Misfortunes, Public and Private

Volodymyr Kish

For the past six months, I have witnessed how the brutal and malignant cancer of Russian expansionism has been eating away at the heart and soul of my ancestral homeland of Ukraine. Like a cancer, Russia’s subversive policies on Ukraine are destructive, pernicious, and hard to fight. Why Ukraine was so ill-fated as to be Russia’s neighbour only God knows, but it is one of those historical misfortunes that keeps recurring and wreaking havoc on each new generation of Ukrainians born on this earth. As a nation or people, perhaps only the Jews have suffered more from history’s cruel and seemingly vindictive proclivities, and one can only hope and pray that sooner or later Ukraine too will find its place in the sun.

Unfortunately this very public misfortune has had a private parallel in my personal life. At about the same time that the Maidan burst into flames, I found out that a dear friend of mine had learned that she had breast cancer. While Ukrainians were fending off the political cancer that Russia had inflicted, my friend was fighting her own personal battle against encroaching carcinoma. Then just in this past week as things were flaring up in Eastern Ukraine, I found out that two more friends who mean a lot to me have also contracted different forms of cancer. They too now have to deal with the disruptive effects that this pathological evil has on their health and mortality.

I guess I should consider myself fortunate that my own physical health, aside from the stress factor, is not directly affected by my friends’ private misfortunes. However, on the spiritual and emotional side, there is a very direct and significant impact. One’s spiritual and emotional well-being is directly tied to that close circle of individuals that we love, who provide encouragement, companionship, inspiration, meaning and support as we journey through life. We are very social creatures who need each other in a far deeper context than most of us might care to admit. When someone close to us suffers, we suffer too. When someone close to us dies, we all die a little bit. As the famous poet John Donne once said, “Each man’s death diminishes me, for I am involved in mankind…” One can add that misery and sadness can be just as contagious as joy and happiness.

And so for the past six months, and especially this past week, I have been afflicted with both the public misfortunes of Ukraine, as well as the private misfortunes of individuals that are near and dear to me. And much like there are no clear answers and solutions to Ukraine’s dilemma, there is correspondingly no easy way of dealing with the pain and sadness wrought by the private sufferings of those that I love. There are those who would suggest prayer, but I long ago realized that aside from its spiritual placebo effect, God’s will will be done regardless of what miracles I may be emboldened to ask. Besides it would be presumptuous to assume I have any idea of what God’s will is with respect to the fate of any individual I may know. There seems to be little logic (at least admittedly of the human kind) as to whom God chooses to inflict either pain or good fortune or why. In the end, we need to trust that God knows what he is doing and look within ourselves for the answers and inner strength to deal with the capricious nature of our individual destinies.

Part of that answer lies in the very thing that causes us to feel such pain and sadness, namely the strong relationships that we have with certain people. Those relationships are the cure as well as the cause of our emotional pain. What brings us out of those disheartening depths of suffering and the proverbial “valley of the shadow of death” is the love and support of those close to us. When we are brought low by the vicissitudes and iniquities of life, the most potent cures are the affection and kindnesses offered by our inner circle of friends and family. They rejuvenate us. They reassure us that we need not face life or its challenges all by ourselves. They provide the compensating balance to enable us to deal with pain and misfortune. They are both our safety net and our security blanket.

I will survive these recent challenges with hopefully most of my innate optimism and hope intact. And I know for a fact, that the largest part of the credit will go that fine circle of friends and family that I am blessed with. I thank you all for being you and for being a part of my life.