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« Galrahn: the Great Powers series | Main | The EU getting smarter on Russia's energy supply »
3:16AM

Director's Commentary on the Dedication of Great Powers

I edited this post so Tom's commentary comes first, then the Dedication and column

The column I wrote on Steve illustrates what a huge impact he had on my life. It seems like every time I publish a new book, I lose a dear mentor: my Dad with PNM, Art Cebrowski with BFA, and now Steve Meussling, my brother-in-law, with Great Powers.

It was hard to pursue the book absent Steve's encouragement, but I am reminded of Coldplay's song, "42":

Those who are dead are not dead, they're just living in my head.

And since I fell for that spell, I am living there as well.

Time is so short, and I'm sure, there must be something wrong.

I miss Steve a lot, but nothing like his little sister does.

My great lasting memory: taking Steve and his little brother Todd and my father-in-law Carl to Lambeau in 2005.

The poem is my favorite by Mikhail Lermontov, famous primarily as the author of the short novel, Hero of our Time, a description of tsarist Russia's "superfluous men." You can locate Osama bin Laden, as well as a host of upper-class revolutionaries, in that text if you read closely enough.

"Parus" (pár-russ), or "The Sail," was the first Lermontov poem I translated in my Russian classes at the University of Wisconsin in the early 1980s. After a particular Pushkin poem, a line from which constituted my dedication to Vonne and the kids in BFA, this one is my second all-time favorite Russian poem--period.

The Russian version (obviously, the original) goes like this:

Парус

Белеет парус одинокий 
 
В тумане моря голубом!.. 
 
Что ищет он в стране далекой? 
Что кинул он в краю родном?..

Играют волны--ветер свищет, 
 
И мачта гнется и скрипит... 
 
Увы, -- он счастия не ищет 
 
И не от счастия бежит!

Под ним струя светлей лазури, 
 
Над ним луч солнца золотой... 
 
А он, мятежный, просит бури, 
 
Как будто в бурях есть покой.

Михаил Лермонтов, 1832.

It's quite beautiful to recite in Russian.

Dedication from GREAT POWERS, to be published by G. P. Putnam's on February 5, 2009.


The dedication:

To
Stephen Lee Meussling,
son of a preacher man

A lonely sail is flashing white
Amidst the blue mist of the sea!
What does it seek in foreign lands?
What did it leave behind at home?

Waves heave, wind whistles,
The mast, it bends and creaks . . .
Alas, it seeks not happiness
Nor happiness does it escape!

Below, a current azure bright,
Above, a golden ray of sun . . .
Rebellious, it seeks out a storm
As if in storms it could find peace!

--Mikhail Lermontov, "The Sail" (1832)

 

Here's the column Tom wrote after Steve's death:

The son of a preacher man

By THOMAS P.M. BARNETT

Scripps Howard News Service

Friday, November 30, 2007

A month ago, my wife's eldest brother passed away from cancer. It was a painful, gruesome end to a beautiful man's life, and it triggered intense mourning that Vonne and I struggle mightily to overcome. That's a normal reaction to the loss of a loved one, but Steve's death likewise provoked within me a great sense of unease, like I had misplaced something precious or neglected a sacred duty.

So I ran through the predictable checklist:

Am I taking good enough care of myself? Yes.

Do I carry enough life and disability insurance? Got that covered, too.

Can I be a better husband and father? You bet. Steve set a very high standard there.

Still, I felt I was looking in all the wrong places.

Finally, the answer came to me the other night while I was driving alone along California's northern coastline: I'm ashamed to realize that it took Steve's dying for me to comprehend how this son of a preacher man so deftly shaped my life's path.

I don't want to eulogize my brother-in-law; others lovingly checked that box. I just want to remind you how one life -- however quietly led -- can dramatically improve others.

My wife Vonne suffered a difficult childhood that included divorce and the death of her father. Those and other harsh experiences left her bereft of any hope that she would someday marry and form a family.

Steve spotted that pain from afar, becoming Vonne's surrogate dad in the most gentle and encouraging way, guiding her through adolescence and college until fate brought her into my life. Had he not done so, I never would have known the great and lasting joy that is our marriage -- now more than two decades old.

How do you thank a man for making your love possible?

