Dedicated to Oksana Vasilyevna Oksanich, 11-24-1974 to 2009

Last month, we visited our Kazakh family, that we have courtesy of you. We had such a lovely time, and were thrilled to return home with a few more photos of you. This one looks so very much like Arina:


And this one made us smile because you look lovely and happy and carefree:


Yasha told us that your new husband became violent not long after this photo was taken and that you called him and Vasiliy to come get you. They were happy to do it. You go, girlfriend. Also, ^that guy^ in the suit: what a jerk.

I wonder what happened between this relationship and your last one that made you less confident, less able to walk away from a bad situation. I imagine that you were tired . . . of poverty and worry, and that you were so *over* relationship drama. Granny said that you had “bad luck with men,” but I know at least two who are still crazy about you. Yasha and Vasiliy tell stories about their big sister Oksana, and Yasha took us to visit your grave, still lovingly kept after all this time:


It’s become a bit of a tradition with the advent of social media for people to spend the month of November writing daily “thankful” posts. I just write one: every November 24th, the day of your birth. This tradition started in 2010, the first time your birthday rolled around after we found you, and that first 24th was, actually, Thanksgiving Day. I spend the month of November now being thankful for you.

And part of being thankful for you is being infuriated with anyone who dares to insult you. Sometimes someone will look at Arina, and the conversation will go like this:

Random person: “I just don’t understand how her [birth]mother could give her up.”

Me: “We’re so very privileged, aren’t we? It’s hard to imagine the poverty, the desperation, that so many people experience.”

Random person: “Oh, I’d never give up my child – ever.”

More often than not, perfectly manicured fingers and perfectly highlighted hair are attached to such comments. You know, and I know, that they have *no* idea what they’d do.

Because poverty is hard. It’s also become kind of a thing, here, to “hate on the poor.” I was with a group of people this past week who — seemingly out of nowhere — started a “let’s hate on the poor” conversation. When it happens, I always think of you and our Kazakh family, and feel a blaze of anger, and have a kinda out-of-body “is this happening?” experience, and start formulating all sorts of things to say, and often miss my opportunity to say them, because the conversation moves on while I sit, frozen . . . before I’m ready, before I’m even able to recover and return to normal human functions.

I hate myself when this happens, and I feel like I’ve failed you, our Kazakh family, and Arina:


But, I try to “make it right” when I mess up, when I miss opportunities, and one of the ways to do that is to share your story, and the stories of others: like this one that I posted on my Facebook page today.

And I let people know, in whatever clumsy way I can, how much you mean to us. So many people consider you and yours “the least of these,” without realizing that wisdom texts in religion after religion teach us that we’ll find everything worth having exactly where you are — in the place that’s hard, human, raw and inexpressively beautiful.

I always think of you in November, but I’ve thought of you more than usual this entire year, because I’ve been preparing to teach and am currently teaching Victor Hugo’s Les Misérables. We finished the 2012 film last week, and I confessed to my class what Scott and I have always said . . .

. . . we don’t know if Jean Valjean’s is an end-of-life experience on which we can count, but if it is, neither of us want to go anywhere at that moment with anyone but you.

All our love.