Ukrainian hitchhikers still alive?
We were sitting together in the front of my green sedan when my wife told me the news. “Hi daddy” was written right there on her belly, our first child greeting me for the first time! Oh wow! Those two words transformed us from a couple into a family, the possibilities of life and generations expanding out in front of us.
I had met up with my wife part of the way home from my hunting trip so we could pick blueberries along the coast of one of those fishing towns that get more inches of rain per year than there are permanent residents. Autumn in Alaska is magical. We still had several hours to drive home with our meat, our berries, and our spark of new life.
Not far down the highway, my wife noticed three hitchhikers holding a sign with our hometown’s name on it. They were so young. “We need to pick them up,” she said.
And there, on the side of the road in Alaska, we met Ukrainians for the first time.
Two young men, one woman, they were spending the summer working in a fish cannery as part of a gap-year travel visa. After this adventure, they told us in their spotty yet conversational English, they would return home, probably never to travel again. But they had spent most of their time working in a cannery, and on this weekend, they set out to see the sights and meet some Americans.
We were some of those fortunate Americans.
We chatted for hours, and I invited them over for dinner. We all squeezed into the cabin we were renting, and cooked them enchiladas. They were not impressed with the food, but they were extremely polite about it. We probably should have made something more classically American, like hamburgers, or pizza. Everyone likes pizza. Oh well.
Throughout the drive, throughout the conversations, I had this seemingly sacred secret hovering in my mind, this new life, our new child, growing within my wife. It seemed to imbue the whole event with energy. Vibrant young Europeans seizing opportunities and adventures. Spontaneous meals with strangers. A growing family.
We all felt so at peace and so alive.
My son is now ten years old, and I often wonder about our Ukrainian hitchhikers. After dropping them off a final time, we never saw them again and we now have no way to reach them. We will never know if he finished his computer training. Or if their relationship lasted.
Or if they have families and children of their own.
Or if they are still alive.
If they are alive, they are probably fighting a war right now. Defending their homeland, defending their people. Defending the mothers and children and unborn families scattered across their nation.
And now, as I prepare to visit and begin work in Ukraine with the Novi team, I’m thinking of those friends so long ago, thinking that now it is my turn to be the guest. And that sense of sacredness comes sneaking back.
Because in the last decade, I have experienced the depth of parenthood, discovered the significance of children, endured blows of tragedy, and felt the exhilaration of adventure. And I have a conviction that grows simpler and more profound as the years go by:
Life is sacred.
As I think of my Ukrainian friends, I know deep down that human beings are not made for war. We are made to travel and eat with strangers and walk among mountains and give rides to teenagers and find love and pick berries and make babies and help those babies grow into young people who will seek their own adventures and serve their people and build their communities.
Novi is going to Ukraine because war is a direct threat to the sacred expression of life. So while my long lost friends are probably directly defending against invaders, I will be working to strengthen the next generation of adventurers and builders and creators. I may never see my three friends again, but I know we are part of the same community.
The people of Ukraine are part of our community, and though it took war to bring us together this time, we are working together to build strength and resilience in us all.