“Art where really understood, is the province of every human being. It is simply a question of doing things, anything, well. It is not an outside, extra thing. Where the artist is alive in any person, whatever his kind of work may be, he becomes an inventive, searching, daring, self-expressing creature. He becomes interesting to other people. He disturbs, upsets, enlightens and he opens ways for a better understanding. Where those who are not artists are trying to close the book, he opens it, shows there are still more pages possible…He does not have to be a painter or sculptor to be an artist. He can find work in any medium. He simply has to find the gain in the work itself, not outside it. Museums of art will not make a country an art country. But where there is the art spirit there will be precious works to fill museums. Better still, there will be the happiness that is in the making. Art tends towards balance, order, judgement of relative values, the laws of growth, the economy of living…Very good things for anyone to be interested in.” Robert Henri, American Painter and Teacher (1865-1929)
I was talking with an old friend yesterday via Skype and as we were hanging up, she commented to some now forgotten question: “I wouldn’t know. You don’t keep in touch anymore.”
It was a very painful reminder that my life has changed in ways that will never again return to its previous landscape. There is a profound loss in sacrifice in which giving of yourself is only the first step.
Before the war started, Paul and I were invited by our nephew to Kurozweki for a special Valentine’s Day dinner. It was a very exciting evening for us because Andrew offered to ferry us both ways so that we could drink champagne without having to appoint a designated driver. The place was packed with young and old romantic hopefuls; all their dreams crowded into one night of celebration. That night, Andrew asked if we were seriously going to open our doors to refugees should there be war. Paul, being droll, said that if a bus full of Ukrainians were to pull up to the house, he would certainly invite them inside. We never expected the presage of such a comment to literally manifest at our doorstep less than two weeks later. One opens the door.
Five months into sheltering, I can honestly say nothing compares to the grinding down of bone one bears in the new responsibility of human care. If we accept this responsibility because it knocked at the door, it will change everything about our lives in much the same way one is changed when a child is born. The sacrifice to the child is great and can’t help but alter our external circumstances as a result.
Last night, Jordan made us a delicious dinner of slow roasted cherry tomatoes, toasted ciabatta, a fried egg, basil and a touch of Roquefort. The community sits at the same table throughout the day but shares only the lunchtime meal; breakfast and dinner are what individual families make for themselves. Several others joined us in conversation, which at first was breezy and quite cheerful. We were discussing the upcoming plans for the circus coming mid-August. I am writing a play which will be translated into Ukrainian. Others will be making costumes. Friends coming from America will bring face paint, instruments and masks.
It was an untroubled gathering until, in a word, a glance, a pause, as one can never pinpoint the exact moment it all changes. “Books are to be burned in the oblast (regions) around Kharkiv.” Apparently, in regions under Russian occupation, all Ukrainian textbooks written after 1992 are mandated to be burned. These books are no longer valid for the new curriculum. The Ukrainian language is no longer allowed in schools. Teachers who have been teaching for several decades must now submit to those demands or be charged with collaboration with the enemy. There were a series of other stories mentioned about mothers whose sons are now in Russian prisons. We also heard of how their friends waiting at a bus stop were injured by a missile strike. They were taken to a hospital.
What makes it so hard as an observer? One wakes in the morning to people who need something. There is always a need, usually multiple ones. Paul gets by well because he speaks serviceable Russian. I speak kitchen Polish at best. When he is around, things go more smoothly since most guests communicate in Russian, but there are those who will only speak Ukrainian, which is difficult for either of us to understand. Thus, the day begins. No one has a car, so Paul and I have to run most errands personally. A frequent need is to see a doctor or have a prescription filled. That requires an early morning drive of several miles to the clinic, to stand in line for an appointment. If you’re lucky, you get an appointment that day, otherwise you return the next day. No longer can you make an appointment by phone. All prescription refills must be personally signed off by a doctor.
Lately, he’s had to drive to Kielce, an hour away, to take one to the dentist, another to the hospital for a post op visit, and still more to specialists in a particular field of disability, such as epilepsy.
By mid-day, we are usually home from our errands, picking ups meds, bread, extra things from shelving to toothpaste. Sometimes, the day is generous and allows us a senior nap, before more errands. Three days a week there is a wholesale food order that must be completed, and a vegetable and fruit order.
There are days when you are so tired you can hardly imagine doing one more thing. And for me, it’s done with a translator at hand. Nothing is simple. Conversation is hard. Communication takes the greatest patience, movement through the house is never a solitary stride unless before dawn, which hardly ever occurs that I rise so early to make coffee.
Readers want to know the personal stories of our families, and I can only deliver to you incomplete ones. To begin, their personal lives are not my business, unless a story is shared and, as you can see, there is literally always something lost in translation.
Have I hurt someone’s feelings? Sometimes I sit at the table across from another, perhaps it is just the two of us at that moment, and she is crying alone. Do I force an encounter? I can’t reach across the table without great awkwardness, so I stay still, looking elsewhere. What good will it do anyway if I know someone so intimately? Is that really the objective of care? Must I know each little detail like some small-town gossip and for what? So I can disclose this suffering in a diary?
The high points are easily identifiable. Loss. Loss of home, dignity, rights, language, history, culture, lifestyle, friends, family and pets. That should keep us busy. Contemplating just one, for example, loss of a pet. We’ve all been there, so we know what that feels like. The stakes are higher in war of course, and most of us do not know the effects of this. Loss of home. Loss of place. How to begin again?
There are thirty-five to forty residents on any given day depending on capacity. Each one must come to terms in their own way, in their own time as to how to begin again. Even the children.
My task is a different one. A collective one. If you take Jung at his word in Answer to Job, then “[Man] He can no longer wriggle out of it [responsibility] on the plea of his littleness and nothingness, for the dark God has slipped the atom bomb and chemical weapons (and I add to this list, bio-warfare) into his hands and given him the power to empty out the apocalyptic vials of wrath on his fellow creatures. Since he has been granted an almost godlike power, he can no longer remain blind and unconscious. He must know something of God’s nature and of metaphysical processes if he is to understand himself and thereby achieve gnosis of the Divine.”
Ukrainian families are rendered homeless at alarming rates around the globe. Their hosts are tired.
This is not the response nor the action from those who have been cast as observers; our role is to remain strong and to witness. To assist in the care of another human being without needing to know all details. That one suffers is enough. How do I restore myself? I write these diaries, for one, as it is my way of witnessing. I am writing a new fairy tale. I am writing for the children and their circus. I listen to late Baroque music as often as is possible and twice a week to my husband teaching recorder to Olesia. I try to surround myself with beauty. I am moving through the house alongside others, not asking for privacy but asking how I can be of service.
“The only thing that really matters now is whether man can climb up to a higher moral level, to a higher plane of consciousness…” Jung/Answer to Job
I cannot turn my back on this. We must accept this sacrifice as a vehicle to both personal growth and the collective growth of consciousness. So, yes, I have changed, and I will never again be the same. But if it means strengthening my commitment to God, if it means understanding better both His nature and my own, if it means, as Jung points out, rising to a higher moral level, then the sacrifice is worth the loss of the old life.
Five new residents arrived last week. Luba and her grandson, Stepan. And most recently, on Friday, Marina and her eldest son, Y. and the youngest, M. who has special needs. He was born four months premature but received poor hospital care. He is now eleven and cannot walk. But he does like being wheeled around outside. He’s got the sweetest face.