After ringing in the new year with family, I woke up to this beautiful, hazy sunrise on the first morning of 2023:
In the quiet of a house still asleep, I wanted to write. I didn’t post frequently in 2022. Time not spent at the day job was divided between family and working on Mother Christmas. With one teenager already in college and another headed there in the fall, I’m aware of how quickly time is flying and how any time spent with them is a gift.
But on January 1, 2023, I first turned to Twitter as I have done every morning since Russia’s attack on Ukraine on February 24, 2022. I wake up and check the news, getting the latest updates from Ukrainian journalists and activists I follow, many of whom have been on the front lines. I sit for a moment with the weight of it, and then a prayer.
By the time I have published this, on Ukrainian Christmas Eve, January 6, 2023, Ukraine has been at war for 316 days. In Ukraine, as well as around the world, there continue to be battles, massacres, injustices. There are also moments of grace, joy, love, and resilience.
Tonight is when my family celebrates Ukrainian Christmas Eve, Sviat Vechir. It is on this holiday more than any other that I think about my family, my ancestors, and the country my grandparents were forced to leave. I have been raised with, or maybe inherited, a profound sense of longing for Ukraine and her people and culture.
My grandparents survived WWII, but like many others, they were unable to return home to Ukraine. After time in the Displaced Persons camps, they emigrated to the United States and built their lives in Chicago’s Ukrainian Village. Their children and grandchildren were raised to never forget what they were forced to leave behind. Today, new refugees are resettling in Chicago and in other places, leaving so much behind.
Growing up, my grandparents were my examples of the different ways that war and trauma can change people. Four people with four very different responses to their past.
I learned from them, and from others of their generation, that there are many shades of resilience: humor, creativity, hospitality, adaptability, conservation, anger, silence. We see this in the stories shared from Ukraine, as well as the stories from other places around this country and the planet where people are fighting for their lives.
I keep asking myself: How do I begin to formulate a wish for the new year with such a backdrop?
I’ve sat with these words and feelings for a week now, writing and erasing and writing again. I keep coming back to this Leonard Cohen lyric:
There is a crack in everything, that’s where the light gets in.
~Leonard Cohen, “Anthem”
We are living in communities — global, national, and familial — that are fractured and wounded. Trying to figure out how to heal those wounds is something many of us will spend our lifetimes working toward.
In talking with friends and family over the past few weeks, so many people are feeling a deep longing for connection — with those we’ve lost or lost touch with, with those we have not yet met — as well as spiritual and existential longing for a kinder, more peaceful and more just world.
What I heard and saw in person and on social media around New Year’s Eve was a sadness that goes hand-in-hand with that longing. Some of it comes from the pandemic, some of it comes from political and economic injustices, some of it comes from war and aggression, some of it comes from lack of resources to help with mental and physical health.
All around us, people are feeling loss and lost. Voices are crying out, but there does not seem to be enough conversation about that sadness, about that longing. People continue to feel unheard and unseen, or ignored.
This week, a new co-worker recommended a book: Susan Cain’s Bittersweet. In it, I read this, and it rang true:
If we could honor sadness a little more, maybe we could see it — rather than enforced smiles and righteous outrage — as the bridge we need to connect with each other. We could remember that no matter how distasteful we might find someone’s opinions, no matter how radiant, or fierce, someone may appear, they have suffered, or they will.
― Bittersweet: How Sorrow and Longing Make Us Whole
So here is my imperfect but sincere wish for the New Year:
In this new year, when we reach out our hands, may we find other hands there to safely take hold of, to lift us up, to bring us close. And when we are able, and we see hands reaching out in earnest, may we find the strength to take hold of them.
May the obstacles that stand in the way of connection begin to be eradicated and may bridges take their place.
May we see people as they need to be seen, and may each of us find our way to the communities that will see us and love us and help us to heal ourselves, others, and this planet.
Love and blessings in the new year.