‘Charity is what puts order into human activity. Utmost charity is the special gift and ripe fruit of contemplative prayer. And for those of us who are trying to access this level of participation in the divine plan, at this point in history, there probably is no sharper cutting edge than your own commitment – unto death if necessary – to the pursuit of the divine companionship, and simultaneously with it, comes a spiritual companioning with everyone else in the human family, even to the point of sharing their suffering.’ Father Thomas Keating
Father Keating goes on to define for us the etymology of the word ‘companioning’, which has its root in Latin. ‘Com’ meaning with, or to accompany and ‘Panis’ meaning bread. A comrade who shares bread with another.
My nephew Jordan came from Houston, Texas, to help us. He cleans rooms, chops wood, accompanies me on my daily/twice-daily trips into town for food and medicines.
Natalia, our daughter from the UK, arrived last night, also with the intent to help. As has Adam, another nephew, come to help from Scotland.
Jon and Johanna, another daughter and her husband, are coming but stuck in London on the runway with our two granddaughters.
It has been a particularly difficult week organising one family who is resettling in London. It was an Olympian achievement on both sides. It took the efforts of those working from within the UK and from us here to fast track visas, rustle up scouts to collect the documents, arrange for a driver willing to risk heavy snow on a seven-hour return journey to get the visa here in time for a next-day flight, and arrange for the ambulance and the accompanying nurse. This is our eighty-seven-year-old grandmother who heroically endured the suffering of a ten-mile escape from Kyiv before reliable transportation appeared; pushed over rubble, lifted over floods of water in some places, and goodness knows what else, companioned by her daughter and a friend. She spent about ten days in the hospital upon her arrival here and then, when released a few days ago, was medically partnered on her trip to London. I understand she is resting and is well.
Last night, around three in the morning, a commercial-sized bus delivered two families within whose members are disabled. This bus is identified as one carrying refugees, which indicates a level of protection, I presume, as they drove from Dnipro with a stop in Kyiv to get here. At least the corridors are open, unlike those in and out of Mariupol.
It is bright yellow and big. On the bus were children with Down syndrome, severe autism, and epilepsy. Some will need passage to Warsaw where they can take advantage of a skilled facility for those who are in need of medication and nursing care. Others who are more stable might choose to stay here. These are early days for our new arrivals, but whatever their decision, we will companion them.
Being in service to another is prayer in action. It is not something that comes easily all the time. Among the volunteers who rode with the families through Ukraine last night, many woke up this morning in tears. Some of this is stress, some is disbelief, some of it is fear; overall, a sense of unease. It is very difficult to live in ‘the day-to-day’ of the utmost charity. One is in an environment of unyielding interruption which requires immediate attention and, more often than not, split decisions. Because these decisions must be made in haste, the people making them are usually themselves tense with a tendency to impatience which can lead to an occasional outburst. For example, last night upon receiving the call from the service looking for space for these families, our decision had to be made quickly as there were rooms to clean; beds to assemble; and linen, blankets and pillows to amass. It boiled down to the placement of people in each room. There were three chiefs on the job who didn’t necessarily see eye to eye on how it should be organised for the ultimate, most favorable outcome. Not to mention, it was already approaching seven in the evening, when tempers are short anyway after a long day of chores. This is when the larger call to duty must emerge as there is absolutely no space, nor time for conflicting egos. The call to charity is far too precious, too sacred to corrupt it with our single-minded pettiness. The plan was established with relatively little fuss, allowing us to get down to the business of companioning; of sharing their suffering.
I was hoping to tell you all about Bear, but this must wait until the next entry. The residents call him Misha, but Jordan and I call him Bear.
The story of Bear is about belonging, at least that’s how Jordan sees it.
But now, more family members have arrived. Róża, her husband, Maciej, and their daughter, Lusia, who declared as she was exiting the car: ‘I am one of the most grateful people to have a family like I have.’ Lusia is six. (We’re indeed grateful for her, too.)
We were just in the kitchen making coffee and were talking about prayer. Róża and her family have just come back from Italy, where her husband was doing archival research. (He is the head of his department at the Jagiellonian University in Krakow–Croatian Studies.) She told me how she felt so uncomfortable traveling to Italy, so beautiful and serene, while things back here are in such chaos with so many suffering. Then she said, this is a time for prayer. This is what I can offer until I get back and can continue to help.
Prayer. In the spirit of Thomas Merton, ‘…this listening, this questioning, this humble, and courageous exposure to what the world ignores about itself….’ The Climate of Monastic Prayer