Years later, when our 2-year-old firstborn was diagnosed with late-stage cancer and Vonne suddenly found herself pregnant with our second child, Steve once again slipped quietly into our lives: offering words of wisdom, surprising us with a much-needed family vacation and mentoring me through stretches when I no longer believed in anything.

Finally pulling myself out of a dangerous downward spiral, I somehow morphed into our little Emily's unflagging champion just as my wife needed to pull back and concentrate on Kevin's looming birth.

How do you thank a man for preserving your faith and family?

During my daughter's difficult fight, I did something I never expected: I became a writer.

I started what would now be described as a blog. My audience consisted of several dozen relatives and anonymous prayer-group members spread around the country. It was an amazing adventure in self-absorption, self-discovery and self-pity.

And it saved my sanity.

Writing that diary changed my professional career in ways that still stun me. I suddenly had a voice, and that voice would later open doors.

Throughout those darkest of days, Steve alone encouraged me to keep writing, sensing -- as only he could -- how it would transform me.

Steve loved books like no other person I've ever met. He read them by the dozens, year in and year out. Steve's favorite daydream was someday to author a book. Instead of achieving that wish, Steve helped me become an author in an act of pure generosity.

Intimidated by the prospect of writing my first book, Steve stepped up and bolstered my confidence by volunteering to serve as my first reader. Perusing my output every night, he'd coach me over the phone, telling me where I had grabbed his attention and where I had lost it. After several weeks of his sage advice, I finally located the book's center of gravity and Steve disappeared, informing me that his services were no longer needed.

Months later, I became a New York Times-best-selling author.

That success led to my becoming a contributing editor at Esquire magazine and ultimately to this column. I still write a blog, and my audience is quite a bit bigger today. My family now lives in a house built primarily from my income as a writer.

How do you thank a man for making your dreams come true?

By any conventional measure, Steve led a small life. He created few waves, yet somehow left an enormous wake.

Here's my request: You know who these people are.

Make sure they know who you are.

Reader Comments (7)

It is not '–ø—Ä–æ—Å—Ç–∏' but '–ø—Ä–æ—Å–∏—Ç".I like Lermontov too :)
January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVadim
Your dedication made me recall my other Lermontov's favorite poem:

–ü–ê–ú–Ø–¢–ò –ê.–ò.–û–î–û–ï–í–°–ö–û–ì–û

1

–Ø –∑–Ω–∞–ª –µ–≥–æ: –º—ã —Å—Ç—Ä–∞–Ω—Å—Ç–≤–æ–≤–∞–ª–∏ —Å –Ω–∏–º–í –≥–æ—Ä–∞—Ö –≤–æ—Å—Ç–æ–∫–∞, –∏ —Ç–æ—Å–∫—É –∏–∑–≥–Ω–∞–Ω—å—è–î–µ–ª–∏–ª–∏ –¥—Ä—É–∂–Ω–æ; –Ω–æ –∫ –ø–æ–ª—è–º —Ä–æ–¥–Ω—ã–º–í–µ—Ä–Ω—É–ª—Å—è —è, –∏ –≤—Ä–µ–º—è –∏—Å–ø—ã—Ç–∞–Ω—å—è–ü—Ä–æ–º—á–∞–ª–æ—Å—è –∑–∞–∫–æ–Ω–Ω–æ–π —á–µ—Ä–µ–¥–æ–π;–ê –æ–Ω –Ω–µ –¥–æ–∂–¥–∞–ª—Å—è –º–∏–Ω—É—Ç—ã —Å–ª–∞–¥–∫–æ–π:–ü–æ–¥ –±–µ–¥–Ω–æ—é –ø–æ—Ö–æ–¥–Ω–æ—é –ø–∞–ª–∞—Ç–∫–æ–π–ë–æ–ª–µ–∑–Ω—å –µ–≥–æ —Å—Ä–∞–∑–∏–ª–∞, –∏ —Å —Å–æ–±–æ–π–í –º–æ–≥–∏–ª—É –æ–Ω —É–Ω–µ—Å –ª–µ—Ç—É—á–∏–π —Ä–æ–π–ï—â–µ –Ω–µ–∑—Ä–µ–ª—ã—Ö, —Ç–µ–º–Ω—ã—Ö –≤–¥–æ—Ö–Ω–æ–≤–µ–Ω–∏–π,–û–±–º–∞–Ω—É—Ç—ã—Ö –Ω–∞–¥–µ–∂–¥ –∏ –≥–æ—Ä—å–∫–∏—Ö —Å–æ–∂–∞–ª–µ–Ω–∏–π!

