A few friends, knowing of my Ukrainian heritage, have asked me about the war. One asked if I was writing about it and I stuttered my way to some answer. What can I say to possibly add to the conversation? I know what I read in the Times and hear on NPR. I hardly belong to that part of the world.
I watch. My heart breaks. I am angry. I want the world to respond. I understand why it doesn’t. I have no answers. The fact that I have the privilege of sitting, of watching, of thinking, of even writing that I have no answers breaks my heart again.
My job, to ready Julia for adulthood, is ever present. She hears the news I listen to. Sometimes she comments. She wants to know about the war. She is a black and white thinker. She does not understand inference.
So, when she asks if the war is wrong and bad, I quickly say yes. When she asks if Putin is bad, and when she asks this she remembers that Trump liked Putin, I say yes again. She is able to put together that they are both bad people and she would never vote for them. Then she asks what will happen.
And I say, I don’t know.
We see pictures of children sleeping in subway stations. We see pictures of train platforms filled with families trying to leave and a train that will hold such a small percentage of them that it is almost nothing. How can I tell her that these scenes are echos of 1939, a time that is ancient history if it registers at all in her mind.
And I think how it would be to be living our lives, struggling sometimes, but generally comfortable, and four days shy of a month ago, an evil man invades our country and changes our lives completely. Do I lack compassion calling Putin evil?
The impermanence of this living dives so deep to be terrifying.
Why do we all stand wringing our hands? I hold an image in my mind of the skater, Kamila Valieva, coming off the ice in tears after she fell repeatedly, and her coach Eteri Tutberidze, reprimanding her: “Why did you stop fighting? Explain it to me, why?” And her teammates, who medaled, standing off to the side looking uncomfortable and scared offering no comfort. And Thomas Bach, president the International Olympic Committee, offering that Tutberidze’s behavior “disturbed” him.
No one publicly condemned Tutberidze. A week and a few days later, the UN could not condemn the unprovoked invasion on a sovereign country.
We have just passed the second anniversary of our Covid lock down. Those months were devastating and nearly ripped our family apart. And as awful as that was, it bears no comparison to the plight of Ukrainian mothers who are fleeing the destruction of their lives with children enduring trauma almost unimaginable. I don’t know how I could have done that with Julia and survived and healed.
When my grandfather taught me to write pysanky, he told me of the dragon who lives deep underground. The dragon brings all the evil into the world and so, to protect the world, the dragon is chained to the wall of the underground. Every year the chains loosen because the dragon pulls the links apart, and the chain is always in danger of falling apart.The only thing that keeps the chains holding the dragon tight is the pysanky that are written each year. The more pysanky, the safer the world.
In these days of evil Russian behavior, Biden’s words, the words of other world leaders, the sanctions imposed on Russia, the relief sent to Ukrainian cities and families escaping and the mountains prayers being said, do not feel much more effective than the pysanky I write. Choirs sing Ukrainian songs, bakers make Ukrainian cookies, people all over the world demonstrate and hopefully, I will teach a few people new to the craft to write pysanky. None of it feels like enough.
A friend facing the unfaceable put up some words of Gerri Ravyn Stansfield, a writer, teacher and healer, today on Facebook. I hope it is true.
“I tell you that hope is a personal practice, a martial art…
All I really understand is that I must dream the beginning of the world instead of the end.
Everyday. Even when I don’t want to.
Even when I am crumpled on the floor with depression
or smashing aluminum cans in my recycling bin with rage.
When you are brave enough to do the thing you do,
even if you sometimes feel afraid or hopeless,
it heals us all.”