The images coming out of Ukraine are horrific. Barbaric. Stories of looting and rape and torture. And Russian soldiers breaking into the homes of the elderly, to steal microwaves and meat grinders. And mass graves.
Last night at the Grammys, a pre-recorded video with President Zelensky was played. Tell the truth about the war…support us in any way you can, any, but not in silence.
Silence is dangerous. Silence disempowers. Silence lets us forget.
When I was in graduate school studying Russian literature, I became interested in the poetry of witness, and in particular the poem Requiem by Anna Akhmatova. Probably her best piece, Requiem tells of the Purge and of the lives of the men and women who lost loved ones. Akhmatova herself experienced deep sorrow following the arrests of her husband and son.
At the beginning of the poem, Akhmatova writes A woman standing behind me, who of course had never heard of me, awoke from the stupor we all shared and murmured in my ear (for we all spoke in whispers there):“So can you describe this?”And I said:“I can.”And as I answered, something resembling a smile slipped briefly across what had once been her face.
Akhmatova’s poem is a testament to the brutality of the Purge and the Soviet Regime. Because she told her story, we cannot forget.
The question we must ask ourselves is, what can I describe?
What stories must be told? What must be done? Once we have seen, we cannot unsee. Once we have heard, we cannot unhear. We cannot—all of us—be on the frontlines of a battlefield. But we all have our gifts, our perspectives, our knowledge, and our stories. And these stories, must be told. Like the story of my Ukrainian friend I was finally able to get through to. Who won’t tell me where she is. Whose nephew is injured from fighting in the war, but he is alive. Who asks for prayers. And lives one day at a time.
There are many more stories waiting to be told. Let us start telling them.