‘…We have always had wars and personal catastrophes. I have no more personal fear much about that, I mean at my age…but the beauty of all the life, to think that the billions and billions of years of evolution to build up the plants and the animals and the whole beauty of nature and that man would go and out of sheer shadow foolishness destroy it all and that all life would go from the planet and we don’t know…I think it’s so abominable…I try to pray that it may not happen…a miracle happens…I think one shouldn’t give up. If you think of ‘Answer to Job’…if man would wrestle with God, if man would tell God that He shouldn’t do it…if we would reflect more. Jung never thought that we might do better than just possibly sneak around the corner with not too big a catastrophe. When I saw him last, he had also a vision while I was with him that there he said I see enormous stretches devastated enormous stretches of the earth…but thank God it’s not the whole planet. I think that if not more people try to reflect and take back their projections and take the opposites within themselves, there will be a total destruction.’ Marie-Louise von Franz from ‘Take Back the Opposites Interview’
It’s Saturday and in every respect that’s what it feels like. Altogether, if I close my eyes, I’m five again living on North Boulevard when Mr. ‘Willie’ came to mow the yard and Beulah Mae was in the kitchen making her legendary breads and lemon meringue pies, which perfumed the house right up to the third-floor attic. The sun shone differently this day. The smells from the kitchen mixed with the honeysuckles in bloom meant it was springtime in Houston on a Saturday. If I close my eyes, I am five. My life has yet to unfold, and I am caught up only in the smells and the sounds around me. And now a new one has emerged. Someone must be ironing. I can smell the starch as it fuses with the steam to make a stiff press of my father’s work shirts. I think of nothing but what I can hear and smell, and perhaps later of a trip to the five-and-dime store or an ice cream at the soda fountain. These are the boundaries of my world at five.
Saturdays and the sound of the lawn mower will likely always take me back to North Boulevard, to this time of being five.
Like it does today, in Sichów. The weed whip is in full commission, and Zoia is ironing in the library. The children are playing inside and out. Jordan is drawing. Andrii is looking at books. The water has been cut off for goodness knows what reason, and we’re awaiting our special visitors tomorrow—four women who escaped Mariupol. They were caught by the Russians, taken to the Urals, escaped again and made their way to Poland through Belarus.
The boundaries of our world at Sichów. One could hardly imagine that a war rages, a war within driving distance. Within this reach, women are being raped and other beastly crimes committed. There are strangers in my house.
I woke up this morning with a start as one does when one temporarily forgets the day before. I was thinking about the morning-after pills being sent to Ukraine. It’s rather extraordinary that we send them automatically, like we do the weapons. Everything is distributed in such a pragmatic and rational way. Here’s a box of pills for the ladies raped; here’s a box of bullets for the soldiers. If I had a poet’s skill, I’d take the time to consider this aberration. The single heart cannot hold or contain these acts of violence without expiring. It has to set it outside of itself. I’ve often imagined if all the single hearts in the world sent a text, one to other, and made a date to show up at the border, the one within driving distance, and if all these single hearts—millions of them joined together arm in arm—forming a human shield to storm the war, would we be bigger than the bullets? I’ve often imagined if all the single hearts in the world sent a text, one to other, and made a date to show up at the border, the one within driving distance, and if all these single hearts—millions of them joined together arm in arm—forming a human shield to storm the war, would we be bigger than the bullets? Would we be able to overtake these crimes against humanity? The women being raped? I had never thought about Rose Kieniewicz in the middle of the countryside, with Russian soldiers to one side and Germans on the other; not in the light of possibly being raped, which she wasn’t, but that it had never occurred to me points to my naivete. Basia R. reminds me that her mother was not raped either though she would have been an easy target in the fields of Siberia. There were no toilets so one had to just relieve oneself in the open.
This is one side to the day but then there is the other. For each determination, the macrocosm has its microcosm. There is the war and its horror, its destruction and monstrosities. But there is also the human imagination. There is creativity to reflect. There is a way, another way. Jordan reminds me that I miss the race when I’m thinking too much.
The art studio is now its own organism of action. It is only a question of waiting for the first boxes of art supplies to arrive. They are being donated from a former art teacher in Kentucky. We will ask for a suitable flooring to be donated and build a few shelves for storage, add a wash basin, a few drop clothes and we’re on our way to making art at Sichów. We will teach classes to the children, engage them in activities of drawing, painting, working with clay and paper cut-outs.
Strangers in my house. What do I mean? Those in exile here should be at home. In a world where we do our psychological work, these talented, creative, imaginative, hardworking people would have remained strangers to me. Passersby. I might have seen one or two of our residents in Lviv a few years ago. I might have crossed in front of them on the road or sat next to them at the opera or brushed against them in the marketplace. When strangers become intimate, it is a colorful and painful destiny. We have to carry each other even if from time to time we irritate one another.
There is no highfalutin talk around here about highhanded morals or fireside chats about the meaning of God. The atmosphere is more one of disquietude mixed with cordiality and hard work. Everyone carries their measure of bitterness and hope.
Personally, I would like to live in a world where raping women is not a practical matter and one to be dealt with by rational means. The first war I watched was the one my brother was in: the Vietnam War. It was the first televised war, and the thirty minutes of nightly airtime it received was nearly impossible to bear. This must have been so, as there was a great disconnection within the psyche as I couldn’t associate what I saw in these images with my brother and where he was and what was happening to him. Was he running for his life like those soldiers on the TV? Was he hurt? Was he frightened? Could he actually be killed? How did this work? The only thing I could understand was to protest. I didn’t know what else to do, so when I was suspended from school for three days for joining the march against the war, I felt as if I had somehow joined him, and had participated in this war with him. I too had suffered a consequence. It was the connective tissue that held us together, at least in my mind.
I am not dreaming too far into the future. I am keeping close to the hour, but I am definitely imagining the easels in the studio, the smell of paint, the sound of the water as it rinses the brushes at the days end, and the lawn mower on Saturdays.
Soon, the world may grow tired of this war and its victims. It may move on to the next global crises. But here at Sichów, while we may grow tired, we must wrestle with God, wrestle with ourselves, we must abide by each other daily, and perhaps, if inclined, continue to hope.
Tonight, before I go to sleep, I must remember to tell God that He shouldn’t do it.