Incongruity

The tulip tree across the street is in full flower. The forsythia in the backyard is dressed in vibrant yellow. All around us, spring is springing and while I’m sure there will be some backsliding in the days to come, it feels like we’ve turned another heavenly corner.

And yet, amid all this vernal beauty, the tragedy that is Ukraine continues to unfold. I wish it weren’t so, but every day the images keep flooding the news—images of death and desecration, of children crying, of brave men and women trying desperately to stem a tide bent on destroying their homeland. And while the rest of the world wrestles with effective ways to respond to this crisis, the fuse that was lit by a megalomaniac in Moscow continues to spark and burn its way toward Armageddon.

Sometimes, the incongruity of this world boggles my mind. The dichotomy between spring on the Eastern Shore and war in Ukraine couldn’t be more stark, and I find it hard—almost impossible—to hold these two realities in my mind simultaneously. Just the other night, I sat on a porch with friends watching a wondrously full moon rise across the river, a pale pathway of shimmering silver light stretching from riverbank to riverbank. Nothing could have been more sublimely serene or more peaceful. And then it hit me: that same moon had just set over cities, towns, rivers, and fields half a world away, places destroyed and families broken apart by a ghastly war that had engulfed them on a madman’s whim. How does one reconcile such disparate scenes from the same long, dark night?

By now, we know—or should know—that “no man is an island, that we are each a piece of the continent, a part of the main; that if a clod be washed away by the sea, Europe is the less.” Trust me: like it or not, we are all involved in what is going on in Ukraine and John Donne’s sad bell tolls not just for countless Ukrainians, but for every one of us. That’s an incongruous, harsh truth.

All this begs the question of what should be done. Lamentation is appropriate, but it falls far short of a worthy response. Economic sanctions are a step in the right direction, so is providing defensive arms to Ukrainian forces. The unity of the Western alliance has been both surprising and comforting. But still the war goes on like a drumbeat. People I respect plead for a more aggressive policy, but the line of demarcation between East and West is far too blurred to risk direct confrontation, and that, my friends, is an incongruous and utterly sad truth.

After a long winter, I long for spring. Mark Twain suffered from spring fever, too.  “When you’ve got it, you want—oh, you don’t quite know what it is you want to do, but it just fairly makes your heart ache, you want it so!” That’s also very much how I feel about the incongruity of this beautiful season and this senseless war.

There are small steps to take: contributions, donations, remembrances, even words like these. I walk in the garden and it seems like each day, I see some new green shoot, some new bud. I hold these in my heart and search for ways to share their hopeful promise with desperate people far away. As Sir Elton John might sing, “It’s not much, but it’s the best I can do.”

We like to keep a wreath on the front of our home. This year, it includes a ring of blue and yellow flowers, a sunflower in the center. We’ve also planted a row of blue and yellow pansies under the boxwood that frames the porch to remind us of all the incongruity of this season of new life and old atrocities.

Sigh.

I’ll be right back.

Jamie Kirkpatrick is a writer and photographer who lives in Chestertown. His work has appeared in the Washington Post, the Baltimore Sun, the Philadelphia Inquirer, the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, the Washington College Alumni Magazine, and American Cowboy Magazine.Two collections of his essays (“Musing Right Along” and “I’ll Be Right Back”) are available on Amazon.

Leave a comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *