Two weeks ago when I heard that Russia had invaded Ukraine, I, like so many, found myself without words. I called my mother and begged her not to turn on the news. My parents were both born in Ukraine. Both fled their homes during the Second World War. Though I have not experienced war personally, the stories of war and refugee-based trauma reside in my bones. As I read the news and look at the images of bloodshed and war in Ukraine, I am deeply saddened, alarmed, and despairing. Have we learned nothing? Must people experience such great suffering, yet again? Of course, Ukraine is not the only country or people group experiencing war and bloodshed, whether because of invasion or deadly internal conflict: Myanmar, Syria, Uyghurs in China, Ethiopia, Afghanistan… The list goes on.
With the climate crisis biting at our heels, does the world have time for war? Do we really want to replay the scenes of horror that define war?
I should say that I was already experiencing feelings of despair before Russia invaded Ukraine. The divisions here in Canada have been hard. While our most recent public divisions have been about whether one is for and against various Covid restrictions, and while I know that people’s pandemic-weariness has not helped these conversations, it is also true that elements of racism, sexism, Islamophobia, anti-Semitism, homophobia and other isms lurk in the corners of so many disagreements. So also does a generalized spirit of intolerance – here in Canada and globally. Indeed, even as aid is offered to Ukrainians we hear of racism against non-white Ukrainian citizens. One is also caused to wonder why white refugees are being given greater welcome than refugees of colour. Inequity and the inability to see the perspective of the other seems all too common.
I have dedicated my career to helping disputing factions seek understanding. When the war began, in all honesty, it felt like it was all for naught. I know, of course, that my small efforts in this small corner of the world do not have worldwide impact. Still, I came into this career hoping to help shape a kinder, gentler, and more just world. In my sadness, I had the good fortune of listening to a podcast from some years ago with the late mystic, John O’Donahue. He reminds his listeners that people can sustain great suffering when they hold within themselves a memory of beauty, some image of hope, however small, to which they can cling.
And so, even as I follow the news and make donations to those sending aid to Ukraine, I am also spending my days looking for beauty and hope. Today, as I write this, the light of the sun is bouncing off the snow. It is stunning. Yesterday at dinner, twice (or was it three times?), I accidentally bumped a pot handle into the perfect icing on a cake – my family and I laughed heartily. A faraway friend and I have shared a series of texts that has reminded me of the good-hearted nature of people around the world. The news tells me of people from across Europe who have opened heart and home to fleeing refugees. These are all things of beauty.
Last week, I was teaching a coaching and mediation workshop to a group in Switzerland. The level of engagement among the workshop participants reminds me of the everyday commitments people all around the world make daily to seek understanding and to build peace. I am encouraged and hopeful. It is said that the beating of butterfly wings, slowly but surely, can create enough resonance to cause an earthquake elsewhere in the world. Similarly, may we turn our anger and despair into courageous and hopeful acts of justice and peace. May we remember to cling to beauty. May we hold one another up. May we find our footing once more.