Let me start with a short anecdote. When I worked at the Jung Center in Houston, Jim Hollis was the director, my boss. For those of you who don’t know Jim’s work, I strongly encourage you to look him up and order any of his books, all of his books. You can’t go wrong.
One day when I showed up for work, I was in a very bad mood rather like “Alexander and the no good very bad day,” who wants to move to Australia. In fact, I think I must have said something to that effect, that I’d like to move Australia. And Jim, in his infinite wisdom said: “Just remember, wherever you go you take yourself with you.”
We’ve had enough tears for one day. Alla left yesterday to join her family in the UK. Vlady and Lena left today amidst more tears and heaving rain for Turkey, where friends are waiting to receive them. I will miss them terribly but I’m also looking forward to hearing about their new lives elsewhere.
What I want to share today has been on my mind for a while and I’d like to set the record straight. I get the distinct impression that there are those who read these diaries who think that Sichów is a kind of Arcadia. Some kind of pastoral fairyland where all get along and work together in this harmonious bubble without discord. Well, it’s not. Nothing could be further from the truth.
Imagine for a moment that you happen to live in a small hotel. Then imagine that a war breaks out literally three hours from your house. Native Houstonians (my hometown) think Dallas, for example.
And within two weeks, your small hotel, your home, has lovingly opened itself up to forty strangers in need of a place to shelter. The end. Well, not exactly. We have been together now since February 28th, three months to the day. It’s extraordinary that we get along as well as we do. But there are forty (including ourselves, forty-two) active realities in process at all times.
Forty-two unique individuals with their own calling, their own suffering, dreams, ailments, complexes, shadow, complaints and projections in daily motion.
Who sets the tone? Good question. Is it Paul and I, or is it Sichów or what Sichów represents? Who sets the tone in a family? Obviously, that depends on the nature and personality of the family. I would have to say it’s a blend of Paul and I and how we have, over the past seven years, come to define Sichów.
Forty-two personalities and their individual impulses did not change because of war; however, at the beginning, when we were all thrust together there was a momentary pause, a kind of calm before the storm. The children hardly made a sound. I was very suspicious as this has never been the case in my experience. We were all polite, placing a slight distance between ourselves, almost afraid to cough out loud. But…
“…remember, wherever you go you take yourself with you.”
As we have become more familiar with each other, it’s nothing that we crowd shoulder to shoulder at the stove to dish out our portion and maybe some of another’s onto our plate. It’s nothing to us now to carve out our personal space at the tea kettle for a cup of coffee, even if that means overlapping with your neighbor also waiting for the water to boil or taking the last slice of cake or honing in on the basket of strawberries if you happen to be fortunate enough when they’re delivered to seize a share for yourself before they disappear.
The children are doing their work too: they are noisy much of the time, often outside my door, misbehaving and fitful—all the things one expects from a child, they are fulfilling.
That’s the top layer. Next in order are the misunderstandings between us which cause conflict and residual resentment if not resolved.
Not everyone who showed up that day in February came with charity in their hearts or a sense of fair play, and for those who were self-centered before the war, well…they’re still self-centered as the war rages on and will be, likely, at its end. This is how we are.
But when you’re motivated by something greater than yourself, something outside of yourself that throughout the years has encouraged an inner journey to self-discovery and ultimately, to some sense of gnosis, then you are able to see with a greater clarity.
We decided to rearrange some of the women’s duties. The kitchen had turned into a toxic cauldron. One woman took on the role of a manager, started to boss the volunteers, control the supplies in a way that made others want to run away. My husband will be displeased if I say what I’m really thinking as he reminds me to forgive 7 times 70. He notices the acacia in bloom. He takes greater pity upon others when all I see is a pit bull heading my way and my first line of defense is to protect myself.
But it does come down to toxicity. And even he would agree. The last thing we can afford right now is for any one of us to misappropriate the space for either our own personal gain or our own unconscious, unnoticed core complexes, which are being constantly triggered.
I can, to a point, tolerate unconscious behavior until it becomes so active that it disrupts the whole, the collective. And then, we will rearrange things. I have reclaimed the kitchen and we’re back to what we had before our disturbance, which is families sign up to cook for everyone one day a week without supervision. Women cooking for their families don’t need to be micromanaged.
There are other personality traits that really goad me, like the idea of entitlement when Paul and I are working every angle to make sure our donations see us through the fall. So, for someone to ask for something personal, apart from basic needs, when the rest of us have to share, causes an explosion inside me. And when I say basic needs, I make sure everyone has an appointment with the hairdresser. I make sure there are clothes and shoes and medicine and nutritious foods available, and always, always, cake. (We need cake. Send cake.)
Between us, we have one washing machine, which I’ve used twice in the last three months. I wear the same outfit 7-10 consecutive days before I change as there are women here with children who have special needs, and believe me, they need that washing machine. So, when someone asks me for their own personal drying rack when we already have three, I go insane. How can they not see? Jordan helps me though. He’s given me a mantra to recite: No. No. and more No. My wise nephew.
War does wound us, but it does not change us, not fundamentally at least. It might be the catalyst to encourage us to go inside and do what I call the spade work, but it’s not a guarantee. This is how it is. The scars of war.
The beauty of all of this, however, is that the art studio is now active and there are artists painting in watercolors, acrylic and oils on canvas, paper and textiles. Gala is conducting art classes for the children on Saturday mornings. It’s full of life and creativity.
The garden is in bloom and will produce vegetables by July. Sichów has really never looked so well, so consistently active and so full of imagination.
This atmosphere of inspiration co-exists alongside the toxicity. In a community such as ours, where we are all interconnected and bound to each other until outside circumstances shift, we have to include all of our shadows, our projections and our misunderstandings that result from being in such close proximity. We do not have the option to relocate or to ask another to leave because we might be made uncomfortable…not those who are left anyway, because those who are left are only thinking of going home again.
The hope that I spoke about a week ago has waned with Russia now bombing the life out of the Donbas.
But we sat at the table last night with Andrii and his family, and we all agreed that we must keep some kind of hope alive even if for only the children’s sake. Especially the children. We must be their guiding light. We must be. We are a human family of hope.
Which brings me to the close of this diary noting the deaths of the children at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas.
We can no longer turn our backs on the psychological nature of man. We are at the end of the road. We must make a decision to look inside of ourselves, once and for all.