Friday, October 13, 2006

And Now, For Something Serious

It's shaping up to be another very rough work week. There is a lot of work to get done between now and Monday, when final extensions on personal tax returns expire, and not enough hours or people to do it. It's 1 a.m. and I just got home. I am spent. On the drive home, I was trying to put my own circumstances into perspective. In those 40 minutes, I was transported back to the real life story I mentioned briefly in this post. And now, I am reminded that this too shall pass, and nobody is likely to die in the process. With tax returns, the worst case is it doesn't get done and there will be penalties to pay. Most problems can be resolved with money. As usual, I was reminded that accountants do not make the world go round. In fact, I don't think the world would be any worse off if suddenly there were no more accountants. We essentially legislated our own existence and we have nearly extinguished ourselves as well. But I digress...I've got a hefty billing rate to live up to (like that is even possible) and a blog to maintain.

Plus I have a war story to tell. Understand that this is from a small-Midwestern-town American girl's perspective and sheds very little light on the hows and whys of a war that I can never hope to understand, given the sheltered existence that I have been blessed to live. If I appear to take sides in this story, it is only because this is the only side I know. There are always two sides.

As I've mentioned, my husband hails from Croatia. He was born there and grew up there but left at the young age of 14, to join the Yugoslavian Navy (for the obligatory year of service) and then the Merchant Marines. When he left, he went alone, leaving all of his family behind. His intent was to ultimately make his home in the United States, a dream he had had since he was 6 years old when he remembers his mother having to sneak to church in fear of persecution and his father having to wear a gold star to identify him as a member of the Communist party (against his will). He wanted nothing to do with the Communist regime that held the forced make-shift country of Yugoslavia together since WWI (most Croatians will not even utter the word "Yugoslavia" because it brings up memories of oppression, corruption and evil).

And so it came to be. My husband left "Yugoslavia," came to America (first to San Francisco, then to Beverly Hills where he worked as domestic help for the movie stars...Cher, Gene Hackman, Zsa Zsa, are just some of his past employers...but he does not cherish those memories). He decided to stay awhile, he obtained Permanent Residency, he worked hard, left Beverly Hills for a more "real" existence on the Central Coast of California where ultimately, he met me some 20 years later. He had returned to his homeland only a couple of times, but not in years. A few years later, we were eeking out a meager existence and living paycheck to paycheck when my husband announced that he had been having a recurring dream about his mother and he really wished he could return to Croatia to see her. Afterall, it had been 20 years at that point and she wasn't getting any younger! Not to mention there was a war going on and some of his siblings had just spent six months living in a bunker. Life was a little uncertain for all of his family at that time. We could ill afford to make such an expensive trip and now did not exactly seem like the perfect time to be traveling to the region, what with a war going on, but my husband was persistent and eventually convinced me that we "needed" to do this. We asked my mom for a loan which she happily obliged and we made our trip reservations. Looking back, there has never been a moment in my life when it was clearer what God intended. Always listen to that small voice inside your head that often comes during the still of night.

When we finally arrived (and oh, what a laborious trip it was, but there is not time to tell that story...suffice to say that we went without sleep for over 48 hours and managed to take every mode of transportation I can think of short of pack animals, surprising as that may be), his mother was overjoyed to see him. Words cannot express. We all cried endless tears of joy. What a blessing for him to be with his family and for me, just to meet them all. We stayed for two weeks and spent all of that time with family, no sightseeing. His two closest nephews (because of their ages, they were more like brothers) were always dressed in fatigues and ready to head out the door on a moment's notice. The streets were patrolled heavily by armed militia. Country roads were travelled by U.N. convoys and guarded by both Croatian and Serbian armed troops, depending on where you were. I was never sure if we were on friendly or enemy territory. Although we managed to time our trip "in between" flare-ups (at that time of course, we did not know we were "in between" and hoped that it was "over"), the constant sight of guns everywhere and bomb damage was unsettling, to say the least.

When we arrived, his mom seemed perfectly healthy. When we left, she was feeling flu-like symptoms and told my husband that she knew this would be the last time she saw him before heaven. She was right. In a remarkable display of God's perfect timing, she passed away within three weeks of our departure. It was almost like she had been waiting for that last chance to see her son before she would let herself be taken.

Less than two years later, his oldest (and everybody's favorite) sister, the one who cared for his mother and the one with whom we stayed, also died unexpectedly, of stomach cancer.

And then, several months after she died, her son and the son of another sister, were killed in this operation. Thank God she did not have to bury her own son, although her husband did, and less than a year after that he also died, of a heart attack.

This left a gaping hole in the family and we had a difficult time grasping God's plan, but we were thankful that He did lead us to them before it was too late to share those last few hugs and prayers. This made our most recent visit, in Dec, 2004, a very difficult one. It included a very painful, but therapeutic, visit to the cemetery. It was at the cemetery where I realized the magnitude of the sacrifice his nephews had made. Until then, until I read the date on their tombstones, I did not realize that they died in the most critical battle of the war, the final battle, the one that ended the war with a victory for Croatia that at last, secured Croatia's freedom. I didn't know this because it was a long time after they were killed that my husband even told me what had happened. It was just too painful for him to talk about.

