Baking for Love in a Time of War
Updated: Jun 3, 2022
To my Earth Dialogues readers:
This is the first time I have posted someone else’s work rather than my own, but it feels important to put this essay in your hands and hearts right now. Lauren Mari-Navarro has done what I have attempted to do for the more-than-human-world: to move beyond abstracted concerns and issues, and instead to give a face, particularity, poignancy to individuals. We can soon forget a concept but it is hard to forget a face once we let that being inside of us. She did this with the real life war stories of three men – two are Ukrainian, one is Russian.
Here is the context. Last night I met with my writing group on Zoom, six women I have been writing with for ten years. Each session one of us is responsible for a writing prompt. Given the current invasion in Ukraine, the prompter read the poem, “Pray for Peace,” by Ellen Bass, allowing her words to evoke feelings or thoughts regarding this brutal, haunting tragedy unraveling in Ukraine. Ellen Bass begins with the line: Pray to whomever you kneel down to.
We each wrote for a half hour. Or most of us did. I felt so overwhelmed by the magnitude of this tragedy, by the heartache, that I was unable to put words to paper. Instead, I turned down the lights, and in my own way prayed for peace by imagining different individuals who might be affected, Ukrainians who were going about their lives and then all of a sudden were faced with unfathomable choices. With mass bombardments, menacing tanks, supply shortages and inaccessible escape routes, what would a person do who was needing life-sustaining medical treatments, who was about to give birth, who was wheelchair bound, who was too old or frail to flee, who was separated from their child? What about the person who had just bought a home or started a business, risking all of their savings, and now unable to work, to keep up with payments? On and on the heartbreaks accumulated, one situation after another.
Then the thirty minutes were over and when we reconvened I apologized for having been unable to write, and instead described my meditation. Lauren suggested that she go next, as her piece gave words to where I went in imagination. And did it ever!
Baking for Love in a Time of War
There’s a man, a Ukrainian man who I heard talk about what is happening in his country. A month ago if someone said Ukrainian man, I would not think, oh, this is a special man. I mean, not so different from a Romanian man, a German man, or a Chilean man. Now my heart is full, and my stomach contracts and I think “oh no.” This man who tells of his experience working in tech in Kharkiv. He says, "I'm just a normal guy who loves my job, comes home tired, likes building LEGO." He was thinking of getting the ingredients to make a chocolate banana pie for his workmates. He was thinking about when he was going to make it and how much his work buddies would enjoy it. And then a war broke out in his country. And he was confused, and scared. He was no longer thinking about the pie. Now he was wondering about the safety of his brother, his mother, his friends. And himself. But not putting himself first in his concern.
Now this man has become all of his countrymen and women and children. He’s the grocer who would have carried the bananas and the condensed milk and chocolate, the flour and sugar at his store. He’s the trucker that would have brought food to the store. He’s the woman who manages the store and the teenaged cashier. All of them stopped in their tracks. Cut short. Nothing the same. Now he is looking for a way out, and finding there is no way out. Now he is learning how to shoot a gun.
I listen to another Ukrainian man, a gay man who is a cartoonist. He is 23 years old. He was raised watching Pixar and dreamed of one day working for them as he honed his craft he loved so much. He too has never used a gun. His parents would not give him one, even as a toy. He could never imagine killing someone. This man is scared. He tries to leave with many others across the border. He is chided for attempting to leave when the men are supposed to stay and protect the homeland. He returns home to think of another way out. He realizes he must pay for a special way to leave, like hiring a coyote to find passage, dangerous passage, across the border. But he knows he can’t kill.
A Russian man talking to Thomas Hubl, a trauma specialist, on a live call on Sunday. This man that a few weeks ago was just a Russian man. Now he is the enemy, and he speaks to this pain. “Why,” he says, “must I be a part associated with the troubled part? Yesterday I was driving my family on an icy road and we watched as a car swerved off the road and slipped into a ditch. I returned my family home and I came back to find the family. I put them in my car to warm them. It was so cold outside. Am I a part of the trouble part of my country, or am I a man, a human, a person to you. You see that I am a human by what I just told you.” He is in distress. The trauma self-evident. He is banging on the side of his head because it hurts there. He is banging and banging on the side of his head. Showing us, five thousand people on this live Zoom call, this conflict in his head of not being seen as a human and having the world sanction him. Hurt him. Hurt his family and the family that swerved off the icy road.
This is war. The stripping away of humanity from human beings.
There is no longer a world of IT, of making cartoons, of making banana chocolate pies for your co-workers, of going to the store for food, for ingredients for tonight’s dinner. There is no kitchen to make the no food and no water and no building and no anything and no country and no safety and no connection.
And NATO can’t help or it will start WW III and if that happens, which seems as remote to you and I as it did to the Ukrainian man planning to make a chocolate banana pie for his fellow IT co-workers two weeks ago, well, then we are at war. We are Americans, and so wars always happen somewhere else, whether we start them, provide arms and weapons to help them, or watch others start them, or encourage or discourage them. On this land, with the exception of 911, we have not been attacked by a foreign country bombing our buildings. Cutting us short. Cutting us off from our homes, cutting off escape routes to safety.
We go shopping, we buy ingredients for our dinners. If we felt like it we could make any kind of pie we want. We could make any kind of pie we want, until perhaps one day we can’t. Our level of inconvenience is a “supply chain” problem where we may have to wait three days or a few weeks for something to be delivered. A friend told me she has to wait a whole year for her new couch.
Pray for peace. Pray for peace. Pray for each of those men, those two Ukrainian men and the Russian man, to one day feel human again. Feel safe again. Be able to see their family and friends if they have not perished. Pray for all of those children, for the millions and millions of good people who want to live, to make cartoons and work on computers and make pies for their countrymen and women.
Pray hard and to all the gods and goddesses in every church and sangha and sanctuary and home.
Pray that they will one day be safe, in a warm kitchen, baking for love.
By Lauren Mari-Navarro
Inspired by Ellen Bass' poem, “Pray for Peace”
Pray to the bus driver who takes you to work,
pray on the bus, pray for everyone riding that bus
and for everyone riding buses all over the world.
If you haven’t been on a bus in a long time,
climb the few steps, drop some silver, and pray.
With each breath in, take in the faith of those
who have believed when belief seemed foolish,
who persevered. With each breath out, cherish.
Lauren Mari-Navarro is a longtime resident of Santa Cruz, California, a therapist and a brand new over-the-moon grandmother to three-week-old grandbaby Miles. She also teaches Memoir Writing and SoulCollage at Cabrillo College Extension. "One of my greatest joys is writing every two weeks with my beloved group of seven writers that includes Marilyn, inspiring one another to march on through dark times and pray for peace."
If you wish to listen to the podcast with the two Ukrainian men, go to https://www.nytimes.com/2022/03/01/podcasts/the-daily/ukraine-russia-kyiv-civilian-military.html?
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