as always, my retrospective image of lithuania is romantic in my head. the soggy puddles have turned to dew and the soviet domes started glowing purple, and i know there is still not an inch of me that can claim lithuanian culture. it's just simply beyond me. freelanding, bravehoming american me, ignorant of occupation, unaware of the struggle to thrive in a newborn economy. but what i do know is beauty, and i know how to notice it.
in just one square of the city the age of stones range from medieval to renaissance to baroque to contemporary. i can walk down any street in old town, fingers brushing the plastered pink walls, knowing that I am touching something that is the far-off ancestor of my own great country. older than the soviet union, yes, but still many more years older than america.
on our last weekend in vilnius, the five of us took a new trolleybus route to the cemetery. hilly and wooded, the memorials and crosses rise organically out of the green earth of the cemetery. it is the resting place of heroes: lithuania's thinkers and movers, soldiers, symbolic and beloved figures like m. k. ciurlionis. in tombs or beneath simple wooden markers, all seem noble to me.
for me, this cemetery seems to mirror what i've seen of lithuania: chipped and tired but emanating beauty and rooted in what seems like history that is as old as time itself. that history is complex, and the country has been an independent state for about as long as i have been living. though i can't say who was in the right and who was in the wrong throughout the country's many decades of occupations and revolutions, i can say that lithuania inspires me with its resilience.
maybe there's too much said for "bouncing back". resilience isn't immediate and energetic recovery. resilience requires time, and grace, and hope. it's steeped in dreams and vision and innovation and yes, it often happens slowly. it's also grounded. for the resilient, for lithuania, and for me, identity is inextricable from the journey. i have learned and grown so much while living there, and i will always have a special love for this complicated, beautiful land of rain.
when i think of vilnius, a flurry of images spring up in my mind. indulge me with them, will you? red and white rickety trolleybusses with windows stamped with "made in czechoslovakia", the old man who perpetually bummed cigarettes of people at the bus stop, the stomach dropping fear of seeing the transport control police step onto the bus when i hadn't tapped on. laser lights transforming the presidential palace on culture night, plates of fries ordered from cute late night bartenders, dancing the ymca at buddha. the undulating edges of baroque cathedrals, sitting on the wooden swing with imantas, or laying on the grass underneath the sprawling trees of bernadine park and feeling the river breeze and little kids' fountain squeals. the glowing milka-purple chocolate aisle at maxima, green floaties around our waists, the supermoon and our skinnydipping bodies at the lake. the dandelion fountain, the taco guy's dreads, hot air balloons over gediminas tower, my pirate cat wallpaper. kitchen table evenings killing bugs as we talked, schemes of how to get rid of endless bowls of soup, and the agony of waking up at 9:30 for breakfast. and, most importantly, 20 something different sets of arms around my neck. "teacher". teary eyes listening to the students singing "count on me". and the rewarding, beautiful drudgery of walking up taikos programnizija's concrete steps every day.
i miss it for everything it was, but mostly for everything i was when i was there. it was beautiful. i felt beautiful. i was a certain me there that i will never be again. and that's what makes experiences like this so hard to leave.