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What Do Nikolai Gogol, Dalai Lama and Jeff Bezos Have in Common?

Beata works as a qualified primary school teacher, a councillor for drug and alcohol addiction and a farm caretaker for organic olive grow.

Mykola pushed his guns closer to his chest proudly,

“I am ready aunty, wish me luck.” He turned his mobile around...

“I am ready aunty, wish me luck.” He turned his mobile around...

He showed me around his practising ground in Lviv

where other recruits from all over the world gathered

to face the invisible tsar Putin who decided to take over

the birthplace they left for a better life.

I closed the mobile and closed my eyes to remember

a small boy I took for the first time to the theatre in Berlin

to see the translated Nikolai Gogol’s ‘Taras Bulba’.

Little Mykola was entranced by a big muscly man on the stage

carrying gunpowder for his Turkish pistol in a dangling horn

in his cossack outfit.

All the way back home Mykola pretended to fight the Poles

on the Ukrainian steppe and watch out for the tsar who

comes to get him. After he bumped into few passerby

who wondered why this tiny boy is swinging his invisible pistol

at them I took his hand firmly into mine.

“Do you know you are named after the author Mykola?”

“Is my middle name Taras?” He asked excitedly and I patted

his unruly blonde hair gently: “No but you are coming from a

stock of brave Ukrainian cossacks.” She saw his disappointment

and quickly added: “Nikolai Gogol was born in Kyiv just like you

and me and his Ukrainian name was Mykola Hohol.”

“I remember the museum we visited on Kyiv’s prettiest street

aunty when we last visited home.”

I sighed: “It was another Ukrainian author who refused to write

in Russian and was exiled to Siberia for his defiance.”

When we go into metro Mykola start to jump around around

swinging his invisible sword so I pushed him firmly to a seat

next to me: “Let me tell you a story about our famous Hohol

Dostoyevsky called the father of all modern Russian literature.”

“Was he a fighter too?” Mykola asked impatiently and I smiled

sadly: “He was born in 1809 and all what he wanted to do is

write so he moved to StPetersburg, the imperial capital and wrote

in Russian as he was ordered to do.”

“So he betrayed us, did he aunty?” Mykola jumped up from a seat

and entered the incoming train and I rushed after him: “Do not push,

let older people come first.” I looked apologetically at an old stern

German lady when I caught him finally and took him on my lap so

she could sit next to us.

She shook her head hearing us talking Ukrainian and picked up her book from her bag

to read not paying us attention to us any more.

to read not paying us attention to us any more.

“I am happy my father got a job in mines in Australia aunty,”

he whispered cautiously.

I nodded smiling: “The sun will be always

shining on us there.”

Once we got out of the metro back into an cold autumn street

the bitter wind pushed against our exposed faces so I quickly wrapped

lose woollen scarf around Mykola’s thin neck: “You don’t want to catch

another cold.”

“Why my parents name me after Hohol or Gogol aunty?” He asked

why I was pushing beanie down and I sighed: “He was an outsider

Mykola, he was forced to leave his Ukrainian soul behind in order to become

a celebrated Russian writer, he lost his soul and went mad dying tragically

in 1852.”

“Am I going to be mad too?” Mykola asked seriously and I laughed

pulling him against the wind toward the side street where we lived: “Of course not silly, it only happens when you lose sight of who you are.”

“I am an Ukrainian cossack aunty,” he proudly bumped his little chest

while trying to match his little steps with my strides. “Of course you are,”

I winked at him and quickly opened an old wooden door to let him in first.

“Did you come to seek peace, my beautiful one?” A calm voice in an

orange robe asked me on the simple gate that lead to the Buddhist

The monastery hid in the bush close to our house. I stopped suddenly confused

realising I missed the street where I live while lost in memories

after my WhatsApp call with Mykola.

“I am sorry, my nephew is in Ukraine right now fighting I was just thinking

of him, I took care of him a lot when he was young you see.”

“Join us for our breakfast,” an older Australian with balding head pushed

his robe down to cover his sneakers and showed me the way to a simple shed hidden among bushes. I nodded at him watching him close the gate again: “Are you a new Australian Dalai Lama?”

He giggled: “Funny, I am a biologist, Mike is my name, nice to meet you.”

I took a big soft outstretched hand and shook it warmly with my calloused

tanned one: “I guess the work in the laboratory is easier than growing vegetables.”

