The simultaneity of suffering and peace is one of the cruelest realities of the living condition. How, at the exact same time, somewhere in the same planet, some are going about their daily lives in safety and some are enduring unspeakable horrors. It has always been so, but modernity and its ability for instantaneous communications makes it so much more palpable and cruel.
I think about this simultaneity of suffering and peace often–when Venezuelans leave their country on foot and die on a cold mountainous pass; when Afghans try to climb a plane in a last desperate attempt to escape; when migrants drown in the Mediterranean, their hopes gone along with their lives. It’s all an accident of geography and history. How incomprehensible. I often feel ill and paralyzed with sadness.
I used to talk about Putin. How in the world order he was evidently one of the most dangerous and most evils, alongside Kim Jong-un, Nicolás Maduro, and then a litany of autocrats and leaders undeserving of the name: Turkey’s Erdogan; the Philippines’ Duterte; the existential danger that is Trump. All my conversations ended up being about the same question: How? How has so much of humanity ended up prisoners of these so-called leaders?
As the images of Bucha, a suburb north of the capital Kyiv, make their way through social media and the news, I find myself barely able to mention Putin’s name. He has fallen from the ranks of “human being” to that of the utmost representation of evil, a name synonymous with the deepest depravity humans are capable of. He is unmentionable. The name we must keep on our minds, on our lips, is that of the Ukrainians.
No matter how disturbing, no matter how horrific the images making their way out of the devastated cities are, we must not look away. We must witness it all with our eyes fully open. We must let the shadow of those horrors offer some perspective to our peaceful reality so we can fight to preserve it and never take it for granted. I come from Venezuela, but I live in Canada. I learned, a long time ago, to never take anything for granted.
I don’t have answers, I have no solutions. So why do I write? What can I offer with my words?
I know wars start and wars end. I know European Union leaders and others in the West could do much, much more. I’m not qualified to speak to any of that. I am unable even. My understanding of this war is stunted by its horrors; they are too profund. I know, I know: an escalation may cause even more human suffering, more devastation.
But, surely, shouldn’t the charred remains of civilians, their colourful manicure still visible, be enough to prompt nations to risk more and to assume those risks in the name of humanity?
Shouldn’t the image of a little girl, lying dead on a hospital bed covered by her small pink jacket done that? Or the photo of family, a mom and her two children and their friend, laying dead in the ground, their backpack and luggage still next to them, accompanying them not to safety but to eternity, shouldn’t it have prompted more definite responses to the war?
I don’t know. I don’t know.
I just offer my heart, my thoughts, and my words to the Ukrainians. To them I tell them: I am bearing witness, I am not looking away. I will remember and honour what you have gone through. It’s the least I can do. Today, on the 41st day of the war, I am writing this as a testament of my promise to you.