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How often do you engage your heart?

Today is October 29 and the Navigate the Chaos question to consider is “how often do you engage your heart?” Many posts in this series offer a reflection on the development, unfolding, and maturing of one’s sense of uniqueness. Today’s nuance with this strategy, however, involves the engagement of the heart and how sometimes navigating the chaos requires one to play the role of someone else. This pretending to be another self is a nuanced yet necessary strategy to navigate the chaos.

Abigail Adams once wrote “These are the times in which a genius would wish to live. It is not in the still calm of life, or the repose of a pacific station, that great characters are formed. The habits of a vigorous mind are formed in contending with difficulties. Great necessities call out great virtues. When a mind is raised, and animated by scenes that engage the heart, then those qualities which would otherwise lay dormant, wake into life and form the character of the hero and the statesman.”

One such woman who, out of great necessity looked in her heart and found great virtues to navigate her chaos was Russian Haritina Verkhozina who was born of humble origins and the daughter of Russian peasants.

She lost her mother at the age of six and, at the age of ten, left home to work, finding employment as a dishwasher. As a teenager she met Jakoff Korotkevich with whom she fell in love and soon after married.

When her husband was called up at the start of the Russo-Japanese War, she initially remained at home, but soon afterwards decided to travel to Port Arthur to be with her husband, despite the perils that the journey held.

She disguised herself as a man and worked as a brakeman on the Trans-Siberian Railway, travelling across the Chinese Eastern Railway. Arriving in Dalian Bay, she met some soldiers attached to the same company as her husband and changed to women's clothes. Aiming to continue her journey, she was thwarted by the police who threatened to return her to Harbin. However, when she related her story with the officer responsible, he became sympathetic and together they hatched a plan for her to get the lines and be with her husband. She would enlist. She cut her hair, dressed in men's clothes and managed to get to Talienvan where her husband's regiment was.

Adopting the masculine name Khariton, Korotkevich was initially not taken seriously, but soon proved to be an able fighter. Joining the 15th Regiment under Captain Gusakovsky, she was a charismatic leader, often leading her troop with courage and skill. In one bayonet charge, it is claimed she killed one Japanese soldier with her bayonet and wounded another with a bullet. She also showed compassion. A story is told of one time, while fighting, a Japanese soldier fell wounded beside her. She instantly dropped her rifle to care for him until the stretcher-bearers arrived. In addition, she also kept morale high among the troops, helping the men by mending clothes and, when she had leave, shopping for soap and tobacco for them.

On 19 August 1904, in fierce combat, her husband Jakoff was wounded and Korotkevich accompanied him to a field hospital. She stayed with him for three weeks and only when he was out of immediate danger did she return to her unit. When she did so, she was appointed a messenger by Gusakovsky. In this capacity, she served bravely carrying critical instructions between the commander and the front line in conditions of huge risk to her life. It was during one of these missions that she tragically lost her life at 21 years of age.

Now some may say Korotkevich should have protected herself and stayed away from battle. Others might say she should have followed her own path in life and not followed her husband. When you start to question how others engage their hearts, recall another observation from Abigail Adams “But let no person say what they would or would not do, since we are not judges for ourselves until circumstances call us to act.”

  • How often do you reflect upon the manner in which great characters are formed?

  • How often do you contend with difficulties in order to develop the habits of a vigorous mind?

  • How often do you engage your heart?