He winked at me jokingly: “It is very stressful to try to find an elixir of life, trust me.”

At that moment we entered a big hall with rows of wooden tables and people of all walks of life and nationalities sitting around sharing bowls of water, rice and steamed vegetables. An old monk this time truly looking like Dalai

Lama smiled at me kindly and offered the empty seat next to him to me.

“Welcome,” he said simply and pushed one bowl full of rice in front of me.

Mike moved to the back of the table where the girl next to him held a mobile to his face: “ Your university is not mentioned here, but google said the Founders of Altos are about to find how to reverse the process of cellular ageing.”

A lady from the other side chipped in: “I work in a bank and that startup is the most cashed up even Jeff Bezos is one of its investors.”

Mike poured the coffee in his mug looking around shyly:

“Sorry can’t live without it.”

“Sorry can’t live without it.”

He took a big gulp and smiled around...

“I am interested mostly

in reversing illnesses you know neurodegenerative , diabetes and cancer to increase what is known as health span.”

“What do you think of Mike as a biologist, is this new startup truly closer to the fountain of youth and life?” The monk next to me asked quietly.

Everyone bowed their heads in respect concentrating on their eating while

Mike nodded towards him respectfully: “One of the most important biology’s task is the maintaining of a constant internal environment in the face of

external pressure to change. If a source of cellular stress is detected…”

“You mean like now in Ukraine civilians lack the food, water or even oxygen trapped under the rubble from Russian bombs?” I bursted out suddenly wiping my tears when I suddenly felt the monk’s warm gaze at me and I looked into his eyes and suddenly calmed down when he said: “For an individual, death is inevitable. Accident, infection, a predator or

a rival will get you in the end am I not right Mike?”

Mike bowed his head down: “Yes those are external pressures and then if you survive those a potential internal one such as the activation of a cancer causing gene will get you. Like everything else in biology the process of ageing is regulated by natural selection.”

“So we are all doomed one way or the other,” sighed the lady working in a bank and picked up the bowl of water to her lips.

Mike shook his head: “Not totally, Yamanaka Shinya of Kyoto University discovered the four gene regulating proteins which serve in essence to return a cell to factory setting so your cells under stress are constantly

reset for protein manufacturing or often press the self destruct button, blowing up the cell that is becoming a locus of disease. The problem is the older we become, these reset mechanisms slow down until they stop working altogether.”

The gong echoed outside and everyone got up with the group at the end of the table staying behind cleaning up. The thin girl adjusted her orange robe while picking up the plates: “I am studying evolution at university and lots of things about ageing make sense from this perspective, genes can have an effect in old age as long as they have good ones during youth. Repairs need not be perfect, just successful enough to keep the show on the road.”

The lady from the bank laughed with a bit of irony: “I do not think Jeff Bezos

would agree with you, the elixir of youth must be very attractive to the man

who otherwise has everything.”

The monk waved at me to follow him outside towards a small monastery built at the back with a manicured garden around it.

I watching his small thin figure moving cautiously along the stone path matching his every step to his breathing as if every step was an awakening

to the inner peace and his feet were kissing the earth.

Finally he sat under one of an old eucalyptus and started to move his praying beans around on his palm.

I watched him and sighed kneeling next to him: “People just dream about resetting the clock of life, they just want to get a fresh start each time they destroy the world, just to get back to the factory setting and start all over again is that even possible?”

“You heard our biologist Mike, resetting the clock is a natural process in our bodies and the reproductive cells which create new generations get a fresh start each time with the return to factory setting. But you also heard,

anti-cancer mechanism and the immune system need to be tip-top only for the first decades of life.” He looked at me kindly and smiled: “The most people who are finding retreat here are the ones who stare death in the face, Mike just survived prostate cancer and the lady from the bank just had a brain surgery. They are all survivors.”

For a long time the monk was lost in the inner contemplation and I concentrated my mind on the black cockatoos munching on the macadamia nuts close by and budgerigars feeding on nectar. Suddenly he pointed to a shiny green beetle next to his bare feet climbing up his sandal strip.

“If we all only learn to case no more disturbance to the earth that a falling leaf or passing cloud but those Russian soldiers just want to kill my people,

I hate them so much.”

