On this sunny and unseasonably warm March afternoon, I return to write…to muse. To muse is to become absorbed in thought, especially to think about something carefully and thoroughly…musing about what might have been, what might be…
So, after a too-long hiatus, I return to Musings of a Feminist Writer.
On my altar is a blue vase with four sunflowers. Reflective of the Ukrainian flag, they honor the courageous and, surely, the not so courageous women and their children who are fleeing from all they have known. Women and men run from their homes…they run for their lives and the lives of their children…children in baby seats, strollers, infants in back packs, fathers leading the way into a promise of safety.
Her name could be Nadiya or Iryna…she drags a plastic trash bag with, she hopes, enough diapers and an extra sweater—it’s so very cold—and did she remember their passports? She cannot ignore that her daughter has begun to tire. She stops; kneels, tries to reassure her cherished child. But what can she say; how can she tell her little girl that everything will be all right when all she knows is that she faces a blank wall of not-knowing. Where will they go? She shifts all the bags of her meager belongings and lifts her daughter into her arm and holds her close.
All she’s ever known is threatened. The Russian army is stalled in the north; the enemy advances toward her beautiful city of Kiev. Mariupol, home to husband’s sister, is nearly destroyed. She attempts to put her terror on hold…. To be in the moment, the foundation of her spirituality, is meaningless; her God is unreachable. All she knows is she must get to the train station on track No. 9 to Poland.
She is already exhausted. The pink tousle on the cap her grandmother had just knitted for her baby’s first birthday, becomes the focus of her terror, her fury when it brushes against her nose. Her daughter wiggles and feels even heavier in her arm. She shifts the baby to her left arm, pauses only a moment, absently pushes a lock of her lustrous brown hair behind her ear…no time to think. She pulls the luggage behind her. What would she do if the old blue Samsonite didn’t have wheels?
Someone running alongside jostles her. “I’m sorry,” the someone says. She doesn’t notice. She can’t lose focus. She won’t think about her husband who has been swallowed up in the crowd. She panics; searches in vain for his tall, lean body. For an instant, she thinks she may never see him again. There are rumors he will be conscripted…all men from 16 to 60, they say. I’ll get you to the train, he’d promised. She can’t even imagine being parted from her beloved…how she will say goodbye…for now, they promise. And her mother? What will happen to her? I can’t leave your grandmother. She fights off tears that threaten; she won’t allow herself to dwell on their long farewell. She won’t think about her beautiful home, about Granny Nanny standing at the door waving a handkerchief, the edges embroidered by the old woman’s gnarled hands. She won’t surrender to the terror that swirls in her, around her…afraid she’ll never be able to return to her lovely garden, to her life. She will not hear the air raid siren.
This can’t be happening. How can they destroy our beautiful country? And why? It can’t happen here, she tells herself. But an explosion in the distance tells her it is…it is happening here. And she pulls her baby close, tightens her grip on her young daughter’s small, cold hand, setting her on the path, urging her to hurry along. They must get to the train. How could she know that the train to Poland, to safety will be crowded with too many people. She can’t let herself know how the railway platform teems with people like her, desperate to escape, to save the children. She’s determined not to panic, not even when she sees the impossibility of getting on a train—not unlike the one in her grandmother’s stories of Jews boarding trains to their inevitable and horrid death.
Her daughter begins to whine so she forces those images out of her head and bends to kiss her child’s blond curly head. It’s all right, my darling. We’re going on a train ride together. But her reassurance sounds empty. She tightens her grip on her child’s small hand. What will she remember of this horror? What stories will she tell her grandchildren? She doesn’t say, even to herself, if she/we survive. He slips his arm around her waist, pulls her close; she’s not alone. He leads her through the crowd, pushes his wife, their child, their meager belongings, onto the train and watches until he sees the faces of the two he loves most in the world. She blows a kiss as does he, both through tears that rip through their courage.
Does she know? Does he know that what is happening, this nightmare, is being systematically created at the behest of an evil autocrat who sits at the head of a very long table, his “advisors” countless meters from him…as if he’d listen to their advice…at the far end of that table, his porcelain face, his cold eyes look into the near future certain that his evil, yes evil, intention to disintegrate “his” Ukraine which was never “his” country, after all, will be his again! He is determined to fulfill his destiny; he will recreate the Soviet Union…the price to be paid is of no consequence of his. Let them impose sanctions. Let them punish his wealthy cronies, the billionaire oligarchs…they can’t touch him. Nobody can. He cannot fathom the spirit of those people. He is not afraid. They are nothing to him. His people support him! See the thousands who have gathered in his arena to hear their leader spew his own self-delusion, the untruths he’s created to support his invasion. They wave their flags; they cheer his lies.
Ahhh…but if they only knew the heart of Ukraine. We are brave. We will fight the Russians! We will not let them take our country. Young people and old, boys and grandmothers are making Molotov cocktails and fill more and more bags of sand while they wait to be trained to use the AK-47.