2

–û–Ω –±—ã–ª —Ä–æ–∂–¥–µ–Ω –¥–ª—è –Ω–∏—Ö, –¥–ª—è —Ç–µ—Ö –Ω–∞–¥–µ–∂–¥,–ü–æ—ç–∑–∏–∏ –∏ —Å—á–∞—Å—Ç—å—è... –ù–æ, –±–µ–∑—É–º–Ω—ã–π -–ò–∑ –¥–µ—Ç—Å–∫–∏—Ö —Ä–∞–Ω–æ –≤—ã—Ä–≤–∞–ª—Å—è –æ–¥–µ–∂–¥–ò —Å–µ—Ä–¥—Ü–µ –±—Ä–æ—Å–∏–ª –≤ –º–æ—Ä–µ –∂–∏–∑–Ω–∏ —à—É–º–Ω–æ–π,–ò —Å–≤–µ—Ç –Ω–µ –ø–æ—â–∞–¥–∏–ª - –∏ –±–æ–≥ –Ω–µ —Å–ø–∞—Å!–ù–æ –¥–æ –∫–æ–Ω—Ü–∞ —Å—Ä–µ–¥–∏ –≤–æ–ª–Ω–µ–Ω–∏–π —Ç—Ä—É–¥–Ω—ã—Ö,–í —Ç–æ–ª–ø–µ –ª—é–¥—Å–∫–æ–π –∏ —Å—Ä–µ–¥—å –ø—É—Å—Ç—ã–Ω—å –±–µ–∑–ª—é–¥–Ω—ã—Ö–í –Ω–µ–º —Ç–∏—Ö–∏–π –ø–ª–∞–º–µ–Ω—å —á—É–≤—Å—Ç–≤–∞ –Ω–µ —É–≥–∞—Å:–û–Ω —Å–æ—Ö—Ä–∞–Ω–∏–ª –∏ –±–ª–µ—Å–∫ –ª–∞–∑—É—Ä–Ω—ã—Ö –≥–ª–∞–∑,–ò –∑–≤–æ–Ω–∫–∏–π –¥–µ—Ç—Å–∫–∏–π —Å–º–µ—Ö, –∏ —Ä–µ—á—å –∂–∏–≤—É—é,–ò –≤–µ—Ä—É –≥–æ—Ä–¥—É—é –≤ –ª—é–¥–µ–π –∏ –∂–∏–∑–Ω—å –∏–Ω—É—é.

3

–ù–æ –æ–Ω –ø–æ–≥–∏–± –¥–∞–ª–µ–∫–æ –æ—Ç –¥—Ä—É–∑–µ–π...–ú–∏—Ä —Å–µ—Ä–¥—Ü—É —Ç–≤–æ–µ–º—É, –º–æ–π –º–∏–ª—ã–π –°–∞—à–∞!–ü–æ–∫—Ä—ã—Ç–æ–µ –∑–µ–º–ª–µ–π —á—É–∂–∏—Ö –ø–æ–ª–µ–π,–ü—É—Å—Ç—å —Ç–∏—Ö–æ —Å–ø–∏—Ç –æ–Ω–æ, –∫–∞–∫ –¥—Ä—É–∂–±–∞ –Ω–∞—à–∞–í –Ω–µ–º–æ–º –∫–ª–∞–¥–±–∏—â–µ –ø–∞–º—è—Ç–∏ –º–æ–µ–π!–¢—ã —É–º–µ—Ä, –∫–∞–∫ –∏ –º–Ω–æ–≥–∏–µ, –±–µ–∑ —à—É–º–∞,–ù–æ —Å —Ç–≤–µ—Ä–¥–æ—Å—Ç—å—é. –¢–∞–∏–Ω—Å—Ç–≤–µ–Ω–Ω–∞—è –¥—É–º–∞–ï—â–µ –±–ª—É–∂–¥–∞–ª–∞ –Ω–∞ —á–µ–ª–µ —Ç–≤–æ–µ–º,–ö–æ–≥–¥–∞ –≥–ª–∞–∑–∞ –∑–∞–∫—Ä—ã–ª–∏—Å—å –≤–µ—á–Ω—ã–º —Å–Ω–æ–º;–ò —Ç–æ, —á—Ç–æ —Ç—ã —Å–∫–∞–∑–∞–ª –ø–µ—Ä–µ–¥ –∫–æ–Ω—á–∏–Ω–æ–π,–ò–∑ —Å–ª—É—à–∞–≤—à–∏—Ö —Ç–µ–±—è –Ω–µ –ø–æ–Ω—è–ª –Ω–∏ –µ–¥–∏–Ω—ã–π...

