09 August 2016
Dear Pavel (my messanger bag from Ukraine),
Well, it's been a good run. Four years, three months, two weeks, and three days of a good run, to be exact.
I remember the first time I saw you. I was a bright-eyed, bushy-tailed, naive young missionary, just a week into Ukraine.
In my naivety, I thought that I could "get by" with my hands and a small, simple beaded bag I had brought with me. My trainer soon helped me see the error of my ways.
[Young missionary and my wise trainer.]
She took a look at my beaded bag and then a long look at me as I tried to stuff pamphlets in it.
"You're going to need a lot more space," she said.
And she was right.
So on a warm Monday in late April, we went inside a nondescript shop on Lenin Prospekt in the city we lived in. Inside was dingy, dark, and smoke- and body-odor filled, but the shop was semi-organized. Shoes, belts, and bags filled the store.
My trainer handled the talking while I looked around for a bag I wanted. I saw you out of the corner of my eye and I knew. So when Sister Hudson asked me which one I wanted, I pointed to you.
"That one. That one up high."
To be honest, you initally caught my eye because you were an attractive messenger bag.
But what won my heart was your character, which was branded boldly on your side:
"Polo Qisi," I read. "Valued. Simple. Decent. Fashional. Classical. Humanistic."
[No one is as humanistic as you.]
But you had me at humanistic.
[Doing humanistic service with my humanistic bag.]
You were an excellent mission bag. You carried pamphlets, copies of the Book of Mormon, a Russian Bible, photos from home, my "Masha and the Bear" wallet, and often an apple or two without complaining.
You saw me through thick and thin. You came with me from city to city--Donetsk, Kharkov, Mariupol. You experienced bitter winds and balmy summers. You saw despair, anger, hope, and love in the faces of people I met. you heard stories of faith, of doubt, of miracles. Oh, the stories you could tell!
You came with me from Ukraine. I was a sadder and wiser woman; you were a worn bag. But, like the land you came from, you were resilient and had a lot of life in you still.
And me? Well, I am simultaneously lazy and resourceful. Which means I decided to keep you with me--from BYU and beyond that, to Oxford.
Again, you've experienced a lot with me--running to catch trains and planes, scores of dates, trips to Kansas, Massachusetts, London, Croatia, St. Petersburg, Red Square, the Baltics--you are a world-class traveller.
But all good things come to an end.
I noticed it a couple of months ago--back in January, I think. Your inside zipper broke off.
Then you started peeling.
That classical, decent, humanistic faux leather started coming off in bits, and then chunks. It looked like you had some kind of bag leprosy.
More recently, you've exhibited signs of aging as you've grown holes inside yourself, making it easy for me to misplace things--usually Chapstick--in the very bottom of the bag. You've also started molting more than usual. It's normal with age; don't be embarrassed.
I thought I had lost you in St. Petersburg. I was searching for something when I felt a bit of cardboard. I was afraid that I had destroyed you somehow. Instead, I found what makes you sturdy at the bottom--some sort of old Spanish cardboard box for Chicken Soup Mix. (How that ended up in a Ukrainian bag, I'll never know . . . perhpas you're really a Spanish emigree?)
But you weren't dead yet. Just roughened up a bit.
Being the good, tough bag you are, you kept fighting until I realized today that it might be better to give you a final resting spot here in Oxford.
You won't be coming back to America with me. It makes me sad, too. But we both know your time is at hand. You're on your last legs, and I'd rather leave you here in "England's green and pleasant land" than to risk that journey across the pond.
I think it is a fitting send off: leaving a piece of my Ukrainian heart with my British love. There's something symbolic about the two of you coming together in life and death.
What I'm trying to say is, thank you. For everything. I'm a better--and more organized--woman since you fell into my life four years ago.