I had already written my post for Holy Week. But last evening (March 30), I watched NBC evening news and met an elderly Ukrainian woman named Prescovia. That encounter made me write these words in my journal the next morning. I think they are fitting for Holy Week 2022.
March 31, 2022: Last night I woke at 1:30 and couldn’t fall back to sleep. Images from the war in Ukraine filled my head: hordes of people fleeing the country; cities, once beautiful, now rubble; terrified families packed in dark basements and tunnels during relentless bombings. But one elderly woman in particular took residence in my head, and she refused to let me sleep. Her name (I learned later) was Prescovia, and NBC reporter Richard Engel spotted her in her town that was recently reclaimed by the Ukrainian army. She was sitting in front of her small house. She sat alone and was sobbing. She had on a tan jacket (Mom had a jacket like that, I thought) with a tan babushka on her head. Her face was blotchy red—perhaps partly due to her tears. She was 88 years old and, through an interpreter, she wailed to Engel, “I lived through WWII! I can’t do this again! I can’t!” And then she blurted out things like, “I’m so afraid! At night I cover my head with a blanket and cry and cry. Look, my hands keep shaking! I can’t stop them.”
Her hands were indeed shaking. She tried to steady them by grabbing a stick (her cane?) Engel commented softly, “She is very confused.” (I thought, who isn’t?!) “She doesn’t know what’s happening.” (Who does? I thought.) Then Engel went to sit down beside her. They were a study in contrasts: he, an American, in his black bullet proof vest with the word PRESS blazoned in white letters across his chest. She, a Ukrainian, in her thin tan jacket. He, a young man wearing a helmet. She, a woman twice his age, wearing a babushka. As soon as he sat down next to her, she grabbed his hands almost ferociously. She seemed desperate to touch someone—anyone. She kept pouring her heart out to him although, I’m guessing, he didn’t understand a word she said. But he did understand her extreme distress. Then Prescovia grabbed his neck and pulled him toward herself. For a brief moment their foreheads seemed to touch. He didn’t pull away. I was moved by his willingness to allow this woman, in her anguish, to grab him in such a way. At the end of their encounter, he said softly to us, “Mostly, I think, she needed comfort.”
+ When I awoke the next morning, I wondered, Where is Prescovia? Is she okay? Who is watching over for her? She must belong to someone, no? Does she have children? Grandchildren? Neighbors? We all belong to someone, don’t we?
+ Later it dawned on me: the reporter’s name was Richard Engel. Engel in German means angel.
+ In that same newscast, they did a segment on several international organizations that focus on helping the elderly throughout the world. Some of them, with their volunteers, are already very active in Ukraine. One man, a native Ukrainian currently living in Portugal, returned to help in Ukraine where 1 out of 4 people is over 60. It takes a brutal war for me to learn of and appreciate such humanitarian organizations and the generous people who serve in them—war or no war.
+ In an email, I shared my restless night and this poor woman with a friend. He wrote back: “The little lady from Ukraine, by invading your sleep, became your prayer.” Yes, she did. She is no longer simply in my head. She has taken residence in my heart.
+ Someone has said you cannot begin to appreciate the vastness of the ocean until you have experienced a single drop of water. So too, we cannot begin to appreciate the magnitude of this war in Ukraine, until we see its devastating impact on a single precious human being named Prescovia.
This Holy Week, we commemorate several highly significant events in the life of Jesus. On Holy Thursday, we remember the washing of the feet, Jesus’ vivid call for us, his followers, to serve our brothers and sisters in need. I saw that kind of selfless service in the journalist risking his life to cover this terrible war, and in the volunteers trying to aid the elderly there. On Holy Thursday we also celebrate the giving of the gift of the Eucharist, the sacrament that gives us strength for our earthly pilgrimage. And how much we need God’s strength always, always, always. And on Good Friday, we contemplate Jesus’ terrible death on the cross, focusing on not merely how much he suffered, but also on how much he loved. We bring our own and the world’s pain and sorrows and fears and anguish to that cross, knowing that Jesus understands fully what we are experiencing, because he has been there… and (more importantly) he is here with us now. But Jesus’ story does not end on Good Friday. For, as Christians, we believe he rose from the dead on Easter. And through his life, death, and resurrection, Jesus is leading us all to everlasting life.
Did anything in this reflection touch your heart? If so, what?
Did any of the pictures strike you today? If so, which?
Of all the events we commemorate this week, is there one that stands out for you this year, Holy Week 2022?
I am offering you two short videos today. The first is from Taize. The second is a prayer for Ukraine.
This first video is a contemplative song from Taize: “Jesus, Remember me when you come into your kingdom.” These are the words spoken by the “good thief” to Jesus as they both were dying on the cross… The repetitive refrain is set against a wide variety of depictions of Good Friday—paintings, drawings, traditional icons, carvings…
This video came from a friend, Valerie. It is a prayer for Ukraine entitled “We Stand with You.” It was written by Penelope Salinger, a member of The Threshold Choir. This is a volunteer hospice choir that originated in Boston, but now has chapters all over the world. Its members bring songs of comfort to those on the threshold of life…
I invite you to respond to today’s blog below…