Words, as is well known, are the great foes of reality”- Joseph Conrad, Under Western Eyes. An Émigré From Utopia When I was a medical student, assigned to the surgical ward, I had an elderly Russian émigré patient, who underwent major abdominal surgery, followed by multiple bleeding episodes requiring more operations. He remained in the hospital a long time, during which we spent many hours together. He told me tales of Mother Russia, its people and his own hair-raising saga of survival. Since my own ancestors came from Russia, one step ahead of pogroms, I was naturally interested in his stories. To a young student living comfortably in America, these were real life, harrowing tales of narrow escapes from fanatical and blood thirsty revolutionaries bent on exterminating the old aristocracy, into which he’d been born. I’d read about such people in Joseph Conrad novels, but to meet an actual living, breathing one was fascinating. Among other things, he was unusually tolerant of pain and suffering, regarding this latest threat to his physical survival with equanimity; his attitude seemed to be “I have survived worse.” He had. He deeply loved America. When I asked him what he thought was the appeal of revolutionary Communism, he smiled as if he had given the question much thought, then replied: “nostalgia”. I have never forgotten that answer, though at the time I forgot to ask, “nostalgia for what?”. Now after 50 plus years of close observation of the human psyche, I think I know.
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