A man joined us for dinner on Thursday night. He  recommended that we go to a Georgian restaurant where, over  skewers of meat, along with red cabbage, cold pickled green beans and bread, he talked about what it meant to be Estonian.

He talked about how Estonians and Georgians feel camaraderie as they are both countries that have been taken over and occupied in the past by the Soviet Union. He described how in the late 1930’s  his father watched as 115,000 Soviet soldiers marched into Tartu. He recalled that they were marching so close together than if one got out of step, many would have tripped. And the column was endless

The man also talked about  compulsory military service in Estonia. He told about how, before Estonian independence, as he was coming to the age of subscription he was fearful that he would have to serve in the Soviet Army. Estonian independence freed him from that burden.

Listening to this man’s words,  there was a paradigm shift in me.

I don’t know what it’s like to wonder what would happen if my country no longer existed. I don’t know what it would be like to hold on to a national identity when your country no longer exists.

My country is a superpower. There are things my country has done that I am proud of. There are things my country has done that I am not proud of. But I have never pondered what would happen if my country no longer existed.

Estonia is a small country roughly the size of Ohio. It borders Russia, which as a superpower could move in with force and swallow up this nation into it’s borders. It has happened before.

That thought could make a nation of people feel vulnerable. Americans felt vulnerable on 9/11 when we saw terrorism within our borders. Americans feel vulnerable in considering which culture should prevail. But we never think what it would be like if our nation no longer existed.

In the face of vulnerability, the Estonians I met exuded a sense of national pride and a commitment to embrace a bright future.