Merely the word evokes so much feeling: terror and pride; grief, horror and floundering confusion; compassion, camaraderie as well as a slighted, red-faced British separatism. Yet, it also hides so much; ‘What’s happening in Ukraine’ helpfully keeps the crises - personal, social, cultural and national - over there. We, over here, can continue living our lives grasping onto our ever fragile sense of normalcy.
If I’m honest, the word used to mean very little to me. It was, I dare say, even dismissible. And it is so tempting to place it there again. The alternative, you see, is that the word becomes the place where so many of my assumptions lie scattered. Assumptions about peace, what makes for peace, what maintains peace. Assumptions about safety, our own safety and our ability to remain safe. Assumptions about Europe, the west and democracy. It becomes, instead, the word and the place of chaos. Where pillars of our everyday lives are made rubble.
And the place where something new can emerge.
Now you might say, ‘Such brazen self-pity at the plight of millions.What about their lives fleeing for safety, let alone any talk about the commodities of meaning-making.’ But I find if I don’t go there, if I don’t sit in the rubble of my felt meanings, I cannot have compassion. If I cannot go there in myself, I cannot go there for anyone else.
And instead I move on - as I already have with astonishing propensity and speed - to live my life with my sense of normalcy intact. News of reality, of what’s happened or happening only feeds my general sense of angst being safely diverted away from the building site of my hastily reconstructed sense of it all.
But to hastily reconstruct my comprehension of me and my world, I had to employ a number of hazardous building schemes. One is polarization. I polarize east and west, democracy and communism, good and evil, hope and despair. This flows seamlessly into othering. ‘Us’ and ‘them’. Where ‘they’ are the evil, the mad or the ignorant. This all lets me blame - blame Russians, blame Putin, blame patriarchy, blame politics. Maybe I wish for an end to one of these, an act of God that would let me ignore and forget this thorn in my pretense. And then I am finally left alone in my constructed world of meanings, for it’s not my fault.
But what about the system we believed in would ensure peace? What about the fearful deployment of arms antagonizing the Kremlin? What about our reliance on violence and supremacy that seems only to breed more violence? What about the threat still there and the violence still ongoing? What about the patriarchal meanings I employ and participate in? What about the racism that is rife even in the anguish of fleeing. What about the refugees crying out for a home I have?
And what about the callousness in my own soul?
You see, Ukraine, that place where the polarized meets, fighting for dominance, credence, land and lives, is where something new can emerge - if, and only if, we can stay there long enough for the conflict and crisis to have its way. It can be the place where what is constructed is, not our old assumptions hastily put together again, but a new sense of us. The us that made the conditions in which war was possible, if not inevitable. The us that still do everyday in our lives. The us that has the capacity for compassion, suffering, callousness and change. And then, perhaps, some of those assumptions that can make us so vicious might be left as rubble.