans are equal, and I think it is a good thing that they are not equal. Of course, I am not discussing the equality before the law or the nature of human beings which is manifested in the same way in all the members of our species. So I am not saying that anyone is more human than another. I merely point to the fact that for me humans are not equal. There is no person in this world who is equal to my son. There is no man in the world who can be my father other than my actual father, and there is no woman who can be my mother other than my mother. The same goes for my wife and my brothers. But it also applies to all the human beings I encounter: there is no other human being who can take the place of the person with whom I interact at any moment, unless I do not interact with a person, but rather with an object or with the function that a human can perform. If I go to a bank, for example, any employee can deposit a check into an account (so one may say “it’s all equal to me who does it”), but the personal connection that may be established between my eyes and the bank employee’s eyes is unique, irreplaceable, and makes the person who fulfills a job unequal to any others.

In personal relationships, equality is meaningless. The concept can not be applied. I think the same goes for nations. Even if, on one level, I can have various relationships with the people who share my nationality (I may love some, be indifferent to others, be angry at others etc.), there is something that connects me with them, something that makes us one. It is actually interesting how in personal relationships we always constitute one thing, a body, or I would call it a constellation. The constellation of my family lives only with certain human stars, and not with others. I may want to replace that “mean uncle” with someone else, but that would mean that I fully replace the constellation with a new one. I may also want to not have murderers or torturers in my nation, but there are such people, and being there they are also part of my body, of my constellation. So they are my torturers, different from those who commit similar acts in a different part of the world.

I have often read how people who suffered in prisons during communism say that it was an honor to suffer for their own people. Nicolae Purcarea, for example, who passed away recently, said something along these lines, “what is better than believing in God and sacrificing for your country?” (If you read Romanian, there is a very good interview with him here). Petre Tutea, who also suffered in prisons, said that he did not want to say anything about the tortures that took place there because he did not want to bring shame on his own people.

It may seem at times that this love for one’s own nation stays at the basis of many conflicts. I think, however, that if it truly is love it can only be a reason for peace. I was born in a family, in a town, in a region, in a country. Each one of them, at different levels, constitute my own constellations, given to me as gifts. I have traveled and encountered people from different families, different towns, and different countries. Doing so, I interacted with other constellations. But I have always done it coming from my own–I am and I will die the child of Maria and Gheorghe, even if I am no longer the boy who was playing soccer on the field next to the hospital. I am and I will die a Romanian, even if I no longer live in that country and I speak and work in a different language. But all these interactions remind me of something: if the constellation of my country is to be beautiful on the sky of this world, it can only be so in connection with others. My love for those who are “mine” celebrates the difference of those who are also “mine” (all other people), but in a different sense. And this is rather because I am theirs, and they all live in me. But this is possible only as long people are not equal for me. If they were, there would be no constellations on the sky; there would be no beauty. Just uniformity and sadness.

It sounds like reason, except that it is a choice

 
 
Photo taken by Andrei
 

Socrates waits peacefully in prison for his death. Crito comes and offers him a choice: choose life, your friends, your sons. And it sounds like reason, except that it is a choice.

Antigone’s brothers die on the battlefield; one defends the city, the other attacks it. So Creon, the new king, decides that one of them should be buried with honors, while the other would be left on the field, prey for dogs and vultures. Antigone goes against the law and buries her brother. She chooses family and love, one may say. And it sounds like reason, except that it is a choice.

“You don’t have to do this,” Balin tells Thorin in the Hobbit movie (I don’t remember whether the scene is in the book as well). “You have a choice. You’ve done honorably by our people.” You do not need to take a road that is unlikely to succeed. And it sounds like reason, except that it is a choice.

And Thorin says, “From my grandfather to my father, this has come to me… There is no choice, not for me.”

 

Imagine being in the following situation: someone asks you to choose between giving up God and death. You say, “I choose God.” And it seems like the right choice, the choice of a martyr, except that it is a choice.

I summarized here possible situations in which we can talk about choice. I’ve been thinking about this after I read an article by Fr. Stephen Freeman, which you may read here.

It seems there are two different realms here. In the first one, we seem to meaningfully talk about choices. We often  say that a choice is preferable, that we appreciate the moral value of an action, and so on.  If our children make a debatable choice, it pains us and we suffer together with them. If we are betrayed, we deplore not only the situation in which we find ourselves, but also the poor state of the soul of the one who betrayed us. And, if we think about the examples above, many people side with Antigone and her love for her brother. They praise her courage to stand against the law and fight for the ones who can no longer fight for themselves.

Our hearts may take courage when we hear that someone chose God and was not afraid of death. For we know that he chose the good.

But can one choose the good? Perhaps the difference is truly between these two realms: in the one of choice, our actions may be more or less likeable, more or less valuable, with more or less positive consequences. But, at the end, choice reveals one thing: that we believe we are the masters of our destiny. There is an important difference between choosing to become a torturer or not. But at the end, it is still a choice that may say that I became my own idol. When I choose, I choose the ego.

There is no choice for Socrates to run from prison. If he runs from prison, Socrates is no longer Socrates, but a lover of the ego.

One more story. After being in the prison of Pitesti, the place were the communists wanted to destroy the souls of the Romanian youth (you can see more about it here), Fr. Calciu was sent to Jilava, a prison underground, in a cell with no windows. “We had an electric bulb, day and night. They put four of us in each cell. In each cell there would be either a very sick man or a mad man.” It was a recipe for annihilation. The first day he enters the cell, one of the other three, Constantine (Costache) Oprisan, “whose lungs were completely emaciated by tuberculosis,” begins to cough up the fluid in his lung. Fr. Calciu narrates: “I was leaning against the door, surprised because I had never seen anything like that. The man was suffocating. Perhaps a whole litter of phlegm and blood came up, and my stomach became upset. I was ready to vomit.” It was at this moment that two words made a miracle: “Constantine Oprisan noticed this and said to me, ‘Forgive me.’ I was so ashamed! Since I was a student in medicine, I decided then to take care of him.”

It is the beginning of a process in which a soul that went through hell–and Pitesti is nothing short of hell–is cured. The beginning may have been a choice: he decides to take care of someone else. But this choice makes way for an inner rebirth, to the point where one can say, “I don’t choose God. But if I am to remain what I am, I cannot respond any other way than giving myself up. For this is what I am: a nobody for whom Someone is on the cross.”

Presence is not a choice. Choice results in lack of it.