For the last two months, my colleagues and I have been spending 10-15 minutes in play at each staff meeting. Every other week, someone facilitates an “ice-breaker,” a simple game or puzzle intended to help us get to know each other and build a sense of cohesion. At our last meeting, someone brought the question, “If your house was on fire, all of your loved ones were safe, and you could get 5 things safely out of the house, what would you take?”
Coming up with a way to answer the questions gave us each an opportunity to consider what is important. Sharing it with our colleagues gave us a chance to explain why those items are important. In explaining her choices, one woman acknowledged,“ I might not think this clearly if there were really a fire.” We all had to agree that the choices we had shared that morning were an interesting thought exercise but not really practical. Who knows what would happen in an emergency?
Two weeks later, I am hearing news reports of Ukrainians fleeing their homes. Did they have time to grab anything as they fled their homes? They certainly didn’t have assurance that their loved ones were safe. Do they anticipate going back to their homes “after the fire is out”? Is it even possible to mourn your losses when they just keep accumulating?
In an emergency, adrenaline and the will to live will keep people moving and making decisions. The images coming out of Ukraine are full of people who appear afraid, but they also appear to have great strength and courage. For a long time, I gazed at a picture from NPR of an older man seeking medical care on the street, a bombed building behind him, resolve on his face. He has seen a lot in his lifetime. His face shows it: there has already been so much war, so much struggle, so much pain. Why must there be more now? Will he live long enough to know peace?
Observing this emergency from a distance, it is easy to become overwhelmed. I am safe enough to wallow in my sadness but that is not helpful or satisfying. Urged on by my need to do something (anything!) I began to clean the house yesterday morning. It didn’t take long to figure out that tending to my home was a balm for my weary heart and a manifestation of an earnest desire to extend comfort to those who were being displaced from their homes.
As I brought order and beauty to the little spaces of chaos in my house, I prayed for order and beauty in the wider world.
As I polished the tarnished silver bowl that had been in my grandmother’s house, I remembered my grandmother’s story of traveling with her newborn daughter on a boat from Hawaii to the mainland after Pearl Harbor was bombed. The boat traveled without lights to avoid detection. I prayed for the elders in Ukraine, the lives they have yet to live, and the stories they will pass on. I prayed for the women and children leaving their partners behind to fight as they seek safety elsewhere.
As I walked up the stairs to clean the bathroom that had not been cleaned since my foot surgery 5 weeks ago, I gave thanks for my own strength and mobility and I thought again of the women and children making voyages by foot, car, bus, and train to the borders of Poland and Romania. I gave thanks for the compassionate governments receiving them and the volunteers offering food, shelter, clothing and support. I prayed for the leadership of our own country, that we might learn to welcome people arriving at our borders.
As I watered houseplants and pruned their dead and dying leaves, I prayed for the earth, air, and water that will suffer from war’s toxicity. I gave thanks for Mother Earth’s resilience and the persistence of Creation.
As I sat down and put up my foot, I gave thanks for my own home, for the refuge that it provides and the safety and comfort that I enjoy. I do not – will not – take it for granted. I am resolved that all beings should have spaces of refuge and I am aware that we have a long way to go to make that vision a reality.
One cleaner corner, one movement, and one memory at a time, I gained some strength for holding the enormity of war a little closer yesterday.
As I write today, I give thanks for awareness and pray that I may continue to be strong enough to face humanity’s hardships with compassion and that I may lend my heart and actions to healing and wholeness in whatever ways I can. Sometimes it will just be within the walls of my own house and, sometimes, that will be just enough.
May the prayers that flow from my hands join
and with millions of others.
May our collective action generate peace
in our hearts
in our homes
in our world
in our lifetime.