Several years ago, I was supposed to visit Russia. I never made it.
I mistakenly thought my request for a visa prepared by Moscow State University was the actual visa I needed to enter the country.
An airline official in Paris recognized my mistake and said I shouldn’t get on the plane heading to Moscow.
Humbled, somewhat embarrassed but wiser, I returned to the U.S.
A few days later, a colleague who was born in Russia walked into my office with gifts for my wife (who was not travelling with me) and me.
She apologized profusely that the country of her birth demanded that Americans hold an entry visa in order to visit Russia.
“I want you to remember that the Russian government might be mean, but the Russian people are not,” she said. The anger in her voice was matched by the redness of her checks.
I promised her that I held no grudge and that I, too, knew of the warmth of the Russian people.
I’ve thought of our exchange several times over the past six months, a period of increasingly Cold War-like feelings between the U.S. and Russian governments.
I’m not arguing whether those hostilities are justified; enough has been written about the claims and counter-claims of Russia hacking emails and influencing the 2016 U.S. presidential election.
I am arguing that the animosity between the White House and the Kremlin cannot extend to the citizens of both nations.
We must continue to communicate. We must continue to visit. We must continue to be allies.
I’ve met several Russians whom I consider my friends. That will not change no matter what our governments say and do. I hope that Americans will continue to be welcomed in Russia (even if they need that visa to get in) and that Russians will continue to be welcomed in the United States. And, yes, in case you were wondering, a visa is required for Russians who enter the United States.
My mistake led to a failed chance to visit Moscow in 2009. I did get there in 2013, and despite a flu bug that wrecked part of my trip, I had a fantastic time. Someday I want to go back again.
I hope millions of my fellow citizens will want to, as well.