I often think of a story from my Russian 20th Century Literature class. I reread it today for the first time in over 25 years. I didn't remember the author (Vassily Aksyonov) or the title ("Victory, a Story with Exaggerations"*). It's not quite as I had recalled it, but the main points held: The humble chessmaster is accosted on a train and challenged to a match. The chessmaster is flooded with feelings, so sensitive to the beauty and the tragedy in every turn of the game, but the challenger is competitive and eager and blows past the poetic moment of a checkmate without seeing it, declaring himself the winner. The chessmaster doesn't argue and gently presents him with a medal of pure gold engraved with the date of his win.
I never knew anything about Aksyonov, but it turns out his parents were arrested as anti-Stalinists and he was put into an orphanage for children of enemies of the state. The story of family separation as display of political power echoes what we see happening at the borders here now.
But the story is timely to me in another way. I get to thinking about social media and about the loudly proclaimed, endless opinions on it, and I feel myself going silent in the face of so much assertiveness, like that chessmaster, flooded with a world of intensity that he doesn't express.
*Full text here.