I knew from personal experience the painful and humiliating consequences of stepping out of line, even though it ended up being only a kind of flick on the nose. One November, when my daughter was a baby, my husband, Sergei, and I decided to participate in the annual celebration of the Great October Revolution. We joined the parade that marched through the streets of Sverdlovsk, to end up in the main city square, taking Julia in her stroller with us. But we soon fell out of step. It was unbearably cold, and not only was our little daughter getting cold, but we had overestimated our own endurance. We decided to find a shorter route to the central square, where loud music was playing and a voice kept shouting out cheerful words of greeting and salutation to all the marching columns with flags and banners.
When we reached the central square, we tried to join another column that was marching toward the Lenin’s monument. But our attempt to re-join the stream of marching people was suddenly stopped. Policemen and activists, red-faced from the bitter cold, began pushing us away from the edge of the crowd with rude comments. That was such a contrast to the celebration mood around us!
We felt like we were the outcast. The same destiny awaited others, who fell out of step. None of the marchers stopped and interceded for us–not even for me, a young woman with a baby. When the police got us into the side street, they gave vent to words. Swearing and filthy idioms I had never heard poured down on me. We looked frantically around, trying to find a way to escape, but the street was blocked at the end by a Black Maria police van–something I had seen only in the movies before. All of us in the side street were being shoved toward the open doors of the van, where hands reached out to grab us. I began shouting too, trying to make excuses. Then I suddenly jerked the stroller with all my strength and jumped out of the vulnerable crowd, and somehow, miraculously, we slipped away.
That's how important it was not ever to leave the track, not even by chance and without any hidden purpose. That's how important it was to march in column formation, preferably as near the head of the column as possible.
But after perestroika, what did the country do for those who had never fallen out of step, who had worked harder and more diligently than others, who had all their papers in order? Nothing. Their pensions, as often as not, were less than those of people who had never worked at all or who had done poor quality work. Moral losses can cause more suffering than financial ones. Such poor retirees had to suffer both morally and materially: they suffered from humiliation, and with almost no means they barely managed to survive.
But finding the freedom to be out of the track, I continue stepping out of line to be faithful to who I am regardless the consequences. I'm trying to walk my own walk, listening to the people on the margins, not to the loud cheerful words that are shouted in the center.