Too Much Reality?
A couple of times this week we have consulted our usual news sources and found that the Russian invasion of Ukraine has not been top of the agenda. One day it was replaced, if only temporarily, by the details of the UK budget with their single crumb of comfort about a reduction in petrol tax. Earlier in the week day there was even a really good news story about the release of Nazanin Zaghari-Ratcliffe from detention in Iran. But today, Putin is back at the top of the news agenda.
At many sporting events fans are making a big show of blue and yellow. A few people are wearing blue and yellow ribbons on their lapels. In some concert halls the performance begins with the playing of the Ukrainian national anthem*. In churches prayers are said. Some celebrities donate their annual earnings to the relief effort. But as the war drags on, journalists know that further atrocities will sustain our attention unless of course there is some bold push for a ceasefire and a peace agreement, which today seems unlikely. The danger is that we shall accept it as part of the wallpaper of our lives and maybe eventually barely even notice it.
It was T.S.Eliot who said in Burnt Norton that ‘mankind cannot bear very much reality’. That is perhaps why we turn in relief to things that will distract us from the horrors unfolding on our continent. All that confronts us with a real dilemma. On the one hand, we cannot long sustain the emotional tension of living with news of the desperate circumstances of our fellow Europeans whose plight we cannot directly influence or barely imagine. It must affect our mental health already damaged by two years of Covid anxiety. On the other hand, we cannot allow ourselves slowly to forget the pain of these besieged peoples. We somehow have to carry on everyday life. But how do we ordinary people do that while keeping the memory of a free and peaceful Ukraine alive?
Making a donation to the relief effort is the first obvious step. Then there are consumer choices. We read that Holland and Barrett, a chain with outlets on many high streets, was owned by a Russian oligarch. Online, we came across a campaign to boycott the shops. We shopped elsewhere. But then a few days later we discovered that various pressures had persuaded the Russians on the company’s board to resign. So continuing the gesture of boycotting now seems a bit futile but it’s worth keeping an eye out for similar opportunities.
And while Ukraine absorbs all the headlines it is easily forgotten how many other countries suffer war, that the environmental crisis continues, that migrants continue to die in their attempts to escape their fears, that domestic violence reaches new highs, that bullying in schools and on the internet multiplies. And beyond all that, our own domestic worries about how are to cope do not go away.
Too much reality!
Eliot perhaps gives a hint on coping in the same poem:
‘At the still point of the turning world…
…at the still point, there the dance is’.
If we are not to be overwhelmed by too much dark reality, we have to find our own still point, we have to learn that dance and so offer tiny sources of hope.