Life has sped up over the past few weeks: I saw more people in person during the last weekend of February than I did the past year with more than one virtual gathering stirred into the mix. A jam in Niles, a show in Berkeley, friends over for lunch. I had to send Kwame to the basement to get a few more dishes. Sometime amid the pandemic, we put our extra plates and bowls and glasses in storage, so our cupboards contained only pairs of matching dishes, no more.
Life has been that way lately, like starting up a car that’s been in storage for months. You realize the windshield wipers need to be replaced and everything needs airing out, but it sure feels good to be back on the road. I’ve felt a bit rusty as I’ve been socializing and starting to book and play shows again, but also excited. I’ve felt so happy to hug people, to be living more fully again, but beneath it, now, is apprehension.
My ear can’t shake the dissonance the war in Ukraine has added to the mix.
The day we drove to Niles to play music at the Mudpuddle for the first time in two years, I read Kwame the latest news as he navigated the 880. Both of us kept getting chills as I read about the orchestration going on between countries. Zelensky and Putin, NATO and SWIFT. The headline “It is very clear Putin has no Plan B.”
Here in California, the sun was out, and trees were blossoming. In a small town in Fremont, musicians were circling up with their instruments. My oldest friend came to the show with her son. Someone brought a King Cake to share. Laughter filled the air.
On the way home, we checked in with my 92-year-old Aunt, my mom’s surviving older sister. She isn’t on the Internet, but she’d been watching CNN nonstop. She told us about visiting Odessa and walking the Potemkin Stairs many years ago, how beautiful it was, how sad she was now.
The next day, as I ran errands, I caught up on The Daily podcasts. In one, man in Ukraine was being interviewed about his choice to stay. But it wasn’t a clear choice. No one really believed it could happen. They had simply run out of time.
“What would you do if you had 10 minutes to decide whether to leave forever or stay?” he had asked. There was no urgency in his voice now. He knew only time would tell what his indecision had cost.
I remembered my Mom’s stories of putting up blackout curtains at night. She was seven years old, living with her parents in Daly City. A little more than five miles north, Dad was living in the Sunset District, in his Junior Year of High School. Within months, he would finagle a way to finish his schooling at Mission High so he could graduate early and enlist. During those years, Mom’s dad, who barely spoke English, got a job working in the shipyards. My great aunt, a nurse, boarded a ship to England to help set up field hospitals. All hands, so to say, were on deck.
It's hard to stomach, these current events. Civilians are being targeted. War crimes are being committed. People are sleeping in subways. Millions of people are fleeing their country. It would be easy, again, to bury ones head in the sand. But the only cure for the unease I’m having is to say yes, connect, even if I’m not feeling it. How else to remember our humanity?
Rebecca Solnit (whose book Hope in the Dark should be required reading right now) recently shared this quote:
"We bear witness and try to act with compassion. We don’t know what consequences may ensue, but our not knowing would make a poor justification for not acting." —William DeBuys
Later in the week, when I went to the Post Office near the beach, I texted a writer friend who lived nearby.
"I'll come downstairs," she wrote back. I looked up to see her head of curly hair descending the stairs of her apartment building a minute later, her dog on a leash. My friend is three years younger than me, and writes terse, taught plays featuring women who are usually figuring a way to escape the patriarchy. Decades ago, we attended UCSC at the same time, but we didn't meet til I moved to Alameda.
We circle the block, down the sidewalk by the beach and around two other apartment buildings, mulling headlines.
It was windy and colder than it looked. The dog was relaxed and happy in that way dogs are when they’re with their people, stopping at every stump and bumper to sniff and occasionally lift its leg. A couple of runners sped past. A vaguely militaristic-looking plane flew over from the Oakland airport and we wondered at its provenance.
"Should we be protesting?" my friend asked.
“War is hell. It always has been. And it always will be. Its currency is death, dismemberment, desperation, and fear. It doesn’t end in parades. It ends in caskets.” — Dan Rather
Most everyone does not want this war.
We were at a loss at what to do in that moment, but sharing that feeling of helplessness, instead of numbing it or tuning it out, was a tiny step.
Since, then, the way to help those in need has come into sharper focus. Try not to look away.