Friday, July 6, 2012


Vendors selling their goods outside a metro station
The first half of life consists of the capacity to enjoy without the chance; the last half consists of the chance without the capacity. - Mark Twain

This quote now seems like a very North American sentiment. Work hard, pay your dues, save, raise your family, wait for "the golden years"... then at age 52 or 65 or 70 you can retire and follow your passions. It was the story I heard my whole life. In Alaska I met lots of university students in their 50s and 60s and beyond. The Spanish intercambio group that my mother attends in Oregon attracts several older folks. One recent foreign teacher here in Kharkov was in her 50s. But most people over 60 in Ukraine seem to have a different view of things. I don't know anyone that age who dreams of going back to school or picking up a new hobby or traveling the country. At that age most people have settled deeply into their lives and talk about devoting the remainder of their lives to their family. Grandmothers dedicate their existence to their grandchildren, and yes, while that's common in the US as well, most American grandparents have other goals in life outside of family. Maybe travel or yoga or genealogy or volunteer work. My maternal grandparents were active throughout their 80s in the local Lions club and a nearby community center.

This is a bit of a personal issue for us too, as D's parents turn down our suggestions for getting involved in the community or further education and instead feel that their place is staying home and focusing on their family. Sometimes I'll hear something along the lines of "it's too late for us to do that stuff" from them. It makes me feel sad to hear this because- true or not- there's that part of the American dream that says it's never too late. In their case though, it's one of those tragic tales where you do everything right and then the country falls apart on you and everything you worked for is gone. You paid all your taxes as a patriot and then bam! it's a new country. Your pension, your savings? Oh, yeah, we'll work something out for you. But still, even with the cost of living being what it is, it's hard to survive on $100 USD a month.

What I see in young Ukrainians (age 25 - 45) is people getting as much out of life as they can. They're not waiting for some fabled golden years, an ideal time where you can relax and take the time to do what you've put off all of these years. People here understand that it's now or never, that when they're older they will have probably neither the chance nor the capacity. People look at their grandparents selling flowers and apples outside the metro and they understand that this, only this, is their moment.

Ukraine life expectancy: male 62, female 73
US life expectancy: male 75, female 80

1 comment:

  1. You're right on the money here. I see it in my family and in many others I know. The flip side though is that people don't even try to set up their lives for a long-term success with this "now or never" philosophy. This was (and sometimes still is) one of the hardest mentality changes for me after I moved to the US. it's not only about working hard, but also about the choices you make on whatever spare time you get. How do you invest your free time, how do you go about savings, how do you secure a decent role for yourself a few years from now etc. When I go back to Kharkov to visit I see lots of people enjoying a reckless lifestyle and part of me gets all jealous because it's awesome, but my newly acquired part is baffled how careless people can be. It could be one of those things, where бытие определяет сознание :)