Yeahhh, the Cold War; I remember. I graduated from high school in 1982. At some point during my junior year, officials from Russia were coming to visit our school to see what the education process in the United States was all about. We were to be on our best behavior. We were to be fine examples of Westernism. Who knew? Maybe after seeing how much better we were than they, the Russians would want to go home and turn their country into a lesser version of ours! Several seniors were immediately suspended and escorted off the campus for showing up at school on the given day wearing tee shirts proclaiming that they would rather be Dead than Red.
No one in my world of Roger Moore playing James Bond, Clint Eastwood flying in Firefox, and Patrick Swaze's Red Dawn could see a time when people in the U.S. and Russians would be friends. The fact was, though, that Sean Connery would barely finish his part in The Hunt for Red October before the Soviet Union imploded. Just like other Westerners, I was happy that we won the war. It wasn't just that "right" prevailed. The propaganda I heard my entire life led me to believe that the better people had won. The world could now be a far better place as Russians followed our example and sat around camp fires singing "Kumbaya," while believing that remaining governments were pure in heart.
I didn't pay much attention to what happened on the other side of the crumpled iron curtain until my wife and I embarked on a journey to adopt children from that country in 2005. What I found surprised me. Oh, it wasn't that cold war movies had been very far off in their portrayal of gray and crumbled concrete, or even armed guard shacks next to manually lifted car barriers with truck rims used as counter weights. I saw all of those things. What stood out to me were the people.
The Russians I met were not "dirty little Communists" who sold out their neighbors to the KGB. Children didn't go to school to tell on their parents who secretly whispered the pledge of allegiance to a glorious flag from the U.S. that they kept hidden in a secret compartment under a loose floor board. Some of the Russians I met were religious. None of them had a problem with other people who were religious.
Russians loved the children of their country. They were proud of their heritage, as patriots should be. What surprised me most was that Russians loved me. It wasn't because I was from a "better" or "richer" country. It had nothing to do with politics. Russians loved me because I got on the floor and played with their children. I soon found that I loved Russians, too. They helped me when difficulties arose in our adoptions. They trusted me when they had no reason to. They cried with me when I learned about the histories of my children. Against their will and better judgment, they even helped me to adopt the siblings of my daughters when I begged for assistance in uniting extremely troubled teens with much more innocent younger sisters.
Some of my fondest memories were formed in Russia and some of my favorite people live there. We don't talk about the Cold War. We don't even think about it. My Russian friends and I are simply grateful for the friendships that we share and we hope they can continue on forever.
I hope we aren't hoping in vain. As I watch current events play out in Kiev, I am reminded of days when Russia and the U.S. were willing to fight each other right down to the last Vietnamese. The West thinks that Ukraine should ally with the West. Russia thinks the country should ally with them. Ukrainians are split down the middle. As Russia rattles sabers in Crimea and two huge countries prepare to tear Ukraine in half, I can only wish that big countries would mind their own business. I'm tired of governments being more important than the people that governments are supposed to serve.
Russia has recovered from the financial crisis that brought down the Soviet Union. That makes me sad. It's not because I wish financial ruin on those people; but the economic crisis that occurred allowed me to have friends and true understanding that I never would have had. With Russia's return to health and its ability to flex its muscles as big as ever, I can only imagine that the U.S. will do the same. As two former foes posture over Ukraine, I can only think of my friends and how governments can silence real people and render their friendships ineffective. I hope it's not a return to the Cold War and a closure of borders. But if it is, I want my friends in that part of the world to know that I love them. I respect them, honor them, and I will never forget their soft, warm hearts -- that just like ours -- beat so strong and true, even under the cold, hard steel of battle armor.
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