One of my most vivid childhood memories revolves around an event from February of 1980. Yes, I bet that you remember it, too: the Miracle on Ice; the United States’ dramatic triumph over the Soviet Union in Olympic hockey. Yeah, baby. It still gives me goose bumps.
Now I have to admit something. I can’t say that I actually watched the famous game on TV or that I heard Al Michaels’ legendary call, “Do you believe in miracles?” with my own ears. What is seared onto my brain, though, is a replay of that classic game that took place in our driveway the day after.
I was six years old at the time. One of my older brothers commanded me, as usual, to get my butt outside and play. Dutifully, I put on my snow pants and coat and trudged out the back door. He handed me an old garage-sale hockey stick and pointed to the makeshift net. “You be the CCCP goalie,” he ordered, adding, “I’ll be Eruzione.”
The self-appointed captain then proceeded to pepper me, over the next 20 minutes, with about five hundred point-blank slap shots. I saved a few, I suppose, just by standing there. But, mostly, he put the tennis ball that we used as a hockey puck into the back of the net and called out at the top of his lungs after each and every goal, “DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES? YES! DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES? YES! DO YOU BELIEVE IN MIRACLES? YES!”
It really wasn’t fair. My brother got to be the good guy, the American, the winner. I had to be the bad guy, the Commie, the loser. I think I finally went into the house crying, distraught at being forced to play the role of a hated Soviet.
And, boy, how we hated those Soviets. Remember? I had no idea why I hated the Soviets, but I sure knew that as a red-blooded American, I was supposed to hate them. My parents and teachers certainly never planted the idea in my mind. And I wasn’t old enough to understand political conflict. But, somehow, probably by watching Olympic sports or catching bits of the TV news, I considered the Soviet Union and its people to be the ultimate enemy.
Hollywood did its part, a few years later, to keep those feelings burning with the release of the movies, Red Dawn and Rocky IV. Who can forget the scene in which Russian airborne troops drop out of the sky as Patrick Swayze, Charlie Sheen, and C. Thomas Howell look on from their classroom window? And who can forget Ivan Drago - Rocky’s rock-solid nemesis - and his menacing, “I must break you.” Boy, did we hate the Soviet Union! As a kid, I would never, ever, ever, ever have imagined that I’d someday step foot on Russian soil.
Well, fortunately for us all, things can change for the better in this world. Things do change for the better. And they can change relatively quickly. This summer - just a few decades after the Miracle on Ice and 20 years since the official end of the Cold War (and the end of the Soviet Union) - my wife, our two sons, and I had the opportunity to visit St. Petersburg, Russia. It’s one of the most beautiful cities I have ever seen, and the people there are beautiful, friendly, and hard working.
On our tour, we saw lots of interesting sights: some of the world’s greatest art being admired by thousands of visitors to the Hermitage; numerous sets of happy brides and grooms walking through the city on a sunny day; and children crawling on defunct Soviet tanks, as if they were jungle gyms, at a museum.
In just one generation’s time - think of it, just one short generation - a new perspective has replaced the old. My boys, ages six and four, are able to look at the world with their young eyes and make their own judgments. And they determined for themselves: Russia is pretty cool. And I think it’s pretty cool that they have a positive impression of the country. It gives me hope for the future.
As political strife and religious scuffles continue across the globe, we can all take heart in the fact that things can change for the better. Today’s so-called enemies don’t have to be tomorrow’s enemies. It is possible to put aside hatred and find a more peaceful way to exist. For the sake of the next generation, let’s all try our best to help make that happen.
I think we can all agree that Charlie Sheen is in no shape to protect the United States from any menacing invaders anymore.