We who have touched war have a duty to bring the truth about war to those who have had no direct experience of it…Working for peace in the future is to work for peace in the present moment.
-Thich Nhat Hanh
"Walking in the April rain is a luxury our friends in Ukraine will miss this year," I wrote on my Facebook page this week. I had taken photos on my morning walk: a budding tree, a moss-covered rock, a cottontail, daffodils in bloom. And then I thought of Peter Zalmayev broadcasting from his bunker in Kyiv and wrote the caption.
As usual, there were "likes" on the photos, and nil to none on the idea expressed in words, except for one: "I can't take it. So true. ," my friend Suzy Borget replied. Altruism fatigue has set in. First the pandemic, then the Taliban taking over Afghanistan, and now this terrifying, awful war, not to mention bad news in the paper every day about extreme climate events, Covid surges, and all else.
Do we know too much? Or not enough? In America, we are insulated from wars spilling over our borders. Not so the Europeans. And, as a nation, we have low attention spans and an inadequate knowledge base of certain key subjects: geopolitics, non-Euro-centric world history, political science, international law, the Geneva Conventions.
Last night, I went for a coffee with my husband to our favorite café in town and it was so crowded we almost turned away. There was a party going on in the back room and a long line for service. There'd been another storm and flooding, and the waters were finally receding. Had we all surfaced from the safety of our homes to celebrate? I wondered about the conversation between the revelers. What was everyone talking about? Normal things, most probably: food and family, maybe some upcoming travel, a recent series on Netflix, the controversy about a fourth vaccination. Are we spoiled? Insouciant by nature? Careless or carefree? Are we allowed to relax? Must we feel guilty if we relax? Are these rhetorical questions?
I returned home to find an email from Chris Rzonca, a colleague at NYU. His wife is Polish and they have an apartment in Warsaw now home to a Ukrainian family. Everyone Chris knows in Poland is hosting a Ukrainian family, everyone he knows has stepped up to help. He's running a GoFundMe for the family he and his wife are hosting. These are more than gestures and/or donations; these are heart-stopping commitments. Consider the migrants on the EU borders, and our borders. How have they been received? What is our moral and ethical responsibility? Are these questions rhetorical?
I don't really know what I am writing about today because I feel unsettled. What if Putin uses chemical and biological warfare as he did in Syria? He's already created havoc at Chernobyl, his own soldiers—cannon fodder—taking respite in a radioactive forest. One atrocity on top of another. My husband, whose maternal family is from Kyiv—when it was still Kiev—has studied both Russian history and the Russian language. "I hope the diplomats are considering every option to stop the bloodshed even if it means some concessions," he said to me this morning for the first time. "Surely they know what Putin is capable of." Think Grozny and the calculated speech Putin gave in fluent German to the German Parliament when the wall came down. He'd been a KGB officer in Dresden.
Are the Ukrainians prepared for concessions to stop the bloodshed? They are fierce patriotic fighters, and have taken on the global war, for themselves and for us: democracy and freedom vs. autocracy and despotism. Will the sacrifice be too great, too dire for the survival of the Ukrainian people?
These are terrible questions to ask and I am tempted to delete this post and start again, but there is something here I want to convey, which is this: How and when this dreadful war will end is not in our control, so I prevail upon my readers to continue to lobby, write, give voice to, donate, collect medical supplies, and pay attention to those who have been killed and displaced —most especially the children—and their future. If Ukrainian or Afghani refugees arrive in our cities and towns, let us commit to do anything and everything to help them settle and build new lives. My parents were refugees. I know of what I speak.
It's Passover-Easter week here on the well protected North American Continent and throughout the Judeo-Christian world. If so inclined, please say a prayer, or just meditate for peace. I'm a skeptic, as you all know, but I'm willing to try anything, even if it's an act of desperation.