Sunday, July 8, 2012

Jud's Wonders and Watercolors

The sunflower is the national flower of Ukraine.  I remember passing fields of Sunflowers that went on forever.  Jud’s watercolor sunflower captures “the bright hope and deep pathos” of the Ukrainian people.   

Jud says he started doing watercolor paintings in earnest when he was a Peace Corps Volunteer (PCV) in Ukraine.  He’s a Presbyterian minister, retired nonprofit director and AARP exec (in Maine and DC), and now a RPCV (Returned PCV).   

We trained together in Chernigov, not far from Kyiv, the capital. We were raw recruits, learning as we went, adapting as we learned. We walked and explored the town together. We learned how to take marshrukas (mini-buses) here and there. We processed. We were in the same Russian language group with the great teacher Larisa, and for a few weeks with another dedicated teacher, Tamila.  Intense.

Some three months later Jud was assigned to Konotop, in northern Ukraine, and I went to Starobelsk in far-eastern Ukraine.  Different towns, but mostly the same experiences.  We stayed in touch, struggled with our Russian, got to know the train system and how to navigate geography and culture.  We shared ups and downs.  We met often in Kyiv and other great Ukrainian cities such as Odessa, Lviv, Uzgorod, and Slavsky.

We traveled together to Istanbul, Egypt (photo at the pyramids), Budapest and Krakow, staying in funky youth hostels, having fun, exploring new places. 

Jud now lives in Washington, DC, up in the Van Ness area (that is up north from  Dupont Circle where I lived for 17 years), and I live in Sylvania, Ohio.  We stay in touch.  I visited him in Washington last autumn, the trees changing and the colors awesome; I’m trying to get him to Sylvania, maybe not as easy as communicating and communing by email and skype.  

Jud stays busy and involved, teaching English to Russian students, teaching watercolor, decorating his condo, tending his garden, engaged in all the activities DC offers, planning trips, like an upcoming sojourn with a UCC group to do a construction project on the Pine Ridge Resevation in SD.  He's also a reader, and we share books.   

He just finished Tom Rob Smith’s “The Secret Speech,” which I mailed to him after I read it.  It’s a devastating story about the effects of Stalinism and its demise in Russia and in the former Soviet Republics like Ukraine.  It's about the speech Krucshchev gave to the 1956 Communist party meeting and the enormous ripple effect it had on all of Soviet society, which unraveled in the most cruel ways. The insights are enormous and painful, riveting Jud called it. I had a tough time finishing the book, but Jud and I agree it makes us marvel at the resilience of the Ukrainian people and their heroic efforts to survive. It helps us understand, more than ever, the significance of the Soviet past and how the struggles have shaped  what I call “the psychology of the culture.” 

Interestingly, Jud’s watercolor sunflower, above, captures this.  It's a sunflower, bright and sassy, but with a bent, a tilt not upward toward the sun, but downward into a blue and hazy unknown.  It doesn't stand tall and proud, but seems to be wilting, downcast, maybe in need of sustenance, maybe gathering strength.  The dominant yellow and blue are the colors of the Ukrainian flag, but the touches of red add pathos.    

A Ukrainian friend of Jud's must have seen something like this when she saw the painting and, with tears in her eyes, told Jud it captured “the bright hope and deep pathos of my country.”

I treasure this painting, and all the lovely watercolors Jud creates, all the flowers, winter scenes, and nature's gifts.  It's why I love the original  watercolor notecards he’d send me from time to time while serving in Ukraine:  “hang in there” notes;  after a friend from St. Pete died;  when my brother died, and I was in Starobelsk, a devastating loss.   

Now, I continue my blog and Jud continues his watercolors, his creativity flowing and flowering with his new life in the nation’s capital.  He lived there when he was with AARP, but now he's making a new post-PC life, with lots of new experiences and adventures under his belt.   

Maybe one of the most  important legacies we can leave, he says, is “a positive engaged life.”   Amen.  It's a Peace Corps lesson.  And once a PCV always a PCV, no matter where life takes you.   


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