Another day, another search through news headlines, Youtube videos, TV news, on the spot reports, to find some hope that the war will end, that right will triumph over might. Wion, and BBC, Caspian Report and Sky News, The Guardian and Daily Mail, The Times and CNN, Fox News and the rest, are all grist to this pointless mill. . It’s called the fog of war, and the fruitless search for encouraging news is an attempt to find comfort.
Someone said to me the other day that she didn’t watch the news as part of her ‘self-care”. I didn’t bother to watch for years, either, but to opt out of this trauma which is convulsing so much of the world now would seem like a cop-out to me. I’m part of the human race, so I have to be in. We are living through history.
Anger, despair, sadness, are all emotions that seem to swamp my formerly peaceful world, as they are doing for most decent compassionate people throughout the world.
Feeling the pain of Ukrainean families fleeing, of grieving relatives, seeing shattered cities, watching demoralised Russian soldiers, cheering at the courage and triumph of the men and women resisting the bullying, the bombing, the brutality, doesn’t help those suffering, but leaves me/us feeling helpless, as well as all the other emotions.
To be forced to be a spectator, and watch all the conflicting opinions, analyses, predictions, and vacillations of pundits and politicians and retired generals feels, if not shameful, then ignoble. So for me it means facing the pain and shame, rather than trying to pretend that life is okay in my happy little world. Because it isn’t.
My world is now part of the global village, and we are all connected, not just through pain and misery and anger and horror, but through the internet, and podcasts and news reports and cell phones, and through supply lines, and delivery chains, which mean rising prices, and inexplicable shortages from olive oil to lemons to building materials or Italian tomatoes.
Yet life does go on for those lucky enough to live in a place like New Zealand, or Iceland, and so in the end, I have to feel gratitude. And in the light of the world’s suffering, not just in Ukraine, but in so many other places, gratitude seems a gigantic travesty.
So having talked myself into a corner, I have to resolve to make the place where I stand the kindest, purest, most honest and most decent place possible. I can only love my corner of the world and try to share love to add to the goodness in the world, and not get bogged down in the pain of the world.
Philosopher Martin Buber said,”You can rake the muck this way, rake the muck that way …. In the time I am brooding over it, I could be stringing pearls for the delight of Heaven”. He’s right. Yes, brooding is a waste of time, so I will try to string pearls instead of futile brooding over the tragedy of Ukraine – pearls of love and kindness and a little laughter.
There was once a beautiful Tik -Tok person – I don’t understand Tik Tok but that apparently was what she was – blonde, de rigueur hair extensions, mile long false eyelashes, peachy pouting mouth, and offering us cosmetics to help us look like her.
This rather sweet looking young woman became pregnant, and was awaiting the birth of her child in a Ukrainian hospital bombed by Russians, who claimed, first, it was empty, and secondly that it was occupied by terrorists. The Russian propaganda machine also informed a sceptical world that the anguished blonde, one-time glamorous Tik-Tok person was faking her injuries.
She was wearing a black and white spotted pair of pyjamas or similar maternity wear. A few days after the contrasting pictures of the glamorous girl, and the shattered pregnant walking wounded woman, another picture emerged into the coverage of the atrocities taking place in Ukraine. This time she was lying cradling her baby girl Veronikia, her face still covered in small flecks of blood, and still wearing the same spotted clothes as before, grubby and crumpled. The look on her face, not that of joy and pride which most of us experience when we’ve just given birth, was instead, of utter despair.
No spotless white pillows, fresh clean clothes, lovely cup of tea, joyful family, just the grunge of unwashed clothes worn before, during and after labour, still stained with the dust from the rubble of bombing, and lumpy makeshift bedding seen in the dim light of a bombed-out maternity unit hidden away from more bombs in a cellar.
That picture and the one of dozens of dogs of every kind among five hundred, waiting in an animal shelter, where their fleeing owners had left them for safety along with their cats, which was now running short of food, because the girls delivering it had been shot and killed by Russians, reduced me to tears, like many another, I’m sure.
My life has been book ended by war, I know what it is like to lie in bed at night paralysed with fear, as bombs fall, and this war had crept up on me unawares, as it probably did for many others. Peace is contagious, and it seemed unthinkable that war could erupt again in our lifetimes, though the warning signs have been there for years. But we didn’t want to see them.
