They say that success is 10% talent and 90% practice and encouragement, and my favorite teachers, Galya and Olga were well aware of that, as they were consciously doing their jobs, teaching with understanding and always trying to make any subject interesting and comprehensive.
As I seemed to be very talented in Physics and Math, which later led me to Engineer Studies at the University of Chernivtsi, Olga and Galya were always trying to encourage me into developing my talents and go beyond my capabilities, testing my knowledge, intelligence and skills.
I was doing well in my secondary school, being almost brilliant in each class, but I remember that I didn’t enjoy classes with one of our strictest teachers, Mariya. She was a great teacher, although I always thought she took her subject more seriously than she maybe should, making us take long classes with endless dictates. She was teaching our native language, and I loved the sound of it, only that I thought that those dictates were a little boring, since we were speaking Ukrainian even in our dreams.
What I did enjoy, even though I can’t tell the reason why, was memorizing long poems of brilliant Ukrainian poets by heart, and we had a lot of those to memorize during my school years.
I remember enjoying in memorizing “Kamenyari”, which was one of the poems, written by one of the most brilliant Ukrainian poets, Ivan Franko. Kamenyari, translated in English would mean “The stone breakers”. This was one of my favorite poems, and as it had almost 50 long lines, it was a real treat to remember it and learn it by heart.
As Ivan Franko was not approving the actual Soviet system, he wrote that poem as a metaphor for slavery he thought we all were living in. The stone in the poem was the slavery and the stone breaker or “Kamenyar” was Ivan himself, breaking the slaves of slavery and dreaming about freedom. I remember reading that he lived his life as a poor man, barely having something to eat, neglected for his talents and left by everyone. He was alone and he died alone.
As a great irony for all he has been trough while he was alive, they made him a statue, depicting him as a Kamenyar, which he was, or at least what he was trying to be his entire life, defying oppression and slavery.
I admired him, so none of his poems were hard to remember. Through reading his poem, line by line, I was able to feel his desperation and pain, but the will to fight as well, even though I was a child, which reminded me on some moments of my life.
Besides Franko’s work, we were also paying respect to other brilliant Ukrainian poets, having to read, understand and memorize “In everlasting memory to Kotliarevsky”, “If only you know the rulers” by Taras Shevchenko and one of my favorite poems: “Seamstress” by Pavlo Grabowski.
Even though the class of Mrs. Mariya wasn’t one of my favorite classes, I was truly inspired by all the brilliant poems we were memorizing and reading, learning to understand the urge of artistic creation and everlasting need of transforming feelings and emotion into words.
I was trying to depict everything I felt, but most of the poems I was writing were about my mother, all of them were , as my thought were somehow always revolving around her, often asking her question: “Why?”. I was searching for resolution through my poems, wondering and trying to explain my life, to myself, to someone who would listen and understand.
Once, we all got the assignment to write an essay about our mothers. I wrote a poem, remembering the heavy silence floating in the room, once I started reading it:
“Mom, why have you left me early in life?
Why? I am asking you. I’d understand.
Have I caused any pain and scars?
Tell me more, to your only friend.
Try to remember, my mom, how I’ve spoken
My first sounds to you in your arms;
Then when I grew up a little bit older
I’ve written the poems about you, mom.
Again, I whisper to myself “My Mother”
Again, I’m sketching these words with such zeal.
Again, these letters appear “My Mother”.
Again, I’m searching for a smile in a dream.
Why could not I love you, my mother?
Why could not I say to you “My Mom”?
My heart was broken, my soul was devoured.
But I believed you’ve been the one.
When will I hear your voice so tender?
Carried through air to me by the winds?
When will I catch it, will it deliver
Happiness, joy, and fulfill all my dreams?
Will that voice teach me first letters?
Will that voice bring me a smile?
Will it remind me of my childhood years
That vanished away from me for a while?
When can I write for you, my mother,
A few poems about us in a dream?
So you know your son is now older,
So I can hear, as a night gale, you sing.
I think I can, believe me, my mother,
To love you deeply in my adulthood heart.
And scars and pain will be gone forever.
You are my family and we are now one.”
If the classroom was quiet before, after I read my assignment, the silence went even heavier, as all eyes were looking right at me, as I was standing in front of the blackboard, feeling naked and vulnerable, but at the same time fulfilled by the pride I put in my work.
After that moment, I knew that everyone in the class was feeling sorry for me, as none of them could even guess how it was like to live without a mother by your side. They all had their mothers cooking for them, taking care of them, singing to them, reading bed stories, and what was most important caring for them and watching them grow.
More about my life is coming up in my book. Stay tuned!