4

–ò –±—ã–ª–æ –ª—å —Ç–æ –ø—Ä–∏–≤–µ—Ç —Å—Ç—Ä–∞–Ω–µ —Ä–æ–¥–Ω–æ–π,–ù–∞–∑–≤–∞–Ω—å–µ –ª–∏ –æ—Å—Ç–∞–≤–ª–µ–Ω–Ω–æ–≥–æ –¥—Ä—É–≥–∞,–ò–ª–∏ —Ç–æ—Å–∫–∞ –ø–æ –∂–∏–∑–Ω–∏ –º–æ–ª–æ–¥–æ–π,–ò–ª—å –ø—Ä–æ—Å—Ç–æ –∫—Ä–∏–∫ –ø–æ—Å–ª–µ–¥–Ω–µ–≥–æ –Ω–µ–¥—É–≥–∞,–ö—Ç–æ —Å–∫–∞–∂–µ—Ç –Ω–∞–º?.. –¢–≤–æ–∏—Ö –ø–æ—Å–ª–µ–¥–Ω–∏—Ö —Å–ª–æ–≤–ì–ª—É–±–æ–∫–æ–µ –∏ –≥–æ—Ä—å–∫–æ–µ –∑–Ω–∞—á–µ–Ω—å–µ–ü–æ—Ç–µ—Ä—è–Ω–æ... –î–µ–ª–∞ —Ç–≤–æ–∏, –∏ –º–Ω–µ–Ω—å—è,–ò –¥—É–º—ã - –≤—Å–µ –∏—Å—á–µ–∑–ª–æ –±–µ–∑ —Å–ª–µ–¥–æ–≤,–ö–∞–∫ –ª–µ–≥–∫–∏–π –ø–∞—Ä –≤–µ—á–µ—Ä–Ω–∏—Ö –æ–±–ª–∞–∫–æ–≤:–ï–¥–≤–∞ –±–ª–µ—Å–Ω—É—Ç, –∏—Ö –≤–µ—Ç–µ—Ä –≤–Ω–æ–≤—å —É–Ω–æ—Å–∏—Ç -–ö—É–¥–∞ –æ–Ω–∏? –∑–∞—á–µ–º? –æ—Ç–∫—É–¥–∞? - –∫—Ç–æ –∏—Ö —Å–ø—Ä–æ—Å–∏—Ç...

5

–ò –ø–æ—Å–ª–µ –∏—Ö –Ω–∞ –Ω–µ–±–µ –Ω–µ—Ç —Å–ª–µ–¥–∞,–ö–∞–∫ –æ—Ç –ª—é–±–≤–∏ —Ä–µ–±–µ–Ω–∫–∞ –±–µ–∑–Ω–∞–¥–µ–∂–Ω–æ–π,–ö–∞–∫ –æ—Ç –º–µ—á—Ç—ã, –∫–æ—Ç–æ—Ä–æ–π –Ω–∏–∫–æ–≥–¥–∞–û–Ω –Ω–µ –≤–≤–µ—Ä—è–ª –∑–∞–±–æ—Ç–∞–º –¥—Ä—É–∂–±—ã –Ω–µ–∂–Ω–æ–π...–ß—Ç–æ –∑–∞ –Ω—É–∂–¥–∞?.. –ü—É—Å–∫–∞–π –∑–∞–±—É–¥–µ—Ç —Å–≤–µ—Ç–°—Ç–æ–ª—å —á—É–∂–¥–æ–µ –µ–º—É —Å—É—â–µ—Å—Ç–≤–æ–≤–∞–Ω—å–µ:–ó–∞—á–µ–º —Ç–µ–±–µ –≤–µ–Ω—Ü—ã –µ–≥–æ –≤–Ω–∏–º–∞–Ω—å—è–ò —Ç–µ—Ä–Ω–∏—è –ø—É—Å—Ç—ã—Ö –µ–≥–æ –∫–ª–µ–≤–µ—Ç?–¢—ã –Ω–µ —Å–ª—É–∂–∏–ª –µ–º—É. –¢—ã —Å —é–Ω—ã—Ö –ª–µ—Ç–ö–æ–≤–∞—Ä–Ω—ã–µ –µ–≥–æ –æ—Ç–≤–µ—Ä–≥–Ω—É–ª —Ü–µ–ø–∏:–õ—é–±–∏–ª —Ç—ã –º–æ—Ä—è —à—É–º, –º–æ–ª—á–∞–Ω—å–µ —Å–∏–Ω–µ–π —Å—Ç–µ–ø–∏ -

