Today I met a man.
He approached me and said, “Can you help me?
I do not need money, I do not need cigarettes, I do not need food. I need your advice!”
“Answer just one question. Can you tell me what I need to do, what I should to do, to improve myself?
…to be a better person.”
You see, I drink. I drink too much and I have even already started drinking today.”
Today I met a man with an accent distinct to the ears yet with an English tongue flawless in grammar and a vocabulary of a philosophical mind.
“Where are you from?” I asked as my curious mind tried to decipher the geographical region of this slight Eastern European articulation of the English language. Austria, Czech Republic, Slovenia, Bulgaria? My strong interest in this region holds tight to my curiosity in this man. He may just seem like an intoxicated, homeless, lost soul to anyone else who comes in contact with such a slurred question but to me it stirs questions of wonder.
He states, “I am from Bosnia” with a demeanor as to expect that I would not even know or even be concerned about this part of the world.
I inform him how I spent two months in Bosnia studying human rights and post-conflict recovery. I have met people who were affected by the genocide and I have heard many stories that resonate in your mind even after you move forward in time and leave the streets of Sarajevo. Now the ‘deadly roses’ dotting the sidewalks, signs of where mortar’s penetrated the walls of an apartment building, bullet holes piercing the cement, cemeteries on hillsides filled with identical white gravestones; only the names on each providing a variance to a scene that from a distance is simply a constant reminder of what happened only a decade prior during the 1,000 Day Siege of Sarajevo. A war long forgotten by many around the globe, genocide that many of the youth today know nothing about, yet these events changed the lives of many who were faced with the daily effects of neighbors fighting neighbors in a conflict speared my the voices of a few coaxing the masses to fight to cleanse a region which was once a unified nation, that was once Yugoslavia.
This is when his eyes tear up, “Then you understand what I have lived through.”
Today I met a man on the streets of St. Petersburg with pain so deep within his eyes that words could never recount the stories that they have seen. Pure blue with inlets of green; as he spoke of memories the alabaster in his eyes shifted to a glossy tint of red. Tears began to rest on the tips of his eyelashes, refraining from touching his flushed cheeks, as he tries his best to hold back the memories from penetrating his every thought.
He shares with me a story of times in Sarajevo during the war…
“Walking through the park one day, I pass a group of six children between the ages of three and eight. The sounds of their voices as they play in the park carry as I continue forward. Thirty second pass from the point in which I too stepped where they now stand. The sound of shelling not uncommon to my ears, as the daily occurrence of mortars penetrating the city was the reality of war. As I glance back, these children once together playing in the park now lay on the ground, the very ground I too was standing on only 30 seconds prior. I tried to save them, it was too late. They were gone. They were taken from this world. Not from animals, not from man, from monsters. Monsters! These are not humans who take the lives of innocent children. Who not only kill but rape women, children, and even grandmothers. These are monsters. Do you hear me? Do you understand? Monsters!”
He looks deep within my soul in hopes of receiving an answer to a complex question that I am sure has resonated within his mind for the past twenty years. I have actually heard this very question leave the lips of others affected by the calamities of a natural disaster or war.
“Why am I alive, why did I survive when everyone else around me has died? Do you know how many people have lost their lives in Bosnia?”
Like a movie reel, these images play continuously and I drink. I drink to forget; I drink to feel numb from the pain. Yet I will never forget and the pain has never gone away.
Today I met a man.