In the past few years, women in Russia have become much more independent in judgement and are noticeably in better command of their lives. A glamorous representative of the new generation of independent-thinking ladies is Maria Gorodova, who has quite a lot to say on how to survive in a crisis and make the most of the worst of situations to prosper in the future.
“I’ve struck on a new understanding of life”, Maria said. “No one owes us anything, be it our parents or the government. I can rely on myself only. This understanding came to me along with the new historical era in Russia a few years ago. For some, this historical turn entailed a grandiose inner transformation. But, as at any time, the future of an individual depends very much on their own efforts. We were promised a happy life and a bright future in the old days. But, it has turned out to be far more complicated. We cannot expect life to confer presents on us all the time because, as the advertisers assure us, we deserve them. To accept your life as it is is very difficult and costs a tremendous inner effort”.
Maria became aware of this about six years ago, when her husband died in an accident saving another person’s life. All of a sudden, Maria, a housewife then, found herself on her own with her two children, no means of support, and with no one to rely on. “We lived in Kursk then, and it was 1998”, Maria recalled. “I was a housewife with a university degree in biotechnology. Tragedy struck overnight. My husband, a reporter for the Krestyanka (Peasant Woman) Publishing House, died in an accident and I was confronted with the problem of how I was going to carry on and raise the kids. That was a devastating personal drama that I went through. I soon came to realise that I ought to build up my life so as to spare the children the emotional stress they were suffering in the wake of the tragedy. I knew I had to protect them against this evil, to protect their fragile inner worlds against the shocking realities of the world around them”. The tragedy in which Maria’s husband died, in his attempt to save an 18-year-old orphan and dying with him as a result, struck those close to her as the greatest unfairness. It was a model family by every standard, solid and flourishing, but, it was hit by a crippling crisis.
“When we hear of a tragedy, we all secretly hope that it’ll spare us”, Maria said. “It’s a psychological trick of sorts and it often goes back on us. So, we come to realise eventually that it may happen to any of us. What becomes important after you’ve been caught by a disaster is your idea of survival. In my case, I think, a devastating psychological blow did not prevent me from taking the right decision”.
Psychologically, the decision Maria went for under the circumstances couldn’t be better, at least for the time right after the tragedy. To spare herself and the children the emotional stress of living in an environment closely associated with the memories of her late husband, she chose to move. A dramatic turn in her life proved the only effective remedy. “At the funeral, I was approached by the president of the Peasant Woman Publishers my husband had worked for”, Maria said. “Shattered at what had happened, she inquired what she could do for me. I said, ‘I can try to write for you, if you don’t mind’. That was an bold decision on my part, of course, because I didn’t have the proper qualifications for the job. I had tried my hand at writing short reports for a newspaper on two occasions. But, I was not a professional. To ask for such a favour was a risky stab that sprang from despair. What I knew for sure then was that from now on I ought to provide for my children”. To make things worse yet, the 1998 banking crash made every single rouble of Maria’s scarce savings worthless. But, she has always been too proud to ask for help.
“As I look back on what happened to me, I am sure I was right not to ask anyone for money”, Maria said. “You have to rely on your inner reserves at times of crisis. After I got a journalistic job at the Peasant Woman Publishing House, I rented a flat in a suburban town near Moscow. All of a sudden, I discovered that life was not treating me badly after all. Even though I had two children on my hands and had yet to secure myself a stable position with the publishing house, I felt lucky on many occasions, because people I had never seen before showed the utmost understanding and compassion towards me and my children”. The knowledge that she was not the only one surviving such a tragedy provided Maria with additional strength and willpower.
“When you meet someone you’ve never known before and this someone shows so much understanding of you, it inspires you with optimism. I commuted to Moscow for a year with my children because they wouldn’t stay alone, I kept bumping into people who helped me a lot and did so expecting nothing in return. I think they helped because they too had been helped before and they paid their dues by helping someone in their turn. There is a circulation of good and evil, I think. If someone has done you good, you have to return it”.
Maria lives in Moscow now. In the years that have passed since the tragedy, she has established herself with Peasant Woman Publishers and her rating as a journalist is very high. She replaced her late husband in his job and has succeeded in it. Her interviews with pop music celebrities and church hierarchs have earned undisguised praise and have been reprinted by a number of influential publishers.
“Journalism is a tough business”, Maria said. “I think it’s more for men than women because of the severe competition. The glossiness we all admire is no more than a veneer. But, I am happy in it, because it gives me the chance to test myself. As long as I get to do something fascinating and do it well, I don’t care about whether I have to sleep on a camp bed in the kitchen or live in other, equally uninviting, conditions. This is a concept of life that I am trying to get across to my children. Money doesn’t make much difference as long as you enjoy your work. It would be preferable, of course, to do what you like and get paid for it well. But, difficult as it is, you have to work towards it, because the feeling of self-fulfilment gets your mind off the meaningless daily worries that mar our lives. I wouldn’t say that my story has a happy ending, but, I did come out of the crisis with my head up, proud for myself and the kids. I just hope that one day my children will understand what it cost me to survive, raise them, and build up a new life for us from scratch”.
When things go badly, Maria always smiles. A smile, she said, helps you to keep yourself together. Because when people take pity on you, you find it harder to control your feelings. Keeping calm and having confidence in the future is a must when you have kids. A reassuring smile is better than any remedy, especially with children, who are so vulnerable to stress.
“A child should not see you cry. ‘You carry your smile to people and you leave your tears to God’, a popular saying goes. What is also important for children with a working mother is that they should see none of her worries when she comes home. Whatever bad an experience a mother may suffer in the process of work, she should leave it behind, so that the children should in no way be affected by it. Otherwise, they may suffer psychic or mental disorder. This is the kind of harmony I set my mind on when I am at home. The world has become much more aggressive and I see many children crack under the pressure. Ideally, a mother should stay home full-time, so that she’ll always be available to offer the kids a satisfactory explanation as to the true values of life. Explanation is vital in the age of television and advertising. But, if you work, you have fewer chances of creating such a comfortable microclimate at home. As for me, I think I am managing on both fronts”.
But, the major challenge, of course, is personal development, without which all other achievements would be just beyond access. “Progress is vital in the development of an individual”, Maria said. “I first wrote a couple of reports, then I learned to interview people, next, I went on to accumulate knowledge, and, now, I am thinking of publishing a collection of my interviews and in my mind I can see clearly how to do that. Progress stimulates you in your further development. When you see a new peak after you’ve conquered the previous one, it whips you up to scale it too. You move up step-by-step, and the steps you make keep you afloat, preventing you from going down. Being involved, feeling involved in something that takes your breath away, gives you the support you need from within. To secure your own place in the bustling world we are living in is vital to survive.
I can see many people now rushing to and fro caught in the grips of ever-changing values, not knowing where they belong. As a result, they lose their selves. But, when you address the eternal values, values that have proved true by centuries of human experience, you hit a different dimension in life and all the rest becomes secondary. This is what provides you with the potential for personal growth and helps you to survive”.
Ladies of Character
Voice of Russia World Service