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Flowers in the Metro

Russians have special traditions involving the buying and giving of flowers for friends and loved-ones. Students and friends here have explained to me multiple times that you one can only purchase and present odd numbers of flowers on special occasions like birthdays and holidays. Even flower shop owners will refuse to sell you an even number of flower stems in a bouquet - it's a very exact and delicate science here.  Even though I'd heard explanations and reasons before, they remained very nebulous and obtuse to me.  "You just don't do it."    

On Tuesday, the 30th of March, one day after the tragic metro explosions that shook the city, I finally grasped the full sense of those traditions.  As we boarded our metro wagon, I was alarmed to see passenger after passenger holding two flowers.  Young people had pairs of red carnations; older people had sets of two roses.  I have never in my experience in Russia thus far seen even numbers of flowers in the hands of Russian people, it is such social taboo; honestly, it was a bit unnerving.  These passengers, like Dan and myself, were traveling to the two metro locations which had been hit the day previous, to mourn with the city after the tragedy the day previous.  Memorials had been constructed at each metro location and near them, shrines of flowers, icons, candles, and mourners gathered to grieve together.  Even numbers of flowers are for these kinds of occasions:  when the unthinkable and unconceivable happen, when innocent lives are ended abruptly, when death comes unexpectedly and tragically.  I will never forget this poignant and living explanation. 

When we arrived at the first memorial, we bought our first ever (and hopefully last) pair of flowers to lay on the memorial.  The atmosphere was uncontrollably emotional.  We mourned with the city over these losses, unable to stop the tears, and unable to find consolation.

"At this place on the 29th of March 2010 on the wagon of the metro, a terrorist act occurred, resulting in the death of people. In this station there will be a memorial plaque."

Tragedy like this is alive and present in the hearts and minds of every person braving their daily commute on this metro which was just a week ago necessary even mundane, but now suddenly terrifying and anything but commonplace.  There was, one week ago, an unspoken social norm for riding the metro never to look at other passengers.  One could gaze blankly at advertisements, read one's book, or play games on one's cell phones, but looking at other people riding along was unacceptable.  But now, and who knows for how long, that social norm has been swallowed by fear.  Eyes of passengers flit from face to face, looking, wondering, fearing with whom one may be sharing a wagon.  Fear has descended over the city, it's dark grasp almost tangible over people here.  Please pray for us and for this city.

For I know that my Redeemer lives,
  and at the last he will stand upon the earth.
And after my skin has been thus destroyed,
  yet in my flesh I shall see God,
whom I shall see for myself,
  and my eyes shall behold, and not another.
 My heart faints within me!


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