I read the above quote by Warsan Shire at the beginning of this week, and the notion of the world speaking its pain really struck me. I felt it deeply in my heart.
It made me think back to the times when my children were little and sick. I would hold them and ask them where they felt pain, but they were unable to pinpoint the location or the cause. They just knew it was everywhere, and so that’s what they would say: “Mommy, it hurts everywhere.”
I feel like this quote aptly describes where we are as a world and as human beings right now. If the world could speak at this very moment, I think that it would say exactly what my children used to say: It hurts everywhere.
I also feel like pain is the one thing most people around the world have in common right now. It’s everywhere. We feel it in our bodies, in our minds, and in our hearts. We feel it in our families, in our neighborhoods, and in our politics.
Clearly, the situation in Ukraine is front and center at this moment. The pictures, videos, and stories coming out of the country are stunning, heartbreaking, and so painful to witness. At the same time, they are also heroic and awe inspiring. I can’t imagine what it's like to live there right now. I can’t imagine what our fellow human beings there are feeling at this exact moment. I know they are feeling fear, anger, disbelief, and confusion, for sure. And all that is mixed in with a deep determination to defend their country, which they love.
In fact, their president, Volodymyr Zelenskyy, said to the invading Russians: “You will see our faces, not our backs.” He has reminded his people over and over again of their strength, their truth, and their resolve. He has led them in a strong and inspiring manner, refusing to succumb to panic and refusing to run. It’s been extraordinary.
Every week, I try to use this column to take you above the noise of the day. I try to make sense of what is happening in our world. I try to connect the news of the week to our own individual lives. Some weeks it’s clear to me what to say, but other weeks it’s much harder. The events of this week are downright impossible to make sense of. I can’t make sense of what’s happening in Ukraine. I can’t make sense of the bloodshed, the heartache, the death, or the pain.
I must say that I am stunned by Putin’s brazen brutality on the world stage, and his total disregard for his neighbors—for their humanity, their independence, and their human rights. I’ve been heartened to see everyday Russians coming out to protest his invasion. Those of us watching from a distance must try to separate this madman from the many people in his country, because the man at the center is reckless and volatile, to say the least.
Putin sent a terrifying warning to the world this week when he said that if anyone from the outside got involved, they would be met with a response unlike any other encountered in history. Those words brought chills to my entire body. Without warning, it brought me back to my childhood when we were told the Soviet Union was the enemy. We practiced duck and hide drills in school. We brought canned food in case of an attack. I remember as a child being terrified of what could happen. I remember in my body the fear that the Soviet Union engendered. And, honestly, as I sat alone watching the news the other night, I felt that same kind of fear in my body. I felt real fear for the people of Ukraine. I felt fear for those on the frontlines. I felt fear for our world.
I felt the pain that sprung up in my body everywhere, and here I was sitting in the safety of my home! Imagine the fear parents must feel as they try to send their children off to safety. Imagine the pain in those who are huddled in subway stations, unsure as to where will be bombed next. Imagine the pain within people’s bodies when they hear that they’ve lost a loved one, or as they watch the devastation from afar and feel helpless. The pain hurts everywhere.
It’s mind-boggling to me that this is where our world finds itself, that this is where we find ourselves in 2022. At war. The pain of war is the stuff of legends and the stuff of history books. It’s the stuff of madmen. The collateral damage of war is also legendary. That’s the case for wars between nations, wars within political parties, wars within families, and the wars that go on inside each of us.
When I close my eyes, I can see and feel what Pope Francis called the "profound pain" in our world during a conversation with Zelenskyy yesterday. My daughter asked me how it is that Putin can just do what he did on the world stage. How is it that a man like that can just invade an entire country while the world watches? How have we come to this kind of barbarism?
I know the answers are complicated and long. I know it’s also tempting to turn away. But I hope we don’t. I’ve learned in my lifetime that trying to outrun pain is fruitless. It always, always catches up to you. Trying to numb it also doesn’t work, and yet that’s what is happening. We are becoming numb to the violence that is all around us. We scroll past school shootings. We scroll past the violence engulfing our cities. Our social media platforms are rife with verbal violence thrown at each other. Our political disagreements are violent and threatening. People are dying from drug overdoses in record numbers from their pain. There is pain everywhere—in every home and on every street corner.
So, what can each of us do? That’s always my question. For one, we can support organizations working in Ukraine. We can share stories of valor, courage, and truth. We can hold space for someone we know who is hurting and reassure them we are here and will not turn away.
Not turning away. That’s what we can do. It’s trite, but it’s what we can each do to offer peace and love through our thoughts, words, and deeds. We can’t go on like we’ve been going on. It hurts too much. We are killing our earth, ravaging our families, and allowing madmen to threaten our world. We are allowing cronies to pillage and wreak havoc as they cruise around in fancy yachts, live in palaces, and spend millions. And we act as if it’s all OK.
We don’t all live in Ukraine, but if it can happen there, why can’t it happen here? Think about that. It’s not far-fetched. What is the price of peace today—in our country, in our homes, and in our hearts? What can each of us do to stop the pain? Actually quite a lot.
So, let’s stay focused on the situation in Ukraine, and the situation in our own lives. We can be messengers of peace. We are strong enough to face the pain of the world and our own pain. We are strong enough to ask where our world hurts. Only then can we hope for a different answer.