The Force of Life
It’s Spring Equinox. Buds, blooms, bombs. Tanks, terror, tulips.
Inside the south-facing window of my home office, I have a rectangular plastic tray divided into eighteen squares full of potting soil. This week, tiny seedlings have raised bright green stems and leaves above the surface, risking air and exposure. Red Sails lettuce. Two kinds of extravagant purple poppies: Hungarian Breadseed poppies and a variety with ruffled double blooms, the name of which I forget. Later, I’ll plant broccoli, kale, chard, summer squash, tomatoes, pole beans.
In the yard, flowers bloom: hellebores, hyacinth, bridal veil, perennial primroses, daffodils, forsythia. Every plant buds, sprouts stems and leaves, bursts with life.
In Mariupol, Ukraine, Russian forces dropped bombs on the Donetsk Regional Theater of Drama despite knowing that it sheltered hundreds of Ukrainians, including many children. No one yet knows how many died. 130 people have been rescued from the bomb shelter below the theater so far; efforts to free more survivors have been hindered by ongoing Russian attacks. This atrocity is only the most egregious of the direct attacks on civilians. By now, over three weeks into the Russian Federation’s war of aggression, we have all seen the horrific photos and videos of bodies and bombed-out buildings.
All of this is real in our world right now. I have no doubt that, in Ukraine’s vast fields and forests, green shoots will sprout as soon as the soil gets warm enough, regardless of the devastation. Here in Seattle, where spring beauty is everywhere, humans continue to hurt and kill other humans, though not on such a massive scale.
In the early 1970’s, I lived in a collective household in Berkeley, California with eight other activists, including the gifted singer, songwriter and musician, Bonnie Lockhart. Bonnie was a member of the Red Star Singers, a revolutionary band, and they often rehearsed in our second-floor apartment. So I know all their songs by heart. The US was fighting a brutal and futile war in Vietnam which we all opposed. Richard Nixon was President. We naïvely believed that our national situation could not get much worse. And yet we had hope. The lyrics of the song “The Force of Life” (from the album of the same name) are resonant now.
Way down in the subway, I saw flowers grow
Out of the rubbish and the ashes
It seems to me, I heard a baby’s cry
Right in the middle of lifе’s disasters
I saw a garden in a young child’s smile
And paradisе in his laughter
I heard the beating of the pulse of life
It’s beating now and forever after
It sure seems funny to me now and then
When I think about this world we live in (the world we’re livin’ in)
There’s people struggling everywhere
And the force of life don’t give in
Words and music by Peter Kessler; additional words © 1974 Paredon Records for Red Star Singers
The Ukrainian people are showing us the power of the force of life in a thousand ways every day. In his recent post “Ukrainians Are Consoling Us,” Timothy Snyder, Yale history professor and author of the book On Tyranny: Twenty Lessons from the Twentieth Century among many other works, wrote, “Because Ukrainians are resisting, not just on the battlefield but as a society, they console us all. Every day they act is one when we can reflect, and hope. People do have values. The world is not empty. People do find courage. There are things worth taking risks for.”
On March 5, the tenth day of the war in Ukraine, I dreamed:
A group of us is using an old-fashioned flatiron. My granddaughter is there, and I am afraid she will get burned. I shrink the flatiron down to a miniature, the size of the iconic Monopoly game piece. I am creating a bouquet to gift to someone. This has something to do with settling a war. I pick clusters of blooms from a plant. The small flowers are shaped like snapdragons and colored every shade of blue, from near-white to pale blue to deep cobalt. I place several of these clusters into a vase, creating a cloud of beautiful blue flowers. The tiny iron is connected to the bouquet.
Russia is one of the world’s largest producers and exporters of iron ore. The dream describes what is necessary to “settle a war:” reduce the military threat significantly; calm inflammatory conduct (blue is a calming color); restore life and beauty. I am holding the vision the dream gave me as I provide what little support I can from afar to the brave Ukrainian people and the cause of peace.
It is tempting to despair at the scale of the trauma. We can draw inspiration from the land, from nature, and from our human communities – including the people of Ukraine – to sustain us as we fight, each in our own way, for democracy, peace, life.
If you wish to donate to vetted organizations that support the people of Ukraine, here is a link to Stand for Ukraine.