On meteorites, MI6, and Viktor from Chelyabinsk
Last week I received a message on this very website from someone named Viktor who lives in Chelyabinsk. At first I thought some friend was having me on, so I checked the analytics page of my website provider and was shocked to discover that my site had, indeed, been accessed several times from Chelyabinsk. I've Googled Chelyabinsk and discovered that it is the seventh most-populated city in Russia, and that a meteorite exploded there seven years ago, fragments of which can be seen at the Chelyabinsk Regional Museum. If you're looking for something interesting to do once travel is again possible, maybe look into Chelyabinsk; you'd probably be the only person at some future cocktail party saying, “The other half and I had the most amazing long weekend in Chelyabinsk – you really must check out the meteorite fragments!”
Viktor wrote to me a two-line message: Greetings from Chelyabinsk in Russia. What happened to Marguerite? I've seen every James Bond film far too many times to count, so I couldn't help but imagine Viktor's cryptic message as some sort of plot key in a tale of international espionage in which I would eventually become involved. I mean, an abdominous American vicar living in Norwich would be the perfect cover for an MI6 agent – who would suspect me? – and I imagined getting the call from M, collecting my gadgets from Q, and being on the first flight out to Chelyabinsk, where I would meet up with Viktor over vodka martinis at a nightclub named Element, his deeply-accented English rising above the Russian techno music.
Eventually, of course, I admitted to myself that the reality of Viktor's contact with me was in all probability far less cinematic, and I needn't get my tuxedo out of the guest room wardrobe just yet. If Viktor had been on my website he had most likely read a thing or two there, and the Marguerite he mentioned certainly referred to someone about whom I had written a couple of times, a colourfully-dressed woman who appeared by the river one day last April and whom I haven't seen since the 13th of May.
I wasn't entirely sure how to respond to Viktor's query. I didn't want to make him feel bad – either because Marguerite's whereabouts are unknown or because he hadn't understood that I don't really know the woman whom I decided to call Marguerite. So I wrote back: Dear Viktor, Thanks for getting in touch. I'm not sure what's happened to Marguerite, but if I know her like I think I do, I'm sure she's somewhere adding colour and kindness to the lives of the people around her. I hope you are able to find colour and kindness in your own life in this difficult period. Best wishes, Alaric. P.S. I'm curious: How did you come to know about my website?
As of this morning I've not heard back from Viktor in Chelyabinsk. Perhaps he's been captured by an insidious international criminal cartel and I am going to have to get my tux out of the guest room wardrobe and hotfoot it to Chelyabinsk to rescue him. (Where I'll find the time, I have no idea, but I feel I can't say no to Her Majesty's Secret Service.) Perhaps there's no criminal element involved at all, and maybe he works at the Chelyabinsk Regional Museum, and just hasn't had the time to write back as there's been a rush of folks clamouring to see the meteorite fragments now that the museum is open again. Perhaps – like so many people – he's fragile, just taking things one day at a time, and simply can't find the energy right now to reach out to anyone.
I'd like to think, though, that our Marguerite has made her way to Chelyabinsk. Maybe Viktor will run into her at the Element nightclub where I just know she'll be dressed to the nines. Maybe she'll be in a tour group to which he is recounting the story of 15 February 2013, when a meteor brighter than the sun appeared in the Chelyabinsk skies. Maybe they'll run into each other queuing for takeaway borscht, their smiles barely contained by the masks they are wearing. Who knows? The lack of any hard data means that really anything is possible.
Of course, something simpler may happen. Maybe Viktor – inspired by the infinite possibilities which exist in the heart of God – will find it within himself to be an agent of colour and kindness, especially to people who are fragile and just taking things one day at a time. And when he doesn't have the strength to be that agent of colour and kindness himself, I hope that Viktor can still manage to see it in the world and the people around in him, and to accept it like the excessive benediction it is. This is my hope for Viktor; this is my hope for us all.
(This, alongside the sincere hope that none of you are captured by an insidious international criminal cartel. But, if that happens, and you need rescuing, my tuxedo is ready.)