Most of us are living a surreal but sort-of normal reality (or is it?). Life is going on as usual, Covid restrictions are shedding away, and, despite the cold, Spring is coming. That said we are all fully aware of what is going on in Ukraine.
Imagine hearing your ministry of defense urge residents to make firebombs to help protect their home. I repeat: people, like you and me, are being asked to defend their city. Perhaps the people of Ukraine have prepared for this, but if you were to ask Joe and me to defend Mons, we’d fight with Jupiler cans, wine bottles and hours-old baguettes. That sounds like an insensitive joke, but I’m being serious. We, like our Ukrainian brethren, do not know the first thing about military might.
And yet the people of Kyiv are using whatever they can find (including weapons supplied by their government) to hold their city. When needed they retreat to basements and subway tunnels for refuge. I said a little cheer for them this morning when I saw in the headlines that despite Russia’s enormous military advantage, Ukrainians still have their capital city.
On Thursday, the first email at work that I opened was one that told me a former Ukrainian student and her family were safe. Everyone who’s had the pleasure of working with her let out a sigh of relief because she is one of the students you remember long past retirement – the child (now young adult) who pushed her elders to teach more because we wanted to feed her insatiable hunger for knowledge. She’s a hardworking, incredibly bright, proud soul who lit up when given the chance to share her country’s culture. Through her I learned that Ukrainian heritage goes back eons, and their passion for democracy is as strong as it was with America, way back when we wanted the same. Her love of learning and her desire to promote all that is good with humanity motivated me to push harder, to do better to prepare tomorrow’s leaders.
I work at an international school on a NATO base. Many of my students come from countries that border Ukraine, because borders are man made, many have relatives and history well into territory at war now. We’ve also had students from countries that ally with Russia, students I also adored, and it is their faces I see too (and I do not want to see harm come to their families either). All of my students have a parent who in one way or another is associated with NATO.
The stress among these kids now is palpable. Throughout our time together they’ve shared bits and pieces of their homes, their passions, their fears. Their stories stick with me, and like the stories from students before them, they remind me of the many different layers that make up our species. Some of our kids will be going back to their countries, so that their parents can do what it is they’re expected to do. Other kids will join us, so that their family members can do what they need to do. War is work.
I want to hug them all and tell them that everything is going to be okay, but they deserve more than a lie and something that will make me feel better. They deserve a world where we don’t destroy one another for someone else’s version of power, but we just haven’t gotten to that point yet.
Teaching and learning is also work. We have the next week off, but when we come back, despite whatever the next few days brings us, we will get back to work. We will escape into the words of those who saw the world before us and see what we can glean from them. We will make our connections, and we will find what light we can. They will take all of this and use it to become the adults they are growing into. Some of them will grow into public figures who will make the decisions that none of us feel we have any control over. If the teenagers they are today reflect the leaders they will become then I still have faith. But, we still have a lot of work to do. We adults have to model critical and objective thinking (and decision making), we have to model a desire to compromise, we have to model progress despite our setbacks and, yes, idiocracy. We have to want to build for all versus destroying to gain for a few. We have to get over ourselves and face our damned fears and bouts of superiority. We are all woven from the same thread, which takes off into our unique styles and patterns.
Of course a world without war seems impossible. Winning independence against an empire was impossible. Flying was impossible. Being able to breathe underwater? Impossible. Shutting down entire economies to fight a virus was, at one time, impossible. Why should figuring out a way not to war be unreachable? If my hormonal, moody, and sometimes lazy teenagers can continue to do the work despite all the horrors that are happening too close for comfort, then so can we adults.
Peace, or maybe that’s too lofty, how about cohesion is work.