Where but for the grace of god go I.

I don’t usually throw around Catholic / Christian memes like this.

… But in this case I can’t think of an expression that captures the feeling more accurately.

Lately, I’ve been really busy at work. We’re finally making the cut to a new build system (geeky details elided for now and will appear in a later, blog only post).

That has been sucking up a big chunk of my waking hours and more of my consciousness than I’d like, but that will change shortly and I love my job so c’est la vis.

However, when I’m not working, or spending time with my lovely wife, I’ve been reading.

Lately I’ve been obsessed with Alan Furst novels. They’re set before and/or during the WWII era and range all over Europe.

The last two novels in particular focus on life in the pre war Russian secret service – the NKVD.

First of all, I just want to take a minute to gush. I didn’t realize how much I could enjoy historical fiction until I encountered this author. I have yet to read another author’s work that compares to the kind of lush historical and cultural detail Furst expertly weaves into the story in these books. He has taken the time to research all the little things (idioms of speech, modes of dress, customs and folkways) that run together to create an incredibly rich tapestry that forms the backdrop for the events large and small, personal and impersonal that make these stories shine.

It’s one thing to learn in history class about the fact that there were massive purges during this era and that millions of eastern europeans died, it’s another all together to see it through one man’s eyes.

Both novels protagonists ended up on the wrong kind of lists (A likely fate for an NKVD spy of any rank, because in the pre-war era Stalin purged just about the entire Soviet intelligence community, as well as most ranking officers of the army) and defecting, trying to find a new life among the refugees safe from the assassin’s bullet.

I am ceaselessly amazed by the potential and even the penchant that mankind has for eradicating itself. I realize this is human nature, but it just doesn’t make sense at such a deep level of my psyche that I find myself shaking my head at it when I encounter it as if each time were the first.

The moral of this story is quite simple: It’s very easy to become mired in the day to day travails of our lives and careers, but it’s definitely worth standing back for a moment and taking stock of just how good we all have it.

None of us (I should hope anyway!) has to wake up every morning thinking: “Is today my day? Do I get a bullet or a paycheck?” and that’s saying something.


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