Mack Williams column: Ukrainian thoughts

Published 12:00 am Saturday, March 26, 2022

By Mack Williams

I started out the other day with thoughts of spring, but remembered scenes of fighting and displaced Ukrainians on the previous evening news brought gravity to my spring reverie.

I thought of old black-and-white images of World War II refugees in various shades of gray clothing (remember: black-and-white newsreels) with all their hastily-gathered belongings in horse-drawn, or mule-drawn carts.

I mentally contrasted this with current Ukrainians fleeing in cars, by bus, etc, wearing modern clothes, some clothes with popular brand names and slogans, even some young children with Disney characters displayed on their coats and hats. There were kids clinging to plush puppies and kittens. Some people wore puffy “Michelin Man-“style coats, too.

In other words, in comparison to the refugees in those those old WWII news reels, those now fleeing for their lives look like us.

I started imagining (for empathy’s sake) everyone with whom I came in contact that day as Ukrainians, working their jobs and going about their daily routines in those smaller cities, yet untouched by missile or tanks, but with the thought of such things gnawing in the back of their brave sensibilities.

In the park, two ladies walked a fuzzy little dog on a leash. Being this time of year, I imagined a siren sounding, but instead of a tornado, an air raid, with the ladies quickly scooping up the dog and heading to a shelter, all three becoming refugees. I remembered a TV news picture of a Ukrainian family with the father clutching their little chihuahua. The chihuahua had that wired, frightened look of all chihuahuas, but in that TV news picture, the little dog’s eyes seemed to speak for his owners’ terror, as well.

I saw older men exiting a senior center where they always play billiards with gusto. As they carried their encased pool sticks, I imagined them as Ukrainians carrying encased rifles handed out at a Kyiv police station for their country’s defense.

When I see press pictures of the many Orthodox churches in Ukraine, I think of my church’s choir’s enjoyment of singing, voices rising through our colonnaded pediment, just as the Ukrainian choirs’ voices rise through those swelling, golden “onion-bulb” spires.

Our minister is a jack-of-all-trades: minister, counselor, musician, orator, and writer, as is probably the case in these churches, too. I thought of the additional soul-wrenching duties those Ukrainian ministers have had to include in their kits these days.

Just as I was finishing my park walk, I started to think of other things, when a woman paused her car beside me and complimented my singing of the Ukrainian national anthem from the audience of a recent symphony concert. My son, Jeremy, an oboist in the group, had written out the words for me, which I further phoneticized. The lady said it meant a lot to hear the Ukrainian national anthem’s lyrics sung as the orchestra played the tune.

I was struck by her remark, especially following the scenes upon which my mind had just dwelt.

I guess it’s just one of those strange coincidences which happen now and then.

On the heels of what was said to me from that car window, and having written it all down, for now, I sit here — speechless.

And wordless.

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