PORTLAND — Events in Eastern Europe have me thinking a lot about how attached to our home I have become. How attached we all are to the comforts of modern-day living and its accouterments.

Two of my nearest and dearest live in Lithuania, close to the border of Belarus. The actions of Vladimir Putin and the Russian military in Crimea have created a serious concern that other Baltic countries could face a similar fate. Are the sounds of artillery fire that my friends hear in the background Russia rattling its sabers or the very real threat of a ground war on the horizon?

Robert and Rita Denny have spent the last two years renovating a small home in Druskininkai. Their house needed a lot of updating – heating, plumbing, and electrical systems, kitchen and baths, exterior siding, a new roof, as well as considerable landscaping.

They did all this with great care and cash. In Lithuania, you don’t borrow against your home. You pay as you go. You live with the bare minimum until you have accumulated the funds to tackle the next project. I’ve been a virtual witness to this process and have enjoyed seeing their vision take shape.

They are on the final stretch now. What remains are some landscape plantings and the purchase of a few more pieces of furniture. My friends have what they need: a small, well-appointed home from which they make their livelihood.

Robert, a former head of the Maine Board of Pesticide Control, is an environmental consultant to the World Health Organization and the Food & Agriculture Organization (the United Nations’ agriculture and hunger-prevention agency); Rita is a food scientist and translator. Life is good. Except for the noise in the background.


That noise has been going on for a few weeks now. Artillery fire from just across the border in Belarus and fighter jets flying low overhead. Hard to ignore while you work at your desk or take the dog for her walk.

Rita grew up in Soviet-controlled Lithuania. She knows all too well the lack of freedoms we take for granted. Robert is an American expatriate who loves living in his adopted country. A lifelong student of history, Robert travels extensively in sensitive areas across the globe. He holds politically neutral views in order to accomplish his important work.

If war breaks out, their lives will be at risk. They know this. I can only imagine the difficult conversations they are having. Is now the time to leave? If not, when? They have bags packed, maps printed, a destination chosen and contingency plans made. But at what point do they actually get in the car and go?

I want them to go now. Take the bags and the cats and the dog and get the heck outta Dodge. Please, go now. All their American Facebook friends want relief from the agony of uncertainty. We want our people safe and sound. But we are not the ones who are leaving behind a home and a life we love.

Robert wrote earlier this week: “Rita summed it up well today. She said you know we are, for the first time in my life, living like I always dreamed. We have everything we need and all I ever wanted. And to think we are packing up and making plans to walk away. Possibly we will never be back again, may never see this place again. It was a beautiful day today, warm, sunny, not a cloud in the sky, but the bad news rolled in. It is surreal!”

My dear ones are not alone facing this monumental decision. It has been happening for years in countries around the world where war makes leaving your home, your community, your family, a life-or-death decision.


No, Robert and Rita are not alone. But they are an extension of my family, and I have been privileged to be a part of their journey and watch them make their dreams come true. It breaks my heart.

So while we all have challenges, my partner, Kathleen, and I are very fortunate. Today, we are not faced with a decision of this magnitude. We don’t know what tomorrow brings, but today we can be grateful for what we have. And I don’t mean things. I mean that feeling of safety and security that our home brings us.

For my loved ones in Lithuania, I hold in my heart words that Kathleen’s dad would tell her: “Home is where the people you love, live.” And I pray for their continued safety and happiness. 

— Special to the Press Herald

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