So here we are two years later. I look at this picture of myself wearing my first mask. Ahhh, the innocence; like a virgin, masked for the very first time. I wanted to write a follow-up to the updates I had shared during the lockdown, but what to say about how the world has changed? In late February, many of the European nations had decided to loosen a lot of the restrictions (except Italy, of course) and just as we were about to exhale, that psycho Putin invaded Ukraine. That is when it all became clear to me. Maybe this conflict is the moral of the story we’ve been writing together these past two years.
Before we enter 2022, can you take a little trip with me back to the 80’s?
I grew up during the 70’s and 80’s in a neighborhood in southern Brooklyn called Sheepshead Bay. This was a time when The Soviet Union was Enemy #1 and we were all scared shitless of nuclear war. It was talked about constantly. They called it the Cold War and in my little mind, it was because whenever you thought of the possibilities, your blood froze. Some people have memories of doing bomb drills at school. I don’t remember my public elementary school doing that. They must’ve figured, fuck it, we’re gonna die whether we squat under a desk or not. By the time I was in high school, there had been a huge immigration of people from the Soviet Union into Brooklyn and the neighborhood next to me, Brighton Beach, had been given the nickname “Little Odessa” because of the number of residents from The Ukraine. (Note, up until a month ago, I always said “the” Ukraine, until my son Dean so kindly corrected me and told me that I was part of ‘the problem’ and using the article ‘the’ before Ukraine was not only outdated when Ukraine became independent in 1991, but it's also condescending, insulting and validates Putin’s stance. Yikes! I formally apologize for my ignorance and will never use it in the present day). Anyway, I was super curious about these new people, because my whole life they had been the enemy and now they were my classmates and neighbors. They were incredibly beautiful and exotic-looking (Note, my son has also screamed at me for using the word ‘exotic’ when describing a person, because it ‘de-humanizes’ people. Well, shit, I certainly don’t want to do that. But we’re back in the 80’s now when calling someone ‘exotic’ was a compliment. Again, I promise not to use it in the present day). I became friends with several Russians (Note, they may have been Ukrainian, but back then, I thought they were all Russians. Ahh, ignorance. Again, sorry) but for the most part, these new immigrants didn’t want much to do with me, no matter how much I smiled and tried to strike up conversations. It would only be years later when I became very close friends with many Russians and Ukrainians that I began to understand their culture a bit more. When I lamented to a friend who had grown up in the former Soviet Union that they didn’t want to be my friend back in high school, he said, “Back in Soviet Union, no one smiled at strangers. Only stupid people…and village idiot.” Well, that certainly puts things into perspective.
Ok, let’s get back to the present day.
Now we all know that Putin has always been a diabolical character. We’ve all heard the stories of people suddenly disappearing or getting murdered after insulting or criticizing Putin. Some scary shit (look up Alexander Litvinenko). But when the threat of him invading Ukraine started, a lot of people (including the village idiot) thought, “Nah.” When he did actually declare war (or as he calls it “the special operation”) many of us were just like WTF really? After all we’ve been through, you’re really going to do this? For me, personally, it felt like Putin was bombing Brighton Beach. And if you spoke to anyone of my generation or older, we kind of had that blank stare that tells of childhood wounds been ripped open. The fear of nuclear war had laid dormant within us for decades. For me, scenes of the movie “The Day After” started flashing before my eyes (this was a movie that came out in the early 80s about what would happen after nuclear war. I was traumatized and didn’t leave my house for days after watching). So, yeah, Putin has never been Mr. Nice Guy, but his actions lately are beneath even him. He seems erratic. Unhinged. Maniacal. But, perhaps, if we analyze him during the past 2 years, things make sense.
The rumor is that Putin was more than a little fucking paranoid during the pandemic and really isolated himself. Supposedly, his inner circle became much smaller and those people had to take fecal tests twice a week. If anyone outside the circle wanted to visit with him, they first had to quarantine. It’s also rumored that Putin has some kind of disease. When I recently saw him on the news, I thought the plastic surgeons were part of his inner circle. His face was super smooth and round like a baby's ass. But people say that might be the effects of certain medications. And do you see his meeting tables? It’s like a 30-foot table, where he sits at one end and his visitors sit 20 feet away from him. So, what happens when you have paranoid, diabolical, wealthy dictator isolate because he is so afraid of germs and of people out to kill him too? Turn on the news.
