Alexei Panshin's The Abyss of Wonder




    However, there is more to my father's story than just being blessed by benefactors and kissed by dumb luck.  He didn't make it to America only by being wafted there on fortunate breezes.
    If you look beyond the superficial fortuities, you can see that Dad made a number of decisions at critical moments that were all his own.  And these had a determining effect on what happened to him.
    The first vital decision that he made -- along with some but not all of his fellow students -- was to enlist in the White Army.  That was a statement that he wasn't going to stay in Voronezh any longer, but was going to do something about his situation.
    The second major decision he made was to defy army and medical authority, and rise from his bed, ignore his pain, and limp after Ivan through the streets of Ekaterinodar when no one else in the hospital was ready or able to do it.
    The third decision he'd made was to attempt to cross the Caucausus Mountains in winter with General Savin when he might have chosen instead to remain behind in Russia with Ahmed.
    And his last crucial decision was to follow Ivan out the door into the ongoing snowstorm when it seemed that only a miracle would be enough to get them over the pass to an unknowable future.
    Even when it all looked like nothing but a bad dream to him, my father's feet had still kept moving.

    In fact, what I really think happened was this:
    I don't think that the bad dream had just begun for Dad when he spoke of it to Ivan before they left the base camp.  I think that the nightmare had started long before that, back in Voronezh.
    Life in Voronezh must have seemed incomprehensibly weird to my father.
    He'd done his best to pretend that he was living a normal life as a botany student in spite of the capriciousness and hostility of the Communist rulers of the city.  But day by day his family's possessions had continued to slip away from them and the possibilities of his future to grow more uncertain, and the only hope they had of any protection from sudden, arbitrary destruction was the Red cavalry unit that had taken over their stables, occupied half the house and chopped their orchard down.  And all the while his father was there to tell him that everything that had gone wrong in the world was the fault of people like him who'd lost proper respect for traditional authority, as though if Dad had just been willing to go back to church, all would have been well.
    There was madness all around him.  And I think that my father wanted nothing more than to be in some saner place than this where it was possible to live a rational life.  I think that he wanted it so much that he made it come true.
    He didn't accomplish this by rational means, however, because that wasn't possible.
    Instead, the method that he adopted -- although, of course, Dad would never be capable of admitting it either then or later, not even to himself -- was to act like the innocent, good-hearted, foolish youngest son in one of Tihon the coachman's folk tales.  He had just followed his nose and put one foot in front of the other until almost magically he'd found himself over the mountains and across the sea.
    Or, to put it another way:
    My father wanted desperately for the bad dream of his current life in Russia to be over.  But since there wasn't any reasonable thing to be done about it, every decision that he made, he'd necessarily had to make by intuition -- his nose had told him what to do.  And all those unreasoned decisions put together amounted to a fundamental resolve to keep on moving until he'd walked through the bad dream and out the other side.
    I think the fundamental difference between Dad and the rest of his platoon which made every difference was that he really really wanted to be some other place entirely and he never stopped until at last he found himself there.
    And if it took the good will of other people and more than one miracle for it to happen, well, that's the way things work in this world:  Good will -- like the good will that was shown to my father by Ivan -- is attracted by a determination to persevere.  And miracles are able to happen -- or are perceived as happening -- only when they are absolutely necessary.
    But this assistance was just the means for my father to get to the sort of place that he was secretly longing to be.  And the evidence of what he actually had in his heart of hearts all along is the moves he made when he wasn't under any outside authority or following anybody else's direction, and when the opportunities that were available to him didn't have the appearance of miracles.
    It was his choice to go to the United States.  And I don't believe that it was just an accident, but rather highly significant, that in order to qualify to go there, my father had to pass an academic examination.  I think this was a confirming sign for him, and that nothing less would have been acceptable.


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