‘I would like to ask a question which may lead us to something: what will make man change, deeply, fundamentally, radically? He has had crisis after crisis, he has had a great many shocks, he has been through every kind of misfortune, every kind of war, personal sorrow and so on…If one is concerned, as one must be, with humanity, with all the things that are going on, what would be the right action to move man out of one direction to another…’ J. Krishnamurti (Ending of Time with Dr. David Bohm, 1985)
Alla is leaving next week to join her family, already in the U.K.
I sat down yesterday, engaged my translator and said, ‘I will miss you and Lady Lola.* I’m sorry you have to leave. I want to draw a circle around us until you can go home again.’
She responded with tears in her eyes. ‘Let me tell you about war. I have lived through two, lost two houses, two jobs and my friends.’ What followed were more tears and talk of her travels to London with Lola; the anticipation of reuniting with her children again, her mother; and our plan to see each other once more, someday soon, maybe.
The war or the euphemism for war, the invasion, has only been active for seventy-eight days and there is a noticeable resentment when the subject arises — an observable inconvenience.
Today, one of the ladies who works here, and has worked here for five years, decided to call me downstairs because she had something important to tell me. She was cleaning out the refrigerator on the right (the one least used) and felt the urge to point out the waste. She produced three small bowls and one small pot of spaghetti noodles. ‘Hmm. Well? What’s this?’ as she shakes the pot of pasta at me ‘Well?’
Hardly the quantity of waste one would expect from all meals over seven days, from forty people in fact — waste in these pitifully small bowls of someone’s forgotten leftovers and one pot of noodles. There is no doubt of the animosity in the atmosphere, astir beneath the surface like a geyser about to spew. It’s not always evident. Sometimes it’s quite subtle, like the close scrutiny from those in the grocery store, usually the ones in line behind us, the ones having to wait.
There are also the political disputes, in which I choose not to participate for a multitude of reasons — arguments for and against aid to the Ukrainians, which those who are opposed are likely annoyed that they’re having to bankroll what could be a very long war at the expense of their own needs. It’s not an unreasonable grievance.
When the sun sets on Sichów, and the day’s work is done, the only strength I have left is to remember that tomorrow we need to buy slippers for Natasha, medicine for Sasha, lenses for Masha, dog carriers and a suitcase for Alla…always, endlessly, the daily shopping—what are we’re running low on; what can we put off even until the day after tomorrow.
Then the unanswered questions that cause such an inner agitation: whose house will be destroyed next? Will anybody tell me, or will I only find out in passing afterwards? Is there a friend or acquaintance left behind now buried under the rubble? Is there someone in need of greater care? Who was especially hurting today? Who is putting on the bravest face? Who is afraid to ask for something they need and don’t want to trouble us? Did I remember to buy hot chocolate for Olesia and her grandfather? Have I told someone today how beautiful they look?
Not everyone is in such a situation of sensitivity so it’s not surprising that there is conflict around the subject of assistance, which is probably why I try to find my peace of mind in poetry.
Tadeusz Różewicz, Polish poet who survived WWII, though his brother did not—first tortured, then murdered by the Nazis. He was only twenty-six.
I Am a Survivor
I am twenty-four
led to slaughter
The following are empty synonyms:
man and beast
love and hate
friend and foe
darkness and light.
The way of killing men and beasts is the same I’ve seen it:
truckloads of chopped-up men
who will not be saved.
Ideas are mere words:
virtue and crime
truth and lies
beauty and ugliness
courage and cowardice.
Virtue and crime weigh the same
I’ve seen it:
in a man who was both
criminal and virtuous.
I seek a teacher and a master
may he restore my sight hearing and speech
may he again name objects and ideas
may he separate darkness from light.
I am twenty-four
led to slaughter
Translated by Adam Czerniawski
What will make us change, deeply, fundamentally, radically?
I don’t know the answer to this question and likely never will, so the best I can do is carry on every day even when I’m tired and don’t feel like shopping for forty people or feel like being nice because I might be feeling irritable or unwell, and even when I’m scared about our future here, I must find my way to renewal.
Isn’t that what being human is? Friendship? Remembering the other who suffers just like you, who hurts like you, who is scared like you, who is irritable and not feeling like being so nice like you? Each and every one of us here must find our way together alongside our human emotions, our disadvantages, our bad days and our good ones. We’re not really all that different, one from the other. We must care for each other remembering this—that we are more alike than we are different. For me this war is not about politics or pundits who spout their high-handed opinions. It’s about clean sheets and drawing paper, sharpened pencils, blueberries in season and ice cream from time to time because it’s a treat.
Grażyna Chrostowska, Polish poet who died at Ravensbruck at the age of twenty-two. She was shot in the forest alongside her sister, Apolonia. This is the poem she wrote two hours before she was executed for being a young girl who said no to the Nazis.
This day is just like Chopin’s “Anxiety”,
The birds are low above the ground, restless,
Startled from their nests. They are listening …
Silence in nature. Heat, like before the storm.
Low, dark clouds flow from the west.
Spring gales roll through the sky
Crouching fear in my heart. Longing, longing …
I want to walk on soggy, distant roads,
Listen to the roar of winds, catch the breath of spring,
Feel the deepest, find the silence of love,
I go, I do not find, I change and I come back.
The cottagers were somewhere far away,
Clouds that went east,
And on the east side,
There are lonely trees, dark, inclined,
in the wind they stand and silence,
Shaken with anxiety.
* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *
This war for me is not about politics. What the hell is that anyway? It’s about the human suffering all around me.