I will send out my regularly planned post on Sunday, but when the world is wailing and an innocent country is being set on fire, I need to write. So here I am on Friday night, thinking about you all, grateful for this space where I can try to shape some of my aching heart into words in the hopes that something I say might help you feel a bit more grounded and a bit less alone during this tumultuous, terrifying time.
When we sat down tonight for our weekly Shabbat dinner, I thought about the thousands of Jewish Ukrainians who wouldn’t be having their customary Shabbat dinner.
I thought about the likelihood that we have relatives in Ukraine, wondering where they’re spending this harrowing night.
I thought about readers who follow my blog and people in Ukraine who have taken my courses. Where are they tonight? Are they safe?
I thought about the children separated from fathers; terrified mothers trying to usher their little ones across borders to safety; men of all ages staying to fight for their country’s freedom. I looked at our 17 1/2 year old son and knew what he was thinking: “If I was there, I would fight.” I wept for the mothers of those sons, the unimaginable grief and terror they must be feeling at this very moment.
I couldn’t speak. I couldn’t sing our ritual prayers. My husband took over, and I let the tears roll down my cheeks, just as I do now as I write these words to you.
Everest asked, “What part is making you most sad?” He’s been following this situation for weeks, reading the news every morning before school to keep his finger on the pulse.
“All of it,” I replied, still crying. My three sweet males looked at me with such tenderness. Asher leaned his head against my shoulder. My husband found my feet under the table. And their love only made me cry harder, not for myself but for the families in Ukraine who won’t be sitting together around a table tonight and for an unknown number of nights to come.
There are times when the pain of the world feels like too much. I don’t pretend to understand the vicissitudes of this situation as I’m not an expert on foreign policy, but I know what my heart knows. I know that what’s happening is wrong. I know that countless numbers of innocent people are suffering. And I know that in our global earth family, their suffering is our suffering. The mothers in Ukraine are me. The Jews in Ukraine are me. The sons in Ukraine are my sons. The husbands/fathers are my husband, the father of my sons.
Feeling helpless as he looked across the table at me my husband said, “Should I go fight?” Like his father before him who signed up for WWII on the day he turned 18 and flew to France to fight for justice, the warrior archetype runs in his blood. If this were happening on our soil, I would be home tonight with only one young son.
I don’t know what it is to have your city taken over by tanks, a city that just three days ago was a modern, democratic place where people enjoyed what people enjoy in cities. I can’t even really imagine it, but I can feel it in my bones. The horror. The heartbreak. The terror.
And yet there’s something that lives in my genetic/ancestral code that does remember. I don’t “remember” Kristellnacht (or Night of the Broken Glass) of 1938, but I feel as if I do. Maybe it’s because I’ve read and seen enough about WWII, or maybe it’s something else. I don’t remember the pogroms across Russia that caused my great-grandmother to board a ship at age 12 and come to America, but some part of me does. Maybe when trauma of this level happens we all remember something of our ancestral lineage that endured a similar horror, some time in our genetic past that remembers being overtaken by despots and colonizers.
What do we do with our broken, aching, wailing hearts?
There isn’t a formula, of course, but I’d like to share what I do:
• I cry. A lot. I feel lucky that I have access to tears. I feel grateful for the release of my shuddering chest and wet face. Once the storm of grief passes through, I feel ground again.
• I write. I write to make sense of my own experience but I mostly write to offer a lifeline to just one person, for words can do that: they can reach across vast distances and hold out a hand. If you’re struggling, know that you’re not alone. These words are my hands reaching out to you, holding you and loving you in the sometimes unbearable pain of being human.
• I give. These are the organizations that I’ve been giving to:
- Together Rising
- Jewish Colorado
- Red Cross (click here to read about how the Red Cross is helping in Ukraine)
• I pray. I know prayer is a charged word for many people, and while I do pray for certain outcomes, mostly I pray in a non-outcome focused way. The Ho’oponopono Hawaiian practice of reconciliation and forgiveness that my friend Carrie taught me many years ago seems to naturally spring to my lips during times like this: I love you. Thank you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. Over and over again. I love you. Thank you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. I love you. Thank you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me. l love you. Thank you. I’m sorry. Please forgive me.
• I allow myself to shift my focus. I’m staying informed, but I also know when it’s time to step away from the news. I go outside. I watch my son sledding in the snow. I listen to music. The more we can come back to ground and anchor, the more we can step into the current and show up however we can.
• I connect to gratitude. I watch how guilt wants to sidle in and I remember that connecting to gratitude helps elevate us, and the more we elevate the more we can serve as a lighthouse for others. Connecting to gratitude isn’t selfish; it’s noble, and it aligns our compass to the dial of giving.
That’s about all I can share for now. I hope something here is helpful. Sending much love and deep prayers for peace.