Ten years after the publication of “Vilties Kelias,” the Lithuanian version of “Odyssey of Hope”, Joseph Kazickas was asked to write about what had transpired in the ensuing years.
In 2013, a new edition of the book was released in Lithuania with a final epilogue entitled “Yet Another Decade.” Vijole Arbas translated those pages into English just for the family. But we are including here some highlights of Kazickas’ reminiscences.
Ten years have passed since the first publication of our memoirs. We’ve been involved in all sorts of events since that time alas, there have been more sad than happy events. However, that’s a natural course as life rolls onwards towards the sunset. I never thought of my activities as especially meaningful or that I should talk about them. Yet, fate destined numerous trials and tribulations for me to experience. The road of my life stretched from my birthplace on the Russian steppes; then through my childhood in Lithuania, the land of our ancestors, the land we had dreamed about; it went onward into military occupations and wartime perils and finally, all the way to business prosperity in New York. I had to suffer through a great deal, but my life’s road took me on an odyssey of hope, nonetheless. Quite possibly my example can offer courage to those embarking on their own odysseys of hope.
In the epilogue, Kazickas writes about his family, his friendships with Lithuanian political leaders and the many philanthropic programs of the Kazickas Family Foundation that gave him much pride and pleasure. (see kff.lt)
As he noted in the original book, “The worth of a person is not measured by how much he or she has but how much one is able to give. Life only has meaning when one is sharing good fortune with others and contributing to a better life for everyone.”
But mostly, Kazickas writes in very personal terms about the trials of old age and the serious health problems that afflicted him and his wife, Alexandra. But he never once wallows in self-pity. In fact, he recounts with great amusement an episode in which he fell and broke his leg but amazingly, did not break the bottle of wine he was holding!
However, the death of his wife of nearly 70 years, Alexandra, in the early morning of her 91st birthday, June 17, 2011, devastated him.
The loss of my beloved Alexandra was unbearably hard on me. My entire life involved her. We had lived peacefully, but without falsely fawning over one another. We were open about saying what was in our minds and in our hearts. Seventy years of married life make people grow together like merged tree trunks with entwined roots. When one loses one’s other half, that one feels axed in two. Love while young seemed horizontal to me, based on the attraction between two people. Meanwhile, at a mature age, it is vertical, woven of numerous ties in life: home, children, grandchildren, friends, fantasies and dreams. The time finally comes, when you see that the two of you are all that’s left, she and you – all the other contacts had weakened and distanced. These are especially strong bonds, like gravity. They are the strongest, sometimes the only support in life. If you lose these bonds, you wind up in emptiness.
I always was an optimist and I knew how to find the joy in life. But, once I was alone, the time of sorrow fell upon me. Still, I did not lose my interest in life. Curiosity did not die – it still interests me to know what is going on in Lithuania and in the world. I keep on clinging to life and trying to appreciate it, and that is probably why I still keep on living.
Kazickas’ intense intellectual interest in the future of his homeland, Lithuania, and its people fill the last pages of the epilogue. He worries about the loss of a national identity as Lithuanians emigrated to the west to find more economic opportunities
It hurts that, for the time being, Lithuania is not able to keep its people, especially its young people, from emigrating due to its weak economic powers. Whenever young people who are well educated, have a great deal of creative energy and are not afraid of taking initiative leave the country, our country’s power to grow, to catch up with the West more quickly lessens.
Lithuania is a free country – you can’t prohibit people from traveling wherever they want. Nonetheless, a stronger upbringing in patriotism, encouraging faith in one’s country and its future, involving people in community activities and strengthening ties with the community would help keep more young people from leaving Lithuania.
Kazickas is realistic about the strong pull that accumulation of wealth has on many young people today. But he again reiterates his basic philosophy of the true meaning of life.
Once you’ve created material well being for yourself, you begin to realize that capital also heaps responsibility on your shoulders for those who have been less successful and did not manage to achieve normal life’s conditions. Then you have to ask yourself a question. Are you going to ignore those people and not care for them, believing that their hardships are their own personal problem and the problem of the government? Or, will you think otherwise? Will you believe that you are also responsible for your environment, your community and your country and that you must help the person who has more difficulties than you do, who is probably suffering more than you are?
Once you have achieved harmony between your mind and your feelings, money will no longer be the most important thing in life. It becomes merely a tool helping to create happiness for yourself and for persons close to you in the spirit of Christian love. There is great joy in helping others as you walk down the narrow road of life that has been provided for you.
Here are the last words of the Epilogue.
I look at death peacefully. I understand that God was generous with me by the years of life given to me. Now I already count time in terms of months, not years. Unavoidably, I am approaching the last limits of life. I feel my strength ebbing away.
But, the nearing end of life does not frighten me. When I think back about the road travelled, I can see that I did some things wrong or I could have done them better and there was much I did not do at all. But I always had a pillar of support, so I could again pursue success after some defeat. My pillar of support was Alexandra; it was our family. I cared very much for my children the entire time. Now we are able to speak entirely openly, now that it has been many years since they have created their own, independent lives. They tell me about their problems. We do not avoid topics of an intimate nature in our talks. That provides me with a sense of peace
I am no longer able to glance here and there into the future. As I go through my 95th year of life, I live for the moment and I feel I already have the right to spend my days like that. I am so happy to be alive, to be enveloped with my children’s care and to be able still to enjoy associating with my friends and old acquaintances.
I can’t complain about life despite my failing health and especially the death of Alexandra, which brought such a bitter sadness to my days and nights. I came to terms with the thought that the end of life is not sweet; a person usually has to depart with pain. However, I take joy in what I have left and I thank God Almighty for every day I was given.
I awake every morning with the sense of happiness that I am alive, no matter how sleepless, how troubled the night might have been. It is a pleasure for me to watch the rising sun, to see the first rays glimmering through my window. It is a pleasure to feast my eyes on the flowers growing in the garden, the grass greening and to savor the colors of a summer day. Some may think these things are meaningless, but they give me great pleasure.
Perhaps my life is a selfish one now; nevertheless, I think I have reached that certain age when I have a right to be selfish. My creative, productive time is now finished, which means I am a useless person. Nonetheless, that does not mean that I am unnecessary. The children and my friends telephone me and we talk and exchange opinions. Sometimes I’m also able to give advice. As long as there are interactions with people, life keeps going on; you have not fallen out of it. I can still see the meaning of life. I find it interesting to learn what’s happening in the world and in Lithuania, how the economy is changing and what new discoveries science has made. I watch news programs, listen to music, especially operas, and I am still able to read the newspapers and books, though not for long at one time.
The past often returns to me in my memories. I think that there were things I could have done better. At times perhaps I would have been better off being more careful. However, nothing actually brings me very many regrets. My life is that of an ordinary person, who made comfortable conditions for himself and his family, who was happy and who was surrounded by intimate people and treasured friends.