Sunday Morning ~ Decisions
Khoza lipita ndi mwini dzanja. ~ The ivory bangle goes if the owner of the hand agrees.
~ Chewa proverb
March 13, 2022
My mother’s cousins came to visit me yesterday. It was an old fashioned family visit, like the ones I remember from my childhood when friendly familial faces entered the house amid laughter, hugging, glee. Coats and scarfs were tossed over railings, large bodies moved into the kitchen or living room where there was tea, coffee, and cookies. Their girdles swished against silky skirts, nylon stockings, pearls, perfume all a blur of bustle and happiness. They smiled with funny teeth, so many smiles on old faces, greeting us children with utter delight at how big we were, how smart we were, though, what did they really know? But the delight was genuine. Everyone was so happy. They’d driven maybe an hour? But it seemed like they’d been separated for decades. Had they? There was reminiscing, news, and expressions of awe with gasps of sadness peppering the chatter. I’d sit on the sidelines and watch this display of connection and love, not really understanding who everyone was or how they were related.
When my mother died twelve years ago, I received a forwarded Christmas card addressed to her with a chatty message from people in Maine I’d never heard of. I wrote back to tell them she’d died and learned they were her first cousins, family I did not know I had. They spent the day here yesterday, and told me they didn’t really know my mother; they’d only seen her once or twice when they were young. Their father (my grandmother’s brother) moved their family of eleven children to Maine when the depression hit and he’d lost all his savings. They squatted in an abandoned farm and made a new life here. We sat by my fire learning about who were were, telling stories of displacement and suffering and how everyone came through it back then. They’d lost siblings from childhood illnesses, went to war, waited at home for the return, started new lives. I listened to them, now in their 80’s and 90’s, with such love and admiration. Such hearty stock I come from, I thought. They can laugh at such stories of hardship. I thanked them for making this trip to visit me for a day. They inspire me; they give me hope.
When my plans to spend a month in Poland this spring got complicated by a war, I spent some time in the uncomfortable state of indecision. For the past two years my travel plans have been disrupted by the pandemic and I’ve spent the time at home, exploring Maine, and broadening my understanding of classics and pop culture. (I’m reading The Odyssey and watching Succession for God’s sake.) I thought we were coming out of a stressful separation and never suspected traveling again would involve factoring in a war. I wondered how to help in this crisis? Unclear about how to be of use, I bought a ticket to Poland and immediately felt better. I’m in a constant state of anxiety and the news literally gives me heart palpitations, but at least I have a rough plan. I sit shaking, hearing of women in labor fleeing a crumbling building. I wonder how brave I could be? Decisions. Those women had no luxury of time to ponder what to do as bombs were falling.
My house is quiet. The clocks leap forward so we can enjoy another hour of light though it’s the same 24 hours. There are no bombs falling here, only branches falling from the wind. I eat breakfast in my sunny kitchen and am warmed by the fire at night while I read any book I choose. I knit something superfluous while I watch something to make me laugh. But I make the decision to leave here, find a job doing something useful, offer anything I can, hoping it may make a difference. When I weighed the two choices: staying here, and going there, the one that brought peace to my heart and calmed me, was going.
When I told my relatives yesterday I was going to Poland to see if I could be of some help, their reaction was all very matter-of-fact, reminding me of my mother. Oh well, you do what you need to do.
What should I bring? What should I plant before I go, or should I deal with the garden when I get back? How should I finish up obligations I’ve made here? These decisions are easier to make. I started looking for organizations to work with, and sent in two applications. I’ll figure that out once I get there if nothing comes through before I go. At the very least, I know I can work with World Central Kitchen. I’m happy to make sandwiches, ladle soup, or wash dishes if that’s what they need. But when I think of women delivering babies in a subway, my God, I want to help there if I can.
The priest at mass last night asked us to pray not only for the Ukrainians and their heroism, but for the Russians as well. “Pray for Putin”, he said. “It may be our prayers that turn his heart. It may be the Russian people who can end this. Both sides need our prayers to bring peace. There are brave Russians protesting this. They need us as well.” I thought of 2016 when I wanted people to pray for America, too.
The proverb refers to the inability to force someone to do something against their will. You cannot force a child to go to sleep. You cannot make someone love you. You cannot force someone to stop drinking. I read this proverb and felt both hope and despair. Putin can not be forced to end his madness. The Ukrainians can not be forced to live under Russian rule. It’s only when we agree.
Love to all,