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“Do you think you’ll live in Russia?”
A friend of mine asked me this today whilst we waited at the bus stop (aside: the buses in Marburg clearly didn’t get the memo about German Pünktlichkeit.) This is not the first time that I’ve been asked this question. But it was the first time that I think I gave a decent answer. And the first time that I went home and thought about what the question and answer meant.
WARNING: There be self-indulgent waters ahead, mateys.
(I should preface this by saying that this exchange happened to come a day after my mother accused me of wanting to one day work in Moscow, and hinting (by which I mean very directly stating) that she hoped that I would come back to earth, and return to America and never leave, and also how I would like to be greatest international Russophile policy planner in American history, George Kennan, but can’t, I don’t think, because his wife followed him around the world while raising their children, and I wouldn’t want to have a life with somebody that required him to do that (nor would I want somebody who would do that, I don’t think—but no matter!) and that this has thus been very much on my mind for the past 24 hours. (Man, that sentence was long.))
I don’t know, I told my friend. Because in a lot of ways, Russia is a very hard place in which to live. And, when asked what I meant, I replied that Germany is really a rather lovely place to live. Things work the way they’re supposed to. There are systems in place. People are nice and helpful. And you don’t find that in Russia. And, when asked why, if that’s the case, I like it so much, I replied that I don’t know, and I may never know, but I just do. And that living there may be something that I end up doing, either because it will be good for my career, or just because the siren song will be sung too loudly and too closely to me.
And I came home and thought that that was a pretty decent answer. Not because it was particularly articulate or interesting or responsive, because it was none of those things. (Actually, in terms of conversation, it was a terrible response). But it allowed for nuance. It allowed for uncertainty. It allowed—and allows, and entitles—me to change my mind.
One of the things that stressed me out so much (I cannot even articulate how much) before I left the US was that I wouldn’t be back in New York for four years, because I’d be in Marburg, and then in Bremen, and then in Michigan for three years, and then, after that, who knows. And my family tried to point out that I shouldn’t think like that, because “who knows” is right. Nobody knows where he’ll be in a year. Or four. Or fifty. And of course it’s nice and certain and concrete to say, “Yes, I will one day live in Moscow,” or, “No, I would never do that.” But what I realize now, in ways that I didn’t and couldn’t before I came here, is that you don’t get to choose in advance where you’ll live and what or with whom you’ll be and how you’ll do. You can make the choices that are in front of you to the best of your ability. You can plan, if you’d like. But not for your life.
I don’t know whether or not I’ll ever live in Moscow, or the circumstances under which I’d live there.
But I know that it feels really good to finally say that and mean it. And to finally know what it means.