Yesterday I had a late-night Zoom call with Arina. She is my wife’s friend and she lives in Ilichevsk, a small town near Odessa. Holding back tears and shaking, she told me the story of how the war started for her.
“I woke up to the sound of shelling. My city was being bombed. My family left the city by car, towards the Polish border, but I decided to stay and help. I don’t really remember that day very much. It’s like a fog to me now,” she said.
Talking to Arina, hearing her story, I felt such an intense empathy and connection towards her. I also realized how privileged I am to be living in a country where nothing is happening. I used to think that “nothing” was awful — something has to happen all the time — but now I think that “nothing” is actually good. Stability is good. Just living is good. Because there are people who can’t even afford that.
These days, I am trying to understand how to keep on living and planning when there’s a war raging right next to me. There are bombs and shooting and shelling less than 1,000 kilometers from me. I can’t even start to imagine what it’s like to live in a city where this is actually happening.
When the war just started, I thought that thinking about something else, distracting myself with projects, is a good strategy.
“Keep yourself busy,” that’s what they all say. Hell, that’s what I said to my wife, who kept scrolling her news feed every ten seconds. “You’re stressing yourself out on purpose,” I told her. “Just don’t read it.”
“I can’t,” she told me.
So I decided to at least keep myself distanced from it all. Someone has to be sane and serene in the family. Or so I told myself.
It worked. For a while.
Then, as the war kept on going — for 10 whole days as of today — and I kept hearing more and more stories of pointless human suffering, my personal plans and projects started to feel phony. All my past troubles started to seem so unnecessary, immature, shallow. I had a change of perspective.
How can I write a Medium post about “being your best self” when someone is falling asleep in the basement, afraid of getting bombed that night? How can I go on and pretend like nothing is happening when people die? And not just some people — people die all the time, which is horrible, but true — but people that are so close to me culturally…