My Russian teacher Jarkin has a quick laugh, a warm heart and patience aplenty. When I balk at the handwriting exercises, she gives me a withering look, exhales dramatically and then sits silently, waiting for me to acquiesce. I do. Every time.

When I rush through my oral exercises, she reaches over and touches my hand. “Laura,” she says imploringly, “be very attentively.”

It is my good fortune that Jarkin has a divining rod to all that is essential in the universe. Be very attentively: isn’t that life’s essence?

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