War and my grandmother's roses
How women build the peace
I am very aware that you haven’t heard from me in a couple of weeks.
First I was starting a new book (which requires bit of a PUSH in the beginning…) then events here in Europe have simply left me STUNNED and very much WITHOUT WORDS.
Let’s try talking anyway.
I was born in 1983 which, in my family, was still very much in the shadow of World War II. That’s not how it looked to people in Sweden (where I grew up) but my parents are not from Sweden.
My parents came over the Baltic Sea from Poland in the 1970s.
My grandfather fought in the Warsaw uprising in 1944 (and other places and countries too). But Warsaw 44 was a street- for- street- battle in a European city so I have thought about it lately… because of current events in Kyiv.
Some of my friends enjoy teasing me for being what they call “obsessed with the Second World War”.
Firstly this is not true (Band of Brothers is OBJECTIVELY the best TV Series ever made and Damian Lewis as Major Winters was one of my DEFINING teenage crushes, just DEAL WITH IT!)
Secondly because of the very nature of war. Even though I was born almost 40 years after the shooting stopped in Europe, The Second World War was still something that was affecting my family.
I think anyone with a family that has experienced armed conflict (in any part of the world) knows that it takes GENERATIONS to process it. “THE WAR” is the explanation to why things are a certain way and how family members have been shaped into who they are.
It just doesn’t go away. Or it does.
But the WORK required to achieve this is IMMENSE.
And is largely done by women.
My grandmother was born in Lithuania. I remember her mainly as an old lady sitting in her garden in Poland (where she ended up after they were done moving millions of people and a couple of borders.)
My grandmother’s roses were the biggest I have ever seen. It is probably just my memory and I can never remember my grandmother actually doing any work in the garden. It was somehow just there, the beach was on the other side of the park which was on the other side of the street. My grandmother was a happy person.
Children can tell.
She had experienced violence and death but somehow she had an ability to leave that behind her. After the war she helped German families too, not just Polish ones. She wasn’t into HATRED. Anger is one thing. It’s a clean emotion. There’s a reason president Zelensky’s ROAR has been heard over the world (it goes well beyond the power of social media…)
Hatred is different. Unfortunately the current war in Europe, like all wars, will probably unleash a lot of it. What my grandmother seemed to know, probably due to growing up with FANTASTIC ACCESS to Roma fortune tellers and kabbalist mystics in pre-war Lithuania… is that you always become what you hate.
There’s no way around that one.
It’s the curse of all curses. Not just a driver of European history (and a lot of other histories too).
I don’t remember my grandmother obsessing over history: the complicated maze of who had done what to whom, which is still driving politics in large parts of Europe.
To me she was a very concrete example of what research has been showing for years: it’s the women who build the peace. And it’s very hard work.
Physically, emotionally, spiritually, psychologically….
As a child I just took my grandmother doing this WORK for granted.
That’s what children do.
It’s kind of what makes you a child.
I’m not telling you any of this to give an impression that I have a SPECIAL or even a particularly interesting perspective on what is going on in the Ukraine.
I’m doomscrolling just like the rest of you…
I guess what I’m trying to say is just:
1. “Europe” is very complicated. The EU is a democratic political project built on top of a mass grave with approximately 30 million bodies in it,
Things that get blown up usually have to be rebuilt by women, that’s how most societies are (still) structured.
War is the worst thing in the world, it takes generations for its shadows to go away.
Here’s an urgent appeal for the Ukraine (from Caritas)