Have you ever used a gun, the journalist asks. I’ve never had to, the old woman replies…until now. She lifts the weapon, momentarily surprised at the weight of it, but she is determined. I am Ukrainian!!
Journal Entry, March 1, 2022
My mind is jumbled: fear, helplessness, compassion…while I bear witness to the horrors, the unimaginable horrors of what is happening in Ukraine!
I run water to wash my hands and I am deeply aware of women in Kyiv or Kharkiv who have no water, no food, nor safety…unless you count huddling beneath a highway underpass seeking safety.
I meditate…I am loving awareness…I am loving awareness…and I hear bombs destroying an apartment building.
I reread Bernie Glassman’s Bearing Witness, trying, really trying, to understand the vows, I vow to be oneness. I vow to be diversity. I vow to be harmony, but I only see the tragic image of an 8-year old tow-headed boy telling the journalist, I don’t want to die. I don’t want anyone to die. His soft voice reaches into my heart, into the heart of the journalist who fights back tears because he knows this 8-year old tow-headed Ukrainian boy is now an 8-year old orphan…as are new born twins and hundreds of Ukrainian children who on February 23 were safely being tended by their parents…Dad had dropped them off at their school, and Mom was savoring a morning cappuccino with her sister at a coffee shop on the corner…A corner that is destined to be desecrated within a week’s time.
How can this be happening? How does such evil exist?
A young woman, walking to her new job with her best friend is excitedly describing how she will be decorating her apartment now that she is settled into the job she’s dreamed of…She’s determined to ignore the rumors about the Russians. She scoffs at her friend’s worries, tucks her arm through her friend’s, reassuring her. It won’t happen here.
I am charmed by the young Jimmy Fallon-look-alike who occasionally reports to Nicole Wallace from his apartment somewhere in Kiev. As former Press Secretary to President Kivensky, his briefing to us is refreshing; yes, he admits, he’d like to meet Jimmy Fallon when this is all over. But for now, he tells us, he and his wife are determined not to leave the country with their two young children. They will remain in their apartment, and, in fact have given shelter to another family of four, along with their nanny who, just yesterday, learned her favorite aunt and cousin were killed in a bombing in the east.
I haven’t seen Jimmy Fallon-look-alike for several days. Is his apartment building one of those I see on the News, one of those burned out, black smoke roiling from blown out windows, one side of the building destroyed. Is his one of those in the complex of high rises that is now a pile of dust and blocks and re-bars and bodies who could not be pulled from the rubble or rescued…the bombing continues. The dead will have to wait to be counted; any survivors will have to wait for the incessant bombing to cease; they will be tended to in time, or….
What does a feminist do…what can this woman do? She, who turns to Nicole Wallace every day at four, who seeks a way out of the helplessness she feels, the pain of all those running for their lives into the unknown: the worst humanitarian crisis since WWII.
I ask myself.
And I have no answer.
Every day brings more horror…unspeakable cruelty. A theatre where more than a thousand had taken shelter has been destroyed. Bodies lay in the streets of Mariupol. They are not just bodies: a man weeps inconsolably over a pile of red—his wife; an old woman, her wrinkled face contorted into pain so deep, she has no words, she weeps. One hundred and nine…109! strollers… rows and rows of a future that will not be…a generation of promise, of rebirth, of laughter, of innovation, of dreams and…..
There are no words for such monstrous acts.
His troops are falling…More than 7,000 Russian soldiers are dead…left in the wake of their defeat. His fear begets more cruelty: he bombs grain and food warehouses. He kills the hungry waiting in line for a meager serving of food. He will starve them and shoot them and bomb them and exterminate them all. The toll of his evil is incomprehensible and will become the fabric of any who survive.
They will be forever homeless …searching for her husband, the father of her children who may or may not be alive; his wife, the mother of his twin sons, who may or may not be in Poland or Bulgaria or dead. They will search through rubble of the remains of what had been their home just days ago—or was it a lifetime ago—searching for treasures that had been a life together, a promise.
Some will channel their despair into rage, their grief into helplessness. Others will fight through their hopelessness; and some will become victim to their fury. Many will not recover; how will he ever erase the memory of pulling his beautiful daughter from the basement where she took shelter only to die of starvation? What will the elder woman do to heal the loss of a life; she is too old to begin again…and she has nothing! Nothing remains of her long life before….
The war has left no one unscathed. Some have become soldiers; some are healers and nannies. The fortitude, the courage that once defined the people of Ukraine has, for some, become transformed into hopelessness. Yet others follow the lead of their brave President. They will recover. How? Each Ukrainian will have his/her own response.
So, my search continues: what does this feminist do?
She retrieves her mother’s blue vase from a shelf in the garage, dusts it off, and mindfully arranges sturdy-stemmed, bright yellow sunflowers in precious water.
She vows to deepen her knowing how to bear witness. She vows to acknowledge that it can happen here.