6

–ò –º—Ä–∞—á–Ω—ã—Ö –≥–æ—Ä –∑—É–±—á–∞—Ç—ã–µ —Ö—Ä–µ–±—Ç—ã...–ò –≤–∫—Ä—É–≥ —Ç–≤–æ–µ–π –º–æ–≥–∏–ª—ã –Ω–µ–∏–∑–≤–µ—Å—Ç–Ω–æ–π–í—Å–µ, —á–µ–º –ø—Ä–∏ –∂–∏–∑–Ω–∏ —Ä–∞–¥–æ–≤–∞–ª—Å—è —Ç—ã,–°—É–¥—å–±–∞ —Å–æ–µ–¥–∏–Ω–∏–ª–∞ —Ç–∞–∫ —á—É–¥–µ—Å–Ω–æ:–ù–µ–º–∞—è —Å—Ç–µ–ø—å —Å–∏–Ω–µ–µ—Ç, –∏ –≤–µ–Ω—Ü–æ–º–°–µ—Ä–µ–±—Ä—è–Ω—ã–º –ö–∞–≤–∫–∞–∑ –µ–µ –æ–±—ä–µ–º–ª–µ—Ç;–ù–∞–¥ –º–æ—Ä–µ–º –æ–Ω, –Ω–∞—Ö–º—É—Ä—è—Å—å, —Ç–∏—Ö–æ –¥—Ä–µ–º–ª–µ—Ç.–ö–∞–∫ –≤–µ–ª–∏–∫–∞–Ω —Å–∫–ª–æ–Ω–∏–≤—à–∏—Å—å –Ω–∞–¥ —â–∏—Ç–æ–º,–†–∞—Å—Å–∫–∞–∑–∞–º –≤–æ–ª–Ω –∫–æ—á—É—é—â–∏—Ö –≤–Ω–∏–º–∞—è,–ê –º–æ—Ä–µ –ß–µ—Ä–Ω–æ–µ —à—É–º–∏—Ç –Ω–µ —É–º–æ–ª–∫–∞—è.

1839
January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterVadim
Tom, you continue to amaze & inspire me. This is one of the best "thank you's" to a mentor I have ever read. I also recently received a power point presentation on "who is packing your parachute?" which I'll e-mail to you as it fits so well with this wonderful tribute.
January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterElmer Humes
thanks, Vadim. corrected above
January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterSean Meade
Vadim,

Nice catch. Shows you that you just can't copy a text off the Net and expect it to always be correct.

Still, I was surprised to even find it.

I expect to bone up on my Russian this year before Vonne and I head to Kazakhstan on an adoption trip. Thinking Rosetta Stone, unless somebody has other suggestions. I made my own vocab tapes years ago. I look forward to reconnecting to the language. Like seeing an old friend.
January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterTom Barnett
What a moving and wonderful post! Thanks Tom for continuing to inspire on many fronts.
January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterWilliam R. Cumming
Tom,

Found this quote in all places of the National Football Post writer Mike Lombardi (no relation to Vince) and immediately thought of my first read through of PNM in my freshman year of college, which drastically changed my life's trajectory (shifting my undergraduate degree to poli sci and my grad to homeland security management).

“In such a fantastic and dangerous world — we will not find answers in old dogmas, by repeating outworn slogans, or fighting on ancient battlegrounds against fading enemies long after the real struggle has moved on. We ourselves must change to master change. We must rethink all our told ideas and beliefs before they capture and destroy us. And for those answers American must look to its young people, the children of this time of change. And we look especially to that privileged minority of educated men who are students of America.” ~ Robert F. Kennedy

All the best as always. Good luck with the impending media blitz. Be safe in all your travels, and most of all God Bless.
January 13, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBryan Betz

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