It is easy to not see things we don’t want to acknowledge, but as I sadly contemplate the place the world is in now, I tried to see more… more of the good things that go on happening even as the bad things seem to overwhelm us.
I look at my community, where a neighbour goes to clear the drive of a frail old couple, of the fallen trees after a storm, and who builds quail protectors for their vegetable garden.
Another spends days trimming and pruning the overhanging trees and shrubs along our two mile long shared private road, and another who looks after the animals of a distant neighbour who’s gone off with his children to find somewhere else to live.
There’s a couple who live some miles away, who come regularly to make sure the home of the owners who are overseas seeing grandparents, is unscathed by the storms we’ve been having, and another devoted couple, who lend their home to those who need shelter, visit those they think are lonely, and chauffeur a neighbour to and fro from hospital morning and evening for weeks while she stays with her sick husband, among many other silent deeds of devotion.
When I start to see these sorts of things the world seems less grim..
I remember the US electrician who went to fix a light in an old lady’s house, and seeing that the whole house was in desperate need of maintenance rustled up a team of volunteers via Facebook who called themselves Gloria’s Gladiators. They not only repaired the house, but transformed the old lady’s life by giving her ongoing friendship and support. Other groups grew from this single act of random kindness.
I remember the Muslim immigrant garage owner in the US who gave a doctor rushing to an emergency at the hospital, petrol for free, and then replaced his punctured tyres… saying the Koran tells them to be kind to their fellows.
I remember the kindness of strangers to myself – the nurse in hospital who realised I only liked one kind of biscuit, and used to hide them for me, another who used to give me stocks of various dressings and equipment which she hid in my locker, so I wouldn’t run out when there was a shortage… the visitor to a patient in the bed across from me, who covered me up with a blanket when she saw me asleep without one – these are tiny acts of goodness and kindness which transform trying situations into happy memories.
The concept of random acts of kindness merely put into words what so many do simply because they are good people… like the mayor of Auckland who went to Russia with his wife some years ago, to adopt a Russian orphan, and when they got there, the little girl asked if they would take her two brothers too. To their undying credit, the mayor and his wife brought all three orphans home to New Zealand, where they’re growing up to be happy, responsible citizens .
I also discovered that after committee meetings late at night, this lovely man would drive to three places around the city where there were colonies of stray hungry cats, and feed them every night.
We can all bring sweetness and goodness into our world, even small things like a smile to a passerby, feeding the birds, care for thirsty trees and drooping plants, a bowl of water by the gate for thirsty dogs and other creatures, acknowledgement of the careful pattern on top of our freshly made coffee to the barista, these tiny things can mean a quality of life, actions which can bring softness into the harsh times in which we find ourselves. Small happinesses which we can give to others, usually make us happy too. And the light of gratitude we feel when we recognise the beauty and bountifulness of nature and the world – these are the things that can uplift us – remind us of the miracle of life which can overcome fear, depression or anxiety.
If Vladimir Zelensky can extol Life in the middle of death and darkness, as he did yesterday, we too can grasp that courage and glory of the human spirit, and be inspired to live our lives with hope and optimism.
It was dear old Samwise in Lord of The Rings who said, “But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer”. Let us hope so. Even the shattered ruins of Leningrad have been transformed into the golden glory of St Petersburg with the passing of time. Let us hope that the devastation we see now will be healed in a real peace between nations whose people do not want to fight – that this Will pass and a new day Will come. And the light of the sun will shine on us all.
Food for Threadbare Gourmets
Who needs KFC when you can have chicken and chips in the comfort of home? So easy too. Marinade boneless chicken thighs in lemon juice, garlic and olive oil for a few hours. Meanwhile, cut the potatoes in thin slices – I don’t bother to peel them – just scrub and clean. Tip them into a saucepan of cold vegetable oil. They’ll take about half an hour, and towards the end just lightly stir them to keep them separate.Twenty minutes before the chips are cooked, douse the chicken in flour with plenty of powdered ginger, salt and pepper, and quickly fry them on both sides till golden. It doesn’t take long, and over cooking toughens them. Serve straight away, with salad or vegetables.