What do you do when life as you know it changes? What do you do when things are out of your control?
I saw the images this morning* of people, young and old, gathered in a subway station that is now a bomb shelter in Ukraine. They were huddled together in stocking hats and coats, sheltering for their lives. They awoke to their new reality as air raid sirens blared the arrival of pending destruction. Film crews document the arrival of Russian tanks and trucks driving freely across the border and making their way farther into the Ukraine.
It’s hard to imagine what it’s like. I’ve never been to the Ukraine. I have been to Warsaw, about a four hour drive from the border. I was there over 20 years ago. It was a beautiful place and I enjoyed the people and my time there. I was with a group who was planning to go on to Auschwitz the next day so we had been thinking about all that happened to this area during WWII. I remember setting off on foot from the hotel where I was staying. I had never seen anything like it before. It was strikingly grey, marked by tall buildings and massive amounts of concrete rolled out as extra wide streets and sidewalks littered with only a few cars. The sheer size conveyed a sense of power. I could image a large Nazi caravan invading the city on this road.
Soon I veered off the main road and a few blocks down things changed. There was a bright courtyard surrounded by buildings around 3 stories high, all painted white. There was a dry fountain near the middle and a bright yellow restaurant flanked with outdoor tables nearby. I sat down to enjoy some coffee. I asked my server about the area. He said it had all been destroyed during the war and the whole area had been rebuilt. Perhaps it was my imagination, but it felt like life had not fully returned. Everything was clean and new but there was an air of silence blowing through. The effects of war are real.
We did not wake to the real threat of a military invasion here yet I know there are many facing the reality of suffering. There are some in the midst of a battle of their own. It is different, but there is not a hierarchy of suffering and sadly, that is what often brings us together. Many find themselves in a time of uncertainty, when things are just hard and there is nothing you can do. I can recall times when I have felt that way. Something that was a comfort to me was a verse from Exodus, “The Lord will fight for you, and you have only to keep still.” (Ex 14:14) There are times when that is all you can do - wait. There are times when you can’t fix it or fight it or really do anything about it. All you can do is trust that someone else can fight for you. Who better than the Lord?
I can’t help but wonder what will happen to the Ukrainians. Not only is their country the largest in Europe in terms of land mass, it is also the poorest. Yet, they are rich in so many ways. Notably, 100% of the Ukraine’s adult population is literate. It is also known as a beautiful country. They are the largest sunflower seed producer in the world. Imagine miles of fields of sunflowers. It must be quite striking when they are in bloom. I want to remember the little Ukrainian boy and girl sitting on the floor of the subway station bundled up in their pink and blue parkas. I want to remember the girl who told the reporter she came to the Ukraine as a student. Who could have imagined this is where she would end up? I want to remember the woman who shared that when sirens went off she grabbed what she could and ended up there, in the newly formed bomb shelter. She had a car but there was no place to go. Where could you go to escape? It seems all they can do is wait. Let’s remember them. Let’s wait with them. May the Lord fight for them.
February 24, 2022