This morning I awoke after a good night’s sleep. After a hot shower, I had a hearty breakfast and a couple of cups of coffee, while I perused a magazine article. Then I took my daily swing at Wordle. Afterwards, my wife and I interacted with our lovely dog and two cats. The day outside was sunny and clear and beckoned to us. A nice walk on the beach followed: a picture-perfect day.
Meanwhile, while we were walking in the bright spring sunshine, approximately 4,500 miles from Provincetown the people in Kyiv and other cities and towns in Ukraine were in pure hell. It is difficult to imagine the sheer horror of it all: thousands, probably tens of thousands, dead; many more thousands living in basements and subways with little or no food, water, electricity, or cell phone connection; millions of people displaced; families separated. Apartment buildings, schools, hospitals, and theaters are reduced to rubble; fires are everywhere. There are scenes of bodies in the street, a sofa upturned in a town square, a mangled bicycle; sneakered feet extending from beneath a sheet. Just imagine the shrieks of air raid sirens, shuddering bomb blasts, and worse: the whirr of a missile overhead and then the silence before impact.
All this has been reported. The conditions that the Ukrainians are enduring are unimaginable, unthinkable. Yet only weeks ago these people sleeping on cots in crowded gymnasiums had homes and jobs and schools and daily routines — just as we do.
What strikes me most, beyond the horror, is the amazing fortitude that Ukrainians are displaying. Courage is abundant, and not just in the men and women who are taking up arms (some for the first time) to defend their country but among all the citizens who are living under siege or those who have become refugees: they show a remarkable resolve.
Where does this courage come from? Do we all have it in reserve? Does it reside in the marrow of our bones? Does it sit on the soul’s shelf, next to kindness? Do disasters and extreme events bring it out? Look at the acts of bravery and charity that occur in our own communities after hurricanes and fires and floods. Neighbors reach out to do what they can to help each other, overlooking differences that might have separated them the day before. But these situations rapidly dissolve. And then many of us go back to living in our cocoons of safety, comfort, and entitlement.
I do not know if I could face the terrors we have been hearing about with even a fraction of the strength that these ordinary people are showing. If I lost my loved ones, if I were separated from my family and friends (and pets), if my home and belongings were destroyed, if I feared for my very life — could I summon a strength I am not aware of? I must assume that I could. Adversity comes to us all, eventually — although rarely on a scale of Ukrainian proportions. Normalcy is ephemeral, a created state of mind. When we are shocked out of it, we find our true selves, waiting.
Look at Volodymyr Zelenskyy: an entertainer, a comedian, an unlikely candidate for hero status, who has instantly morphed into a leader of unique qualities, displaying courage, defiance, and a steely-eyed resolve. I am too old and wise to make a saint out of any mortal, but these qualities existed in the man prior to his need to summon them.
I saw a photograph of a little boy, all by himself, clutching a teddy bear, steadfastly crossing the border into Poland, resolute, with a look of determination on his face. The boy, the man: pictures of courage. I celebrate them and all Ukrainians (and the Russians who have resisted their government).
I celebrate courage: we all will need it one of these days.