Words of solace in hard times

The world is not the same anymore today. Illusions have been lost forever, and we are opening our eyes to a new and scary reality. Once again. As if the covid pandemic wasn’t enough to show us our vulnerability and recklessness, asking for drastic changes. No catching our breath.

For a moment I briefly hesitated if I should really write about this grave subject of war in Europe. But I cannot ignore what the events of the last days mean for us. There is so much at stake and it has the potential to scare us out of our minds, considering all possible implications. That’s the feeling when realizing you are dealing with someone completely unpredictable who is prepared to go to considerable lengths.

Suddenly, every ordinary thing I look at, every task I do has become so insignificant. It’s a wonderfully sunny day in late February, and I realize once again how many things I take for granted. Having a home, food and water, being able to sleep at night without fear. My life is not threatened. My family and friends are safe.

Starting work yesterday morning, the daily problems we had to solve appeared like petty playground games to me in comparison. Nobody is going to die at our workplace if a report is delayed. (Maybe this should be my answer  in the future in some of our conference calls.) I am thinking more and more about how scary the current situation must feel for my colleagues in Romania which is sharing a border with Ukraine.

Speaking to my parents in Germany who were teenagers during World War II, it’s really tough on them. They were both displaced back then, had to flee their homes. Having to leave behind people and places you love must be unimaginably sad. Watching the pictures on TV now brings back all those memories for them. They are devastated and frightened. 

I grew up with these war stories because they both talked openly about it, hence I had probably less illusions about peace being a given. But when something like this happens it is still a shock. So I spent today moving between crying and defiance. Staying away from the news is difficult right now as fear seems to glue us to the TV or online news, looking at the ghastly empty streets of Kyiv. Then I went for a walk seeking the soothing powers of nature.

There is still hope. There always is. 

Of course, there are chances.

Hope is the active conviction that despair will never have the last word. (Cory Booker)

  • The time is now to respond unanimously. We are stronger together, that is one of the lessons to be learned.
  • Acknowledging past mistakes made and learning from them quickly. Change has to come fast now, and it can. We’ve already seen it.
  • Making hard decisions and accept they will hurt ourselves as well to some extent. Absolute transparency of governments with their citizens about the consequences.
  • Strategically important in the long term: the willingness to deal with crises in countries outside of Europe, to prevent escalation that could otherwise, eventually fall onto our own feet some day. 
  • Another interesting and very hopeful prospect: finding a solution to the stalemate situation in the UN security council.

The time is always right to do what is right. (Martin Luther King)

After all, this is a chance to getting our priorities right. A reality check.

And let’s not forget: we are living in the digital age now, having much more transparency than there ever was before. Let’s use it to our advantage.  (The anonymous hacking group appears to be doing exactly that.)

What I say might sound like a citizens’ wish-list for our governments – and it actually is. Feeling powerless without influence on their decisions, all is left is my hope they will come to their senses, leaving their differences in opinion aside.

This situation is a crucible. It is heartbreaking and sadly, realistically, there is more heartbreak to come. How we will emerge from it remains to be seen. 

But we need to hang in there, refusing to give up. 

Because there is always a chance.

Enlightenment

Light and darkness are two sides of the same coin, essentially. They belong together. There is no light without shadow, no day without night, no good without evil. Although we would very much prefer to keep the negative, the uncomfortable, difficult and painful out of our lives, it doesn’t work that way. 

Nothing’s a constant in life, it is merely a sequence of ups and downs. It’s scary that we cannot take anything for granted. That’s why we are trying so hard in many ways to create some form of continuity. But we need to learn how to live with incertitude, how to navigate these winds on the ocean. And sometimes it might feel that this is all too much for us and we just want to shout out “Why can’t it all be different, easier?” Especially now.

We are yearning for getting one state without having to face the other, but we cannot have it, as all such antipodes are inextricably interconnected. And that is actually necessary to remind us of how fragile life is, and to really appreciate happiness as something special and cherish it in our hearts.

Life is frustrating right now, we want this pandemic nightmare to end, to get on with our lives and return to some kind of normalcy. We expect a well organized conduction of the vaccination process in our countries, or at least good enough project management driven by common sense. Interesting to see though that more or less all our governments fail in the process. We are facing a chaotic and desperate situation; even in my home country Germany (often hailed as the lead example of good organization) things go pear-shaped.

However angry it makes us, we cannot control or change it. It’s a learning curve for all of us, also for our governments. This is the first time they are confronted with a task on such scale, and they try, fail and learn. In the end it will all work out, it just requires more patience from us  – which is a tough call of course – since we have already gone through a very difficult year and we very understandably want a break.

But we still need to hold on, hang in there and simply trust. Finding the confidence that things will work out eventually. And convey that to others around us even more.

What always helps me is focusing on what has been already achieved: the progress I see, the learnings and changes, overall and for me personally. Let’s remember:

– We got an efficient vaccine developed in a very short timeframe – what an achievement!

– The focus has shifted on dealing with and speeding up resolution to some long standing issues.

– Things which were not thought to be possible before suddenly are.

Being grateful for what I have and what I still can do is equally important to me. And not to waste my time worrying too much.

We have a responsibility toward ourselves to take good care and keep us mentally sane, and not to give up at the last moment, after braving all these obstacles. That responsibility extends as well to inspiring hope and confidence in others, especially to those going through even harder times.

What keeps me sane for the most part are the people I talk to, in person on a safe distance or on video, messenger, email, phone. We are sharing our thoughts and feelings, our joys and concerns and encourage each other. It’s what keeps me going, allowing me to calm down and make it to the next day.

And sometimes, we become witness to an omen of a better future.

That’s how I felt last week while listening to the amazing young poet Amanda Gorman reciting her poem at the inauguration of the 46th president of the US, Joe Biden. Her powerful, wholehearted words, her determination speaking about the light in times ahead really struck a nerve. It brought tears to my eyes.

She incorporates the pure antithesis to darkness, doom and despair: a young black girl, a poet wise beyond her age, using words with meaning and kindness, projecting hope, inspiration, a foreboding of better times to come.

In fact, she looked like a beacon of light herself, marking the start of a new era.

For there is always light, if only we’re brave enough to see it. If only we’re brave enough to be it. (Amanda Gorman “The Hill we climb”)

The light is always there, we just need to see it, acknowledge it, in the small things in life. And let ourselves be enlightened and spread it to others.

Not surprisingly, the internet is full of praise for this poet, calling her the secret star of this event, bringing back hope to Americans. Some of the unanimously positive comments I read on YouTube, from people watching her being interviewed by James Corden:

“This girl is like a ray of light”, “The world is a better place with her in it”, “When God shows up, He really shows up. A woman brought peace into this world before, and I believe it will be a woman who brings peace into this world again.”

It shows how many people are longing for a signal of hope, especially in these times. How much we want this world to be a different one. How much we want to leave hatred, lies, division and fear behind us, how desperately we need unity, equity, justice and peace. 

The words of this extraordinary young woman resonated with us, her clarity highlighting the simple truth that words should always have meaning and purpose. It makes me happy to see the accord of so many people from around the world sharing these feelings. 

The significance of her recital, a much needed inspiration, is like a precious gift bestowed upon us at the right time. It certainly helps me to re-focus.

What we witnessed was a unique moment in time showing to us a glimpse of what is possible and how things ought to be. 

It’s a roadmap for the future, a call to action, and it’s up to us to carry and pass on the light.

Change has begun. This is only the start.

%d bloggers like this: