“Hey Mommy, Daddy, Grandpa, Grandma…..What did you do during the Great War?”
Have you ever thought of how you will answer questions like that? Because your future will, if you are lucky, arrive, and you will have lived through whatever atrocities humankind inflicts on each other in the present days and coming years. And someday, someone you will care about very much is likely going to ask you that question. And in any case, YOU will ask yourself that question; your conscience will. Nobody wants to know, “deep down inside”, that when it really mattered, they failed.
There will be times in life, probably several unfortunately, when the proverbial shit hits the fan, when humanity’s worst impulses somehow grip us in a collective madness and we unleash terror on each other. Violent times have been part of our history forever, it seems.
One of those times is right now, as the world witnesses an indisputable crime against humanity, a peaceful people, a sovereign, free nation, a proud and vibrant culture, being attacked with tanks and bombs and bullets, innocent lives snuffed out, families fleeing in terror, babies born in bomb shelters, and underneath all the news and debate and politics and sanctions and announcements and meetings and summits and treaties, underneath all of that is a pervasive stench of death, like living in a home with corpses under the floorboards. Underneath all our posturing, all our talking, underneath the whole Big Spectacle of war and global actors like Presidents and Prime Ministers is the knowledge that what’s really happening is so horrible, so horrifying, that if any one of us were forced to stand right there, witnessing a bomb blowing children’s bodies to bits, or witnessing gunfire shredding through skulls and limbs, while the screaming, the crying, the explosions, the smoke, the fires, the blood, the rubble, the incomprehensibility of it all, if any of us LOOKED right into the face of that, we would weep, we would wail and beat our breasts and sink to our fucking knees in agony.
Whether you live in Ukraine or not, you know your brothers and sisters there, peacefully going about their lives, are now being brutalized. The time is now to “do something”.
Now, this is going to be a bit jarring. You might even get angry, feeling this is insensitive. I believe it is absolutely and uncompromisingly the opposite of that. But I understand, this might be a bit jarring…..
As you think about Ukraine, and you feel this urgency to Do Something, then first of all, yes, by all means, do something. Do whatever you can. Send your money, attend your protests, sign your petitions, express your outrage. Do it all. Do it as much as you can.
And then, in addition to this, not distracting from it, not trying to replace it or overshadow it or anything like that, but in full, deep, heart-opened respect to those victims of war in Ukraine, take a further step with your urgency, your empathy and heartbreak.
Are you ready? (The answer is no. You’re not. It’s impossible to be “ready” for this. But ready or not, here reality comes.)
Stop for a long, long moment, and let that horrifying “deep knowing” hit you, that what is happening in Ukraine, the violence, the mass suffering of innocents, has been happening your whole life. It’s been happening in Palestine ever since you were born. It’s been happening in Indigenous lands for centuries. It’s been happening in Guantanamo Bay and the rest of the American prison-industrial complex. Saudi Arabia. China. Yemen. Somalia. Syria. It’s been happening everywhere as a result of unbridled capitalism widening the rich-poor gap, building wealth on the backs of the exploited. It’s been happening in the lawless “exporting processing zones”, the modern slave-factories of barely-paid workers who live in hopeless poverty so that the rest of us get our cheap consumer products and the wealthy oligarchs at the top of the hierarchy build another pipeline to funnel money directly into their pockets. It’s been happening in the sex trade. It’s been happening with child brides and female genital mutilation and child prostitution. It’s ISIS and it’s the Western oligarchs who profit from and ultimately finance ISIS. It’s the War on Drugs, the War on Terror, the War on Nature.
Mass death, mass killing, mass suffering, has been part of every breath you’ve taken your whole life.
Now, don’t shut down. Don’t turn away. Not now. Not this time.
This time, let this moment of horribleness, this reckoning of your heart as you watch and read about the terror of the war in Ukraine, let this open you even further, stretch you even further until that desperate compassion, that heroic urgency, that bone-grounded feeling of “I must do something”, wraps your heart around the world.
That, is love.
To know how you will answer those future questions about what did you do when it Really Mattered, just ask yourself, how are you answering them right now?
And if you don’t like that answer, then change it.