Both Sides Are Suffering

The other day I was walking by a commercial center and noticed a small black kitten run under a parked car and hiss loudly at a big cat nearby. I was concerned this kitten might run out into the street to get away from the other cat and get hit by a car. Suddenly, I noticed a young man on the sidewalk beside me. He asked me in English, “Is that your cat?” I said, no, but I was worried it might be hit if it ran out into the street. Apparently, this kitten was under his car. Suddenly, he knelt down, stuck out his hand, and out came the black kitten. He picked it up gently and put it on the grass, on the far side of the sidewalk, and it ran across a field, in the opposite direction from the street and the other cat. I said, “Thank you so much” and asked his name. He said it was Boris.

“Where are you from, Boris?” I asked, as most people who live in this touristy Costa Blanca area are from other countries. He said he was from Russia. “Wow,” I replied, wondering to myself how he made it here when all the commercial flights from Russia to Europe had been banned sometime ago. Boris explained he was staying in Spain in his family’s holiday home to avoid being forced to fight in Russia. He said many of his friends were being required to fight. “It’s a terrible situation,” I replied. “The Ukrainians are our brothers, our friends,” Boris said. “I just hope this all ends soon.” “Me too,” I agreed. “Everyone is suffering,” I said. “Both Ukrainians and Russians.”

What had made this exchange especially significant was that I had just returned from the European Unitarian Universalist (EUU) retreat in Mittlewihr, France, where we were talking about the war in Ukraine. We had been asked to gather in small groups and pick a concern one of us was having and work together, without giving advice or rendering judgement, to help the person find resolution to the problem. I ended up being the one with the issue. That was, I was really torn about my feelings about the war. I consider myself to be a non-violent person but had been pushing the “like” button on my Twitter feed whenever I read about lots of Russian soldiers being killed or their military equipment being destroyed. I felt conflicted about doing this.

I explained to our small group of UUs that I was pushing “like” because I want the Ukrainians to win the war that Putin had started. However, it really isn’t “loving your neighbor as yourself,” to relish the suffering of others. After much discussion, I come away from that meeting deciding to empathize with people on both sides of the conflict, recognizing that everyone suffers when there is a war. So when I told Boris that “everyone is suffering,” I put into practice what I now believed. This is, war is a terrible catastrophe for all involved. And even though Spain is a long way from Ukraine and Russia, the impact of this conflict confronted me directly in the sad face of Boris, a kind young Russian man who is a friend to cats.


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