August 28, 2014
In my 26 years of life, my country has been at war for all but three of them. During those three years I was an infant, eight and nine. Far too young to appreciate what peace means.
It’s an interesting thing for a child, to always be touched by war but to never truly experience it. In me, it created a nervousness and a deep sense of burden and personal responsibility. In others of my generation, it seems to have desensitized, even hardened their humanity. War is such a part of our daily reality that most of us don’t even notice it anymore. But I can’t help but feel everything is cultivated around it. Some things are made to shield us from it, others to push us toward it. But it’s there, always, lurking in the background of our existence.
I find it in unexpected places. Not long ago, I was photographing a hockey game for a friend of mine. Above the rink hung the flags of the nations who had had competitors skate there. The red maple leaf of Canada hung beside the solid striped nations of Europe which sat next to the brightly colored flags of South America. All dangled proudly over the ice. All but one, that is. One lone flag hung down, barely held up by its top right-hand corner. As skaters and pucks whizzed by, and the sounds of cracking sticks accompanied by the drumming of players slamming against walls thrummed in my ears, I stared at the limp flag. The moment froze like the icy air I pulled into my lungs.
The flag had just two colors, a dazzling cerulean blue and an almost orange-yellow, neatly stacked upon one another. A flag fit for a bluebird, but there it languished with broken wings.
A mother of one of the players who sat beside me asked me what was wrong. I pointed to the flag and said, “That flag is coming down.”
She followed my finger with her eyes and nodded, “I wonder what flag that is?”
My gaze never left the precarious sight, and I could hear the hollowness in my own voice as I answered, “It’s the Ukrainian flag.”
“How do you know that?” She sounded bemused, almost surprised at the speed of my response. Perhaps it was the Jeopardy or the University education, she may have been thinking. What an interesting and odd girl I must have seemed to her, staring at a flag like I’d seen a ghost when I was supposed to be shooting a hockey game.
But who in my generation doesn’t know what the Ukrainian flag looks like? True, it might be buried beneath the pictures of Kanye and Kim and the latest Justin Bieber scandal, but it’s there. War is always touching us. I might not have known what the Ukrainian flag looked like this time last year, but I do now. It’s burned there, an artifact of the present.
I felt the cool plastic of my lens drop to my knees. The weight of it all was so much. The strap of my Canon dug into my neck and pulled my shoulders down, so I had to strain to keep looking at the flag. Would it fall? Why hadn’t someone noticed and hung it back up?
Images of a country I’d never been to, a region I’d never experienced, bounced through my mind. The images were faded and broken, moving too quickly for me to catch just one but those two colors were oddly sharp and vibrant. It was as if I’d zoomed in on the flag, and everything else in the background had disappeared. Throngs of people, ordinary people just like me, who I’d never meet, who lived everyday lives not entirely different from mine and yet foreign, lined the streets of a city I’d likely never visit and above them they waved that flag. Snow and riot gear and blood.
“I’ve seen it on TV,” I told her.
All the while, goosebumps crept up my arms, but I knew it wasn’t the ice of the rink that was causing them. Another war was coming. Another war is always coming.