I shared the video with a dear friend of mine who I knew would appreciate the sentiment. "So while I was in Florida visiting my Dad, my Ukranian family was creating this in my living room. Beyond words ?" I texted to him. To which he responded, "Wow! This is kind of unbelievable. How does this sort of thing happen? Certainly not what you were expecting when you signed up to host Ukranian refugees in your home."
Certainly not! I never could have imagined the bond we have created in just a few short months. I never could have fully understood experiencing pure joy in the midst of the most challenging circumstances. And yet, here we are. The war rages on in Ukraine while this beautiful experience was happening in my living room.
Which got me to thinking how it all came about. I could go back to just a few months ago and a call I got from a wonderful couple who work very hard, have been very fortunate in life and do a lot for our community. They called to ask me if I had room in my inn for a family they were considering sponsoring from the Ukraine. Hmmmm ... if I reflect on that call from the perspective of the reason for the season, I could get all very easily dip into the story of Jesus and Mary and Christmas.
Instead, I'll let you in on what was happening on my end around the war in Ukraine and my Mom's influence on my life overall. It's all connected anyway!
One weird fact is that the war in Ukraine started on my birthday, 2/24. So that certainly caught my attention. Another fact is that my Mom was always about taking care of the kids. When she was younger, she always wanted to be a social worker working with kids, but her guidance counselor told her that she was much too emotional and would not be able to handle the emotions involved in working with kids in difficult situations.
I can remember as a child, we would go grocery shopping and always buy two extra bags of groceries for the other family. And then we would make a game of delivering the groceries to that family without ever being discovered.
When my youngest brother Scott was in middle school, Mom was starting to feel that empty nest thing as the kids grew up and she needed something to take care of. She thought about volunteering and did some of that, but ultimately decided to add a bit of culture to her house and decided to host an exchange student from Spain. Gotzon was with us for a year. Then came his brother Kerman. And then their sister Leire. Through our exchange student experiences, we grew as a family and got exposure to different cultures. That resulted in a connection between families that still thrives to this day and includes attending weddings, trips to Spain and the US, and a myriad of snail mail, email and social media exchanges.
One of my last memories of my Mom’s obsession taking care of the children was when Manatee Hospital staff was getting ready to evacuate her to an Orlando hospital during Hurricane Ian. I went to see her before the EMT’s came to transport her. She was in a panic. She had no TV on and wasn’t near a window so she could see what was happening outside. She just intuitively knew something was up. I walked into her room and she was agitated. I attempted to calm her down, but she kept looking around to see if anyone was looking.
She grabbed my hand and told me that something bad was happening and I needed to help the children. She pulled me closer, reached underneath her bedcovers and began stuffing blankets under my jacket. Apparently, she had kept asking the nurse for blankets and hiding them under her bedding. She had about 8 blankets and as she attempted to stuff them all under my jacket, she kept babbling. The essence of which told me that she wanted to be sure that the kids would be warm and safe and dry.
“Please take care of them” she kept saying. “They will be afraid and I can’t get to them, so please keep them warm and safe and dry.” It was a wild and somewhat disturbing experience to see my Mom on the edge of incoherent, as her elevated ammonia levels from her UTI was having its way with her brain. But there was the essence of who she was … always worried about the children.
So ... fast forward to June of 2022. I had a dream of the scene above. The hurricane, my Mom stuffing blankets in my jacket. I’ve had this dream before, but this time, the dream was infused with flashes of fire and what sounded like bombs. I woke up disturbed. Something made me turn on the news. I heard reports of bombings in Ukraine. Fucking Putin. I was angry. My heart was heavy. And there were tears streaming down my cheeks.
At that moment, I got a text from my friend Sue who was living here at the time. She asked me to meet her for coffee in the kitchen. I went downstairs and she was crying. She, too, had a disturbing dream and woke up thinking about Ukraine. She was feeling compelled to do something but had no idea what to do. Donate money? To where? Send clothing? Pray? Meditate for world peace? All of the above?
At that very moment, when we were talking about taking action and trying to figure out what to do, I got a text from Joe, the former owner of this house. He asked if he could call me and discuss something he was considering that involved me and the house.
Twenty minutes later Joe called and told me of a sponsorship for refugees program that he and Nancy were considering. They had gotten an email from Dima, a former employee who came to the Valley one summer and worked with Joe at the restaurant during his exchange year in the US. Dima and his family lived in Ukraine and their community was beginning to see evidence of the war. He was not able to leave the country, but he asked Joe if he could help find refuge for his family (wife and two daughters).
Joe and Nancy discussed the situation and decided that If they could find housing for the family (tough to do in the Valley these days and especially in the summer season) they would apply for sponsorship, which involved a 2 year financial commitment. Joe and Nancy have the money but were a bit worried about finding suitable housing and emotionally supporting the family.
When Joe and I talked, I knew what I had to do. I had just come home from Florida after a long ordeal with my dad with the sole focus of monetizing the property for the summer season. That day I decided to move out of my apartment, rent it to Joe for Tamara, Sofia and Anastasia from Ukraine and create a studio space for me in the barn for the summer and figure out living space for me somewhere else in the house when the weather got colder.
So now, I have a house full of traveling health care professionals in the main house, I have created a very nice space in the massage suite for myself, and the Ukrainian family has settled in quite nicely upstairs in my old apartment. We’ve had many opportunities to share meals, attend meetings to get them set up for health care and school and working papers and all the other things involved in creating a new life in a new country. The news back in Ukraine is sad and Tamara, the mom cries every day. But they are safe and warm and have landed in a community full of love and support.
As you can see in the video, they are quite amazing. I consider myself lucky and honored to have created safe, secure space for them to find some peace again while the war rages on. When I saw this video, I could literally feel my Mom’s energy and inspiration come through it.
Yes, indeed, it is all kind of unbelievable. Who knows how this sort of thing happens, but it does ... when we least expect it and in ways we never could have thought up on our own. However, when we look back in retrospect of what led us to today, it all makes perfect sense. And it is all connected ❤️
Addendum: The creators of this video have given me and you permission to share it far and wide. it is a message that will never grow old. Here is the youtube link if you are so inclined to share it: https://youtu.be/6PkNsSOd_OE