They were two of 174 Croatian soldiers who died in that battle. But possibly hundreds of thousands of lives were lost, on both sides, throughout the war. Those lives can never be replaced. I'm not endorsing war as a solution to world problems, but I do think that there are times, given human nature, when nothing else will do, to stop the torture, the abuse, the absolutely deplorable circumstances that some people must endure because of the despots who make it so. And sadly, innocent civilians die in the process. When talking to the nephews, they knew absolutely that they were called to fight for their country. I have never seen countrymen more proud of their heritage. They spoke with a twinkle in their eye, of what they saw for their country's future. They were not young kids. They were both roughly 40 years old when they were killed. They had lived reasonably full lives, much of it frustrated by the government under which they lived. It's difficult for us to fathom the strain that comes from an oppressive government. I don't think most people in America who are impoverished are so for lack of opportunity. But I saw it firsthand over there, in the blank stares and cold stone smile-less faces, in the shopkeepers dressed in color-coded smocks with absolutely no motivation to sell us a thing, in the bus ticket salesmen too busy smoking to bother selling us a bus ticket, in the farmer's markets devoid of all fresh fruits and vegetables, in everything. But I also saw in the nephews' eyes hope for a brighter future and courage to fight for what they knew was theirs. They knew that death was a possibility and they faced it with faith and knowledge that God is good and would take care of His good and faithful servants. Their enthusiasm was contagious. My husband was convinced he wanted to stay and fight also. He had dreamed of this since he was a child, the opportunity to give the people back their country. His nephews died doing what meant more to them than anything and by all accounts, their mission was accomplished. Yes, it is sad that they and so many had to die, but the country that we visited last year was not the country we visited in 1993. This country is beautiful and vibrant and alive! And what a rich history! If ever you get the chance, it is a wonderful place to visit. The city of Dubrovnik is a real treasure (the link is to an abbreviated photo album of our last visit) that was nearly destroyed in the war but has since been restored. And if you go, remember to honor those fallen soldiers who helped bring it back to life.


At 8:02 AM, October 13, 2006, Blogger Rach said...

Thank you for posting this...

At 11:42 AM, October 13, 2006, Blogger DarkoV said...

Beautifully painful witness' eyeview. Had a chance to re-visit my homeland 2 summers ago. My wife and I were sitting in one of Dubrovnik's many little kavanas. The waitress came over to get our order and I asked her about the holes in the walls of the surrounding buildings.
"Bullets and bombs", she said. "They've fixed the windows, doors, and roofs. The holes, they'll leave. It's difficult to remember and sometimes easy to forget. The holes will let us remember."

Thanks for telling us part of your story.

At 11:57 AM, October 13, 2006, Blogger beth said...

Wow, Gwynne.

Thanks for this.

At 1:29 PM, October 13, 2006, Blogger Gwynne said...

Thank you guys for your comments.

DarkoV, it is a thrill to know that at least one reader knows the beauty that is Dubrovnik, and it goes beyond those thick stone walls, doesn't it? It is in the human spirit. When I asked essentially the same question, I was told about the clean-up efforts following the and women literally washed down the walls and the streets on their hands and knees, with buckets and brooms, mops and sponges. Wow! I'm so glad you had a chance to revisit.

At 5:18 PM, October 13, 2006, Blogger Eric said...

This is why blogging is important.

Thank you for sharing.

At 9:15 PM, October 13, 2006, Blogger Bret said...

Thanks for the reminder of why I love maps so much. You look at the outline -- shifting and being renamed rapidly -- of these strange-looking names, and realize there are so many emotional stories behind each dot on the page.

And for the reminder of just how fortunate most of us really are.

At 6:13 AM, October 14, 2006, Blogger mis_nomer said...

G, thank you for taking time out of your busy schedule to write this. If I ever get the chance to visit Croatia, I will remember to honor the fallen soldiers.

At 10:57 PM, October 14, 2006, Blogger Gwynne said...

Eric, thank you. It's nice to have appreciative readers like you who are willing to listen.

Bret, I love maps too. I am often guilty of becoming as engrossed in reading a map as I might a good book. And it's interesting how the boundaries, while moving frequently and arbitrarily, are also cause for so much pride and strife. But I hadn't thought about it in terms of the "stories behind each dot" before...true that! ;-)

Mis_nomer, I have no doubt that you will. ;-)

At 9:50 AM, October 15, 2006, Anonymous Anonymous said...

you know what gywnne? you tell things very eloquently. You're a good writer. i have enjoyed everyone of your stories of your life. and the fact you take the time out from the pressures of your work to keep up the blog, tells me you are an extremely loyal person, and this posts also shows how much you value loyalty. I'm encouraged to know that you will most likely be around in this here blogosphere for a long time to come......

i recently read this girls post of her vacation to croatia. and now i know she could not have enjoyed it so...if it had not been for your family.

At 12:00 PM, October 15, 2006, Blogger Gwynne said...

Susie, don't encourage me, girl! You know better than that! ;-)

Huh? What's that? Oh, okay.

My Mom says to say, "thank you."

Thank you, Badoozer. 8-}

And thanks for the link to The Far Side...I'll go check it out.

At 7:46 PM, October 15, 2006, Blogger Cowtown Pattie said...


Wonderful (and sad)story. You were very kind to share.

Still amazing to me after three years of blogging how much fun and vibrant it is to discover folks through this medium...

At 8:20 PM, October 15, 2006, Blogger Catez said...

I came over from Eric's blog. This is a moving and powerful post.

I'm not endorsing war as a solution to world problems, but I do think that there are times, given human nature, when nothing else will do, to stop the torture, the abuse, the absolutely deplorable circumstances that some people must endure because of the despots who make it so.

I agree - that's how I think too. I think of Nazism and what the world would be like if it hadn't been stopped. War is awful, but what some people would do if they were not stopped is worse I think.
Thanks for the real and thought provoking post.

At 1:45 PM, October 16, 2006, Blogger Gwynne said... much fun and vibrant it is to discover folks through this medium...

CP, that it is! The whole blogosphere makes the world a much smaller place.

Catez, thank you so much. Your words mean a lot to me. :-)


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