by Dr. Bill Webster
“It is a nightmare, and it seizes you from the inside very strongly. This cannot be explained with words.” (quote from a Ukraine resident in Kharkiv)
Words are not enough to describe the pain of what is happening in Ukraine. Even graphic descriptions of “horror”; “inhumanity”; and “indiscriminate violence” hardly begin to depict the suffering of those who are fighting, dying, and those whose exodus from Ukraine could become “the biggest refugee crisis this century.”
The shocking events in Ukraine have confronted everyone in our world with feelings of helplessness. We have watched the escalating aggression with alarm, and our hearts go out to those who are there, or whose loved ones are in the line of fire.
But on another level, these current events have exposed a deeper level of vulnerability for the whole world, economically and politically, including veiled threats of nuclear retaliation.
This article is not intended to be a political statement. Goodness knows there is enough partisan rhetoric around already on all sides of the issue. Rather it is about the sense of loss and grief we all feel in the situation, directly and indirectly.
I spoke to some friends to assess their reactions.
Bob, now retired, said: “This takes me back to when I was in High School and President Kennedy confronted Khrushchev over the Cuban missile crisis. As teenagers, we all thought it was going to end in world destruction and I felt very depressed that I wasn’t going to live my life, have a family and all that. But I remember my dad telling me that he had similar feelings when he married my mum in 1942 before he was shipped overseas to fight in World War 2. And now, as I near the end of my life, here we go again.”
Sarah, a 2nd generation Ukrainian Canadian, still has family in the Ukraine: “My dad has relatives over there who have visited us and we them. We know that some of the family have been evacuated, but several have stayed to fight for their country and we have no idea if they are alive or dead. Every day I am filled with dread as to what will happen, not just to my relatives but to the whole country. The worst thing is the uncertainty … not knowing what another day or even hour will bring.”
These are indeed days of uncertainty for all people, not just in Ukraine. This is going to make life more difficult for everyone in this global economy, including increases in the cost of living for ordinary people of all countries.
When life is uncertain, we ask, “What do you do when there’s nothing you can do?” While that statement may seem contradictory, it is an important issue for everyone struggling with real, imagined or potential loss.
Sometimes in the light of tragedy or the aftermath of bereavement, we feel so inadequate. In my reflective moments, I sometimes question how effective I have really been as a counselor. After all, I can’t “fix” the problem for any grieving person. All people really want is to have their loved one back and their world returned to normal. I’ve often wished I had a magic wand that could make everything right. Sadly, I don’t.
But then I encounter someone who says “Your group made such a difference for me,” or an email stating, “Your book saved my life when I felt ending it all.”
I don’t let such compliments go to my head. I simply recognize that I did something, often without realizing, that found someone just at the right time to change things for them. I can’t change the world, but if I have made a difference, I am content with that.
Some circumstances can’t be changed, much as we would like to. Our only choice is to say “now what?” What we are going to do about such situations when they actually do occur.
That’s what many Ukrainians have done. We have watch with admiration those who have chosen to defend their homeland at huge personal cost and sacrifice. In seemingly overwhelming circumstances, they could have chosen to passively give up, surrender, or flee. But many have said an emphatic “no” and have determined to resist and fight back.
That was the choice Shakespeare’s “Hamlet” faced:
“To be, or not to be, that is the question. Whether ‘tis nobler in the mind to suffer the slings and arrows of outrageous fortune. Or to take arms against a sea of troubles and by opposing, end them.”
Every situation of life gives us a choice, whether to surrender to the slings and arrows of adversity, or to take action, to do something about the situation, to work it through, and in the struggle hopefully find the strength to overcome.
Regardless of what enemies we face, whether grief, loss, depression, reversal of fortune or even catastrophe, personally or collectively, locally, nationally or internationally, it’s up to us how we will respond.
While we can’t always control what happens, we decide what we are going to do now that it has happened.
As Eleanor Roosevelt said, “It isn’t enough to talk about peace. One must believe in it. And it isn’t enough to believe in it. One must work at it.”