I have always loved railway stations. Trains. Even when I was scared as a child, scared of the large locomotives that loomed up over the platform, with only tiny metal steps to climb up to a puffing and heaving thing, threatening to leave at any moment, it was a fear mixed with excitement. An anxiety begun, or developed – when an adult jumped off – to them only a joke, easily mended. To a small person, a lasting impression. A child looks up in wonder and fear at everything larger, already used to things not making sense, already attuned to changes in tone, where the very air morphs and transforms, the color of life suddenly very different than a minute before, the possible end of the world. Or worse. A darker color. Childhood, where moments of happiness stand out weirdly. A normal kindness, an artist swirling around, playful and laughing, was not normal. So there was always the temptation to leave. And eventually, the beaten down sense that you would have to stay. There were no other paths for four year olds. All you could do was watch.
Perhaps that’s what the nine year old thought as he wrote a letter to his dead mother, as he sat next to her in a town in Ukraine.
The temptation to leave, to change things, is a feeling that rings out today, a church bell in the fog. Perhaps it is a guide. Do we want to stay, and give in, or do we have to stay and give in? What part comfort, what part disaster, what part agency? What part fear of the unknown, and a reluctance to believe, in anything, what part an insistence on speaking, moving, acting, and not waiting for permission?
It might be a good time to go back and read the philosophers writing in the 1930s and 1940s. The foreboding, the incremental changes, all colliding with their piecemeal construction and examination. L’Être et le néant. Free will. The existence of god. The encounter with the self. And the harsh understanding that the explanations one had created all needed to be revised, against the new horrors of concentration camps and planes destroying market towns.
Standing in front of Guernica, the oversized, larger than life attempt to distill tragedy and unthinkable pain – did it seem historical at one point? Certainly no longer. Now the photos on Twitter and Telegram speed to us the emptiness and unreality of destruction. An art to explain this ugliness to us will necessarily take longer.
A train platform, littered with suitcases and bags, a child’s brightly colored suitcase, a toy. There are no humans. No humanity. Zoom in, and blood stains the platform, drips over the bags someone bought in a shop, dreaming of a holiday, a visit to a friend. Now the nylon and plastic serves as brief headstone to an empty space, where someone was once standing, praying, hoping to escape. Now in under-resourced hospitals at the edge of war, doctors are laboring over the pieces of humans, trying to mend broken bodies without legs, arms, hands, riddled with shrapnel, fire, blood, dirt. We like to think of doctors as superhuman, but even the strongest mind, confronted with the needless cracking open of bodies, cracks. Evil has broken into the delicate container that separates the inside from the outside, which lets us pretend we are separate. Their successes and failures to save these eggshell lives, will take their toll.
The train station has always stood as a symbol of escape and adventure. The vast arches of the classic European stations, a shrine to progress. All possibility, the tracks silver lines running into the future. Now these dreams are vanquished – and we are left to try to rebuild a future with this new knowing.
Watching Americans applaud their democracy, when high-ranking political criminals evade justice, and those without money or influence or even the cheap protection of mediocre gender, are gunned down, arrested for murder for an action that is legal in other states or around the world. A senator creates an ad based on his racism, stirring up an ignorant crowd against one of the highest judges in the land. A TV host earns his money saying he is on the side of the aggressor. And we watch. Nothing more than the latest installment of the show we call life, as we go to work, pretending to care, collecting our money for lies and bad acting. Mauvaise foi.
And against this backdrop, aid to Ukraine seeps slowly in their direction. The faucet turns – a little more than yesterday, as the newspapers begin to believe that the people of Ukraine may be like us. Not so different. All the usual excuses and exceptions have been tried out – civil war, corruption, fascists. Who turns the faucet or commissions the article – we don’t really ask, not too much.
If 100 years from now, someone is here to write a book about this time, I hope they call it True Projection – because the enemy looks at themselves, at least once, and takes that description, and layers it over the section of humanity that they wish to attack, like some poisoned piece of hard icing. Accusation is description – of everything they wish to hide themselves. In the UK, they pretend to weed out foreign influence, while holding up some dented chalice of national fervor. But the superrich at the top don’t bother with the rules or the laws. Brexit meant nothing to them – they can go anywhere. Lorry lines backed up thirty miles at ports don’t matter when you’re at your second home in the USA. In America, feigned outrage over the need to protect children becomes a confetti of hypocrisy when you don’t block a law permitting child marriage, or when you willingly stop funding for children’s health care, food, schooling. When the Supreme Court eviscerates laws protecting water quality. Funny, they just did that in the UK a few weeks ago. Almost as if the overall plan is to protect the companies, not the people. In the US, companies are people. We just aren’t allowed to know who.
France begins its elections, which could determine the course of history. Germany, who cracked down on EU countries who didn’t meet certain financial standards, now drags their feet on sanctions, keeps buying oil. And the world announces dribs and drabs of sanctions here, lethal support there. Two daughters are blocked. Some anti-aircraft guns, but no tanks. This, not that. It’s not enough. Listen to Guy Verhofstadt 06 April 2022 plenary speech to the European Council.
Meanwhile, the atrocities mount. One story is devastating. But it’s not just one, it’s fifty. A hundred. Then hundreds. Now thousands.
Do those in power think a dose of fear will do us all good, and that is why they are slow to act? In America, that it might stop “the great resignation” as more people decide they are being exploited and have had enough? Will the latest blood-stained photos keep us at home, grateful for crumbs, keep us away from train stations and questions?
Another day. But at least we have it.
©Alice Severin 2022