Between the bombing of the shopping mall in Kremenchuk and the reinforcement of NATO’s Readiness Action Plan, (which increases the presence of Polish and American soldiers at the border) there is a sense of dread in the air. The mind so quickly springs into action as it plays out the worst possible scenarios, which rarely happen as one imagines them; still, this is a specialty of the mind which we all must bear. That doesn’t mean I ignore the signs of a protracted and bloody war, but beyond this observation, given I cannot actually plan for something of unknown origin, it’s best to let the mind rest. To torture the mind with dystopian thoughts of some impending doomsday occurrence is a complete and total waste of my time. Which doesn’t mean I don’t feel anxious about how an attack on humanity of this scale will play out; it just means that I can’t simply sit around thinking the worst. It will undo me, and I can’t afford to be in that position as there are too many who depend on the stability and the fortitude of a community we have built together.
What do I do? What do I think about instead? How do I best direct my thoughts so as not to deplete myself of energy before I’m even out of the shower? Some days, like today, I’m not so fortunate as to dodge all bullets, but I will get to that in a moment.
I work. I attend to the needs of our residents which are multiple and frequent. And then I try to use my thoughts creatively. I am always on the lookout for what they are teaching me. This is the way I align myself with something bigger than my petty thoughts.
I pray. Not just the begging kind, as if I’m some sort of victim and plead for all my suffering to end and all circumstances be tidied up to suit my own personal comfort, but honest prayer, in contemplation, in partnership with the mystery within me, within all of us. You can call this mystery God, Our Mother or The Divine, Adonai, The Way of the Tao, or The Buddha, but there must be a call, a crying out in the night for help. I cannot go far without this relationship. If I don’t connect with what I know to be my life force, that which supports, nurtures, guides and informs me, then I don’t stand a chance at service. It would be impossible to be a servant to such a challenging situation if I were not in a relationship with Christ.
Work and prayer are my sources of strength.
I’ve yet to shower this morning, assuming there’s even water. Last week we were without water for a full 48 hours, which was intermittent before that and with the current heat wave is still unreliable. We did go to the lake on one of those days. We packed a picnic lunch of sandwiches, juice and fruit. Most everyone went swimming; some took a paddleboat ride, and we all had ice cream before coming home. For those few hours, we were able to forget about our misery.
Let me tell you, the magic of having no water is that when it finally does come back on, there’s no better shower than this. It’s one way to think. Maybe it’s not for everyone but it’s how I move through life.
There was a recent birthday party for a woman who gets on my nerves. In the morning of that day I thought that at least I should be kind and buy her some flowers because she was already cooking for her own party, including the baking of the cake. I got the idea that if she didn’t make her own party, then no one would but, in fact, most of us only celebrate with a small store-bought cake anyway, a song and some flowers. I have come to regard her behaviour as desperate. For me, she can a difficult person to like. It so happened too, that on this day, in the morning, the county called to say that there were no more Ukrainians in the area except for those here and at Kurozwęki (our neighboring family estate). If we would like to avail ourselves of any donations lying about the fire station, then please feel free to come and have a look. Paul and I wasted no time driving over to see what was left. To my surprise, there were a few bags of clothes which I brought back to Sichów with me. Our birthday girl muscles in and starts a pile straight away. One of the women who works here wasn’t aware that this was a private stack of clothes, saw a skirt on top and thought that it would look nice on one of the other ladies standing there. When our employee reached for it, my least favorite snatched it out of her hands and said it belonged to her. G. snatched it right back and held it up to the woman she believed it would fit nicely. The lady declined saying it wasn’t her style. How gracious she was. (I could use a lesson or two.)
My moral dilemma set in at that moment. Why should I buy flowers for someone I don’t like? I didn’t want to. I didn’t even want to go to her party. I lost all sense of maturity and compassion. As I went from shop to shop that day buying what we needed for the house, I passed a lot of flower stands. At the start of the day, I actually considered going to the florist to buy her a hand-picked, beautifully designed arrangement of flowers. What I brought home instead was a small bunch of ordinary flowers that I regarded as ‘good enough’. I gave them to her and she nodded. There wasn’t much exchange of friendship from either of us.
Living with so many other people under such unusual circumstances cannot help but bring out the best and the worst inside you. And after so many years of analysis, I’m not afraid of the part of me that’s not so pleasant. The objective is to own it and not project it. The task is to carry it yourself. I had to continue to do what’s in my nature, and it’s in my nature to buy the flowers even if I don’t like you very much.
I don’t have any great revelatory comments to make about myself as to what I discovered that day other than I’m as human and as complicated as the next person. To not make a situation worse feels more natural to me than the decision to consciously hurt someone else. I can still be civilised even if I don’t care for another person or their actions.
So today. There was the repairman whom we called about our most overworked washing machine, running all the day long into the night. The locking mechanism on the door jammed. When Paul explained the urgency, that we have forty-plus people using it on a daily basis, he replied, “I don’t care what your problem is. I still can’t get there until next week.” Paul was stunned but pushed on, “Yes, but some of our residents have children with special needs who depend on the washing machine on a daily basis.” To which he repeated, “That’s not my problem.”
We bought a new machine and the old one will eventually be repaired. It will be nice to have two.
Following the impact of such caustic speech, we received a phone call from a woman who volunteers for us in an educational capacity. To our surprise, though I will be honest more to mine than to Paul’s, she announces that she’s been telling some of our residents they really ought to move to Canada.
This was this final blow for me today. The idea that someone who spends so little time here at Sichów and further to that isn’t qualified to issue such a declarative as there’s nothing even sensible in such a statement. The woman knows no one in Canada as far as I know, certainly not someone who’s able to take on so many and with special needs.
One might say to me that’s she’s just an old busybody and doesn’t have enough in her life of interest so she must stick her nose into my affairs and tell everyone here who’s settling in that they should now up and move to Canada, with no plan, no job, no language nor lodging.
If the situation were not so delicate, I’d disregard her without a thought. Fortunately, after a few inquiries, the residents confessed they thought it was a very strange suggestion but kept quiet under the circumstances that she was ‘helping’ us. It’s becoming like this. A mix of do-gooders and those who bear a grudge about the Ukrainians even being here. Each camp formulating their opinions without much practical experience.
One of our donors sent an email to me recently.
“All of you at Sichów are exercising ‘hospitality’ in many forms and expression…same root as the word hospital. Lodging, inn, shelter. The Latin uses the same word for both guest and host. There is a beautiful spirit at Sichów – that is evident to me.”
Karen from Canada
It meant the world to me because with all our weaknesses and doubts, there is an ever-present human spirit that runs through like a steel pipe connecting all of us. We truly are at this moment in time an active and engaged community whose ultimate interest is each other and each other’s well-being, even if that means someone would like to relocate to Canada. What the lady doesn’t know because she doesn’t live here and is not involved in community meetings and communications is that Canada is really only an option for the young unless you have extended family there. Most are waiting to go home again.
“It just turned out that way. I felt that these people before this great war broke loose all around them, should end up in some place, where time had stopped and where all the fragile and brittle and useless and unnecessary things that people surround themselves with were gathered. And in the midst, of this collection of all these little things there should be this completely brittle and completely useless and terrified person. So you have the feeling that that person and all those things have reached their final moment on earth…with all these wars in which two great powers collide…you can’t help but identify with the third parties caught in the middle. I suppose that’s the fear we all carry inside.”
Speaking in an interview about his film, Shame, 1968