I have been thinking for weeks, How to speak of spring in the face of war, of death? How to speak of spring in the face of another migration, a mass migration of almost three million Ukrainians and counting. Where the birds themselves are likely changing course?
I live in a neighbourhood in Edmonton that is ground zero for opioid deaths. Tragedy is everyday in my community. Coming home one day from work on a recent warm day, on a street I often walk, a small girl waved at me from a main floor window, delighted, smiling, her smile growing when I returned the wave. Such power in a smile! I glanced ahead, two doors down, roughed out behind the glass of a transition house, in folded sticky notes, were a heart and a smiley face. I smiled again and looked across the street. There, on the second floor of a large condominium complex, a resident had used green painters tape to etch out the Facebook symbol for heart <3 and a smiley face with a wink.
Spring is like that. It just is. Joyous. Infectious. Unstoppable. Subversive. Muddy.
And so is the best art. A subversive act. Spontaneous. It cannot be controlled. And why the people in Kyiv are singing in the subway stations as they shelter from Russian bombing. Why some of the company of the historic opera in Odessa sang as ordinary citizens filled sandbags to shore up the defences in that city, with shelling going on in the distance. Why Ukrainians are keeping vigil in prayer and worship. Why a pair of Russian activists got married anyway on Invasion Day, him with a bomb of his own against the war, in red all-caps on the back of his white shirt.
Sing we must. Speak we must. Love we must.
I chuckled when I read that the Russian tanks got stuck in the mud. Nobody considered the earth. No one counted on the rain. Or the season. The Ukraine is fifth largest producer of wheat in the world, much of it exported to vulnerable countries. No one in Russian command calculated the fierce resistance of the people.
This is not the first war in spring. Nor the only war in progress. Nor the first mass migration. Almost seven million Syrians were displaced by the civil war just a handful of years ago; almost two million made their way towards Europe, and many are still displaced. There are many struggles for human rights, people reckoning with violence in the world and on our own land today.
This spring I was part of a mass choir for the SkirtsAFire festival, an all women arts festival in Edmonton. For the first time, we sang a piece by an Indigenous composer, Sherryl Sewepagaham, called The Journey, in Woodland Cree. Ipimoheteyêan meskanaw kawên’timeyan, which she translates “I am walking on the road that I will follow.” As Sheryl explained it, the road is the wisdom, traditions, teachings, stories and rituals of the ancestors.
What is the journey we walk on this land? What is the road we’ve been given? Do we remember it? Are we in right relationship with this land and with each other? May this outrage we feel for the people of Ukraine spur us to compassion and solidarity for all suffering injustice and violence in our world, near and far.