I don’t know any wealthy dictators personally, however, I can tell you that I have seen a lot of Putin-esque people out there lately. People who are very paranoid and angry, because they created their own little reality in their head during isolation. Nowadays, it’s super easy to find others who share your views, no matter how crazy they are. A simple search on the internet and you find validation for whatever you want to believe, then suddenly, the world seems like a much darker and menacing place. These people have become completely erratic, angry, suspicious and find no room in their mind and heart to understand an opposing thought. The isolation and fear during the pandemic exposed our deepest vulnerabilities and has made some blind to the biggest lesson that we should have learned – that we are all connected and we are in this together.
There is a very fine line between being passionate about your beliefs and wishing others harm for not sharing those beliefs. I have heard things like, “the unvaccinated should get Covid and die” or celebrating the death of an unvaccinated person. Really? And I cannot tell you how many people I know who’ve ended relationships over political stances, vaccines and differing opinions. Really? I wonder if these are the same people who are shocked at how Putin is behaving (remember, we are not a reflection of the world, but the world is a reflection of us). I marvel at people who are so sure of their opinions. 8 billion people in the world, comprising of 195 countries, 4000 religions, endless customs and cultures all within an infinite Universe that we know nothing about, yet they possess the correct opinion for everyone. Your mother must be proud of you. But be careful, you might look like the village idiot.
But there is another side to the effects of the pandemic. Take a look at the Ukrainian people. These are bad-ass mofos! Ukrainians have given us a new way to be courageous when faced with an illogical, uncompromising and violent enemy. Have you seen what they do when they capture a Russian soldier? They offer him a cup of tea and hand them a phone to call their mothers. And if you listen to the conversation between these little boys and their mamas, we learn the truth - Putin lied to them. They did not know they were there to fight their Ukrainian brothers and sisters.
And what about Ukraine’s neighboring countries like Moldova, Romania, Poland, Slovakia? More bad-asses. I have friends in all these countries who are part of these WhatsApp groups that organize transportation, food and medical assistance to the borders. Moldova is the poorest country in Europe, yet they are getting in their cars using up their precious fuel and food to go to the border and take in the fleeing Ukrainians. I have a friend here in Italy, who is from Moldova and said, “You know, back in the 90’s Moldova had a war and the Ukrainians closed their borders and did not offer refuge to us. But we have chosen forgiveness. It’s a new world and we all need each other.” Bad-ass, I tell you. Everyone is sending a clear message to Putin: Your ways are outdated and we are sick of bullies.
Maybe this war is showing us what we really want and who we want to be. The problem is that we have been too focused on the things that separate us, because we’ve been freaking traumatized. Trauma is a funny thing, because, while you may be able to recognize when the trauma occurred, its long-term emotional reactions are totally unpredictable (and can often be quite embarrassing). This pandemic has been a slow and persistent collective trauma. Like two years of Chinese water torture. For sure, the long-term reactions will be quite colorful. But, perhaps, if we are present enough, we can respond gracefully instead of exerting our primal reactions. Yes, there are terrible things going on in the world, but the truth is that the shadow feels a lot darker, because so many people are shining their light. Putin is simply the shadow side of what’s manifested in isolation. The desire to control. Paranoia. The inability to see another side. Lack of empathy. Pure fucking ego.
You know, I really am the village idiot. I like to smile a lot and strike up funny conversations with total strangers (wearing a mask has tamed me a bit). That’s part of my light side. On the shadow side, I can be a bitch with a nasty temper. My son once told me that when I lose my shit, my IQ declines drastically. I was ready to slap him when I said to myself, WTF really? The son-of-a-bitch (literally) is right. And that’s the whole thing isn’t it? We all have a dark side and it’s ok, but it's our choice whether we let the bitch dim our light or not.
I hope that all of you and your families are safe, happy and healthy.