Friday, February 1, 2008

Fleeting Life

“2 Mormon boys found dead with Russian vodka.”

A screeching set of tires accompanied by a generous amount of horn honking announced the arrival of our long awaited associate. With a grin, Sándor beckoned us to sit in the front seat of his van with him. As I closed the door the incredible sensation of fear struck my heart, I would never be the same after this ride with a Russian.

The undeniable aroma of Russian vodka spoiled the air all ready polluted by the haze of cigarettes. Russian pop music exploded from the speakers in an attempt to overpower the thunderous thumbing of my heart. We set out in this brazen state towards Sándor’s home. The city limits of Budakeszi approached and then passed, leaving us on an unknown forested road. As I looked over at our chauffeur's un-zipped vinyl black vest that exposed his hairy naval, a headline flashed through my weary mind: “2 Mormon boys found dead with Russian vodka.”

The fast paced rhythm of the Russian pop music became the companion to my racing heart beat. Our winding pathway soon found an inlet to the main freeway and all thoughts of vodka murder left my mind. A new curtain of terror closed upon my window of life as we began gathering speed. Cars began to slide from in front, to beside, to behind us in an alarming rate. At 150 kilometers per hour the music was enhanced in quantity by Sándor's slightly slurred voice singing in complete ignorance of the melody. At 160 kilometers per hour my companion's hand found mine. The condensation produced through perspiration and anxiety pooled in our white knuckled palms. At 170 kilometers per hour the passing cars only seemed to be blurred in the ever increasing prospect of death. My mind swam through the swift currents of thought, forcing myself to question the validity of being in this car on this strange path. I was an American missionary living in Hungary, a misfit. Sándor was a Russian immigrant living in Hungary, a misfit. He and I shared the title of foreigner in this ancient country. We were the cultural discrepancy, a salad bowl of cultures, beliefs and backgrounds. Yet, we were hurdling down an unfamiliar road together. I found myself hanging onto the hinge of memories. Death had found me in this unexpected time and place. Regrets, embarrassing moments, lost dreams coupled with laughter, singing, achievements, familiar faces and peace invaded my vulnerable mind. All the while the taunting question, “Do you like the music boys?” came from the Russian's nicotine infested lips over and over and over.

A swift turn of the wheel and a sudden squeal of rubber found us once again on a forest path. Re-occurring terrors of newspaper obituary clippings flashed through our defenseless minds. Our all-consuming panic escaped us when we came to an abrupt halt next to a beautiful park. Russia’s modern melodies blasting, the windows rolled down and with a delighted smile, Sándor watched two young people enjoying the savory taste of each other's lips. In this moment of love all thoughts of horror left us as our captor reveled in his vacation from the rational mind. Smiles replaced the wrinkles of fear on our faces as the prospect of death passed.

The chaos of his driving stopped the moment we crossed the threshold of his humble home. Upon arriving, Sándor introduced us to his wife, Zsuzsa, a pure Hungarian. Zsuzsa injected yet another ingredient to this international recipe. Their lives were filled with turmoil, fast-paced events and uncertainty. They traveled the highway of life much like Sándor drove. “I left Russia to find peace,” Sándor explained to us. “But life is hectic and I cannot find the peace that I have searched for.” Looking into the eyes of these two individuals while expressing the convictions of my heart, I saw a spark. A dormant ember was being fanned and it took life. The glow that I myself had found years ago began to burn brightly in their eyes. “I came to this country to meet you. I came to this country to spread this peace that you feel,” I concluded at the end of our meeting. Our fleeting lives crossed paths for a few precious hours. All people are different, but similar chords can be struck between them that have eternal resounding echoes. If the veils of heaven could be pushed aside and the expansive volumes of life could be viewed, we would see the eternal ripple of each moment, each individual and each memory that defines who we have become. Cultures fade as hearts are opened and lives are touched.

And so it happened, we survived the Russian vodka, the Russian pop-music and the wreck less Russian driving. I will never be the same after this ride with a Russian and neither will he. The unknown road will never be as bleak or abandoned if we find peace. The power of peace preserves the defining moments of the past, gives us guidance in the present, and hope for the future.