I struggled for a word, a symbol, and sentiment that could begin to capture the distress and sadness I feel when I watch the coverage of the war in the Ukraine. Out of the silence I think I found what I was looking for: the word that emerged is “heavy hearted:” a heart weighted with an overbearing sense of empathy, anger, confusion, and simply the burden of carrying on in the face of such terrible evil being imposed on the innocent citizenry under bombardment. It’s not so much a broken heart as a heart barely able to carry the burden of suffering war represents.
In my efforts to stay true to my intended pacifism, I try to imagine ways to unburden my heart, to have a hope for some redeeming aspects that might emerge out of the unmerciful destruction, suffering and death I am witnessing. And, yes, it helps to see their inspiring courage, the patriotism, the model of Zelensky’s leadership. But I feel too much like an immobilized bystander helplessly watching a bully beat up someone on the street below my apartment.
My knowledge of active nonviolence helps me know there are reasonable and successful alternatives to violence and war. If the fight was actually on the street below me, I would be able to consider my training in interventions such as personally disrupting the situation with shouting and creative counter mayhem, or maybe becoming more physically involved as a third party, or calling the police. But war creates an insane reality where interventions are difficult as we see now in Ukraine. Sanctions are a promising nonviolent possibility to attempt to stop he assault, but they will take weeks or longer to actually have the desired impact.
There is precedent to believe that a combination of internal, nonviolent resistance in the Ukraine, and rising resistance to the war in Russia, might make a difference. And ultimately, as in the internal resistence of U.S. soldiers in the Viet Nam war, the military might begin to refuse to fight. But effective civil/nonviolent resistance depends on months of disciplined preparation and training. Once a war begins civil resistance is limited, and we need to acknowledge that.
I, too, have moments when I think a military intervention in support of Ukraine could be justified. It is so difficult to watch the bombardments without any apparent accountability or comparable amount of military resistance. But I also feel the need to resist escalation of the conflict, especially with the calculated threat of nuclear warfare if Putin feels desperately trapped. So although I recognize the tension between military escalation and resisting it, my heart cannot accept the risk of a nuclear weapon being used. There is so much to learn from dealing with this dilemma within the reality of modern warfare.
I must now rest this evening sharing the even greater weight of the heavy hearts of the Ukrainian people, both those still living in Ukraine and those who have left, and I pray with them for an end to the war and their suffering. And I join with the heavy hearts of so many empathetic people throughout the planet who are also so deeply impacted by this war. I will pray that peace and justice will prevail and that all hearts will be resilient enough not to be broken but can be strengthened in support of world peace. I will stand in prayer and with deep admiration for the courageous people of Ukraine. I will hold the memory of their resistance. I will remember the images of the horrors of war that will transform into ever stronger commitments for world peace and the abolishment of war in the future.