I take Aussie to the next town for her outing with her pals and Leeann Warner, and as I drive up the hill an ambulance with lights flashing speeds down in the opposite direction.
“Stop! Stop!” Aussie shouts from the back seat.
“It’s going the other way,” I tell her. There’s no traffic, nothing at all to hinder the ambulance in its rush down the hill, but for a quick moment I feel discombobulated. Am I supposed to stop if they go the other way? Keep on going? Veer to the right? Slow down?
It’s been years since I’ve studied the driving manual (driving rules for New York, where I lived at the time, not Massachusetts). I know what I have to do if I’m driving in the same direction as the ambulance, but if it’s going the other way?
And what is the other way?
These are the questions that I’m having at this time, especially but not limited to the war in Ukraine. Am I supposed to stop with my regular life? Am I supposed to turn? Veer to the left or right? What should I do? And what business is it of mine if it’s not going my way, but the other way?
My 61-year-old brother told me on the phone this morning that he’d like to fly over and volunteer in the Ukraine. Not to fight, to help. Maybe administer first aid, carry food, support the wounded, protect children, do whatever he can.
I have a similar fantasy. Show up! Do something! Show people they’re not alone! That last is so important. We’ve been in places of great violence and devastation, and when we apologize that we weren’t able to do more, we always hear the same refrain: It’s so good that you come because this way we don’t feel alone. I’ve heard those words in Palestine, Rwanda, Bosnia, Colombia, and in our own Black Hills.
But if I go, will I really be useful, or just another person eventually on line to get out when the going gets bad? Would I be a liability for those with so much on their hands already?
My body feels as if I’ve put on the brakes in the car: the upper half is shoved forward while the bottom half is belted securely in my seat. I will send money, that’s for sure—and what else? There’s a sense of wanting to draw a line in the sand and say: Till here and no further!
I’ve been doing somatic meditations of late, body-based practices. Throughout the day I take brief times out to deepen awareness of my body. What aches? What doesn’t move with ease? What needs a rest?
But that’s just the surface of things. I feel my breath go deeper and lower all the time, carrying the life force in and out of my body, exhaling so thoroughly I feel my feet practically sticking to the ground. And why shouldn’t they? I can’t detach myself from this ground, this earth, this home. It’s my foundation and my refuge.
So even as I think of jumping up and getting on the next plane to Kiev, the lower half of me knows it has to stay put right here, on the ground. First, I’m 72 and don’t speak Ukrainian. Second, a powerful intuition that staying connected to my body isn’t a connection just to a body, but a connection to the whole thing.
My brain is ready to look at the news every 10 minutes. Friends are telling me they can’t sleep at night. I make myself a cup of Italian coffee and as I wait for the machine to warm up my mind highlights the message in big, blinking neon letters: Citieses are being bombed; food will be gone. I watch snippets of last night’s State of the Union Address and think of Zelensky, who rejected American offers of safety for himself and his family.
We can’t miss it, we’re profoundly connected. We worry, we care, we send support to people we’ve never met, from a culture we hardly know, speaking a language unintelligible to our ears, worshipping a God many of us don’t, looking a lot more like Russians than like us—and we care.
Often, I decry our species. “You know that canines are superior,” says Aussie.
“Oh, yeah? How many species resonate so deeply with what is happening across the world?”
“Can I have my dinner now, please?”
The essence common to us all—including to Vladimir Putin—speaks all the time. Often, we don’t hear, we don’t listen, don’t know, get distracted. That is not true now. Candles are lit, people fast, they pray and meditate, they dedicate merits to the Ukrainian people.
And I, who didn’t even know whether to stop or go when the ambulance passed me going the other way, keep my feet on this earth. Don’t stop, don’t go, most important: don’t go crazy, stay grounded. Do your work—sit, teach, learn, write, help immigrant children. Don’t go to Ukraine but find other ways to help.
Most important, let your awareness of this body and earth expand and deepen into awareness of the One Body. I’m not talking spiritual abstractions here but rather deep somatic experience. In leading guided meditations, Bernie would point out that we inhale the exhalations of everyone around us, and they inhale our exhalations.
Everything permeates, nothing’s gone.
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