He was quiet for a while and then he replied: “ I am both the young Ukrainian child killed by a Russian soldier forced by politics and regime into a life of

killing. I am both the scared family hiding in basement in Mariupol and a bomber trying to destroy the city, the injured parrot and the cat that slyly ate it. I have no separate self, everything I do, all of us do affect the suffering of others. Suffering means feeling of anger, fear, intolerance and false hope as well as bodily pain. These were man’s enemies rather than other people.”

“But why? How can that suffering end?” I shouted suddenly impatiently angry at the monk and the world for just keep going like nothing happened.

The monk took hold of my shoulder gently and looked into my eyes with so much understanding and kindness I bowed my head again while he patted my head: “Suffering is inevitable but it can be ended by right action and awareness. Human beings had to embrace the present moment, looking neither forward nor past but dealing with things as they were.”

I quickly glanced at my mobile and quickly jumped up: “I have to run, the trucks are coming to pick the cut rhubarbs for the market I am not ready.”

I quickly bowed to the monk who kept looking at his beans and rushed

towards the gate where Mike greeted me again having a duty there: “I hope

you found what you were looking for here.”

I shrugged: “He might be a follower of Dalai Lama but he has no idea what

suffering is.”

Mike smiled sadly: “He lost all his family in Tibet in the hands of Chinese soldiers who took over his country there, anyway I have a gift from him to you.” He passed me a small watch in which each number was replaced by the word now.

I looked at him confused: “I do not wear watches anymore I have a new i-phone you can do everything on it.”

Mike nodded at me again, closing the gate behind me...

“I thought the same before I came here,

“I thought the same before I came here,

I kept buying new gadgets but it was just a way of covering my own unhappiness.

The time here is teaching me that my inventions should bring healing to the world, not only profit.”

“I grow vegetables for people,” I said proudly and he gave me a thumbs up before disappearing back into the bush: “If you wear your new watch they remind you to stop, look into your life and ask yourself what you are running from.”

“How old is your monk?” I asked suddenly thinking of the paper thin shrivelled hand I touched. Mike came back to the gate and whispered quietly: “Over ninety for sure, he does not even know he is preparing for another journey because he believes there is no birth or death, only transformation moment by moment like the passing cloud.”

“ Another displaced person on this earth who believes in living forever,” I smiled back at Mike and he shook my head for the last time: “Are we not all?”

When I reached the farm Isla, my farm hand already sat next to a big pile of rhubarb we picked last night and cut it skilfully in the required size to fit the delivered boxes. She pushed her scarf from her face pointing at the finished lot in the corner: “While you went for a run I am nearly done.”

I bent into half puffing, taking my EarPods from my ear: “I am so sorry Isla, was talking to my nephew in Ukraine again and before I visited the Buddhist temple nearby you know to find some peace, like you do praying to your God.”

She nodded handing me the box to sit on: “You know before Ukraine there was Syria I lost all my family when Russia bombed our city and they are still there, 11 years of Russia’s forgotten war 700,000 killed women and children and 7 million refugees and the world does not care.”

“I am so sorry Isla,” I sat next to her and hugged her tightly: “It is awful Isla, the war.” I truly liked this middle aged Middle East woman who worked hard

without any complaint just to feed her two little children she escaped with and to send what she could to her brother still stuck in Syria.

Suddenly she dropped the knife and covered her face with her dirty gloves: “My brother’s family was killed yesterday, all of his three little children and his wife, he said he just went to search for food among the ruin and Russian bomb fell on their house, they had no food for day,” she suddenly composed herself and continued cutting the rhubarb: “You know for you Ukrainians you have whole world on your side but for us, there is no one.”

I sighed realising for people like Isla who fled Syria in 2016 holding her newborn baby in her arms and spent years stuck in our detention centre as an unwanted criminal even tears matter no more. Her Syria is gone and her people are gone.

To cheer her up I asked: “Isla, do you know what Nikolai Gogol, the Dalai Lama and Jeff Bezos have in common?”

She shrugged...

She shrugged...

“Gogol was your writer, the other the spiritual leader who lost his country too ...

The last one the richest man in America, I guess they all are respected around the world for who they are right?”

“Gogol was your writer, the other the spiritual leader who lost his country too

I looked up thinking about her reply while she smiled with her lips while her dark eyes just starred into empty space without life: “You know if you still matter to the world, if the world cares who you are, you might lose everything but you never lose your human dignity, us Syrians we are beyond that now…”

There was nothing else to be said. Maybe the monk was right, the real enemies lie inside us not outside of us…we humans are our own worst enemies…

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