Paying Attention
Bill McDonald’s Website Newsletter
March 2022 - Volume 22, No. 3
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Ukraine - my first week - A Personal Recollection

Thursday, February 24, 2022 - We all got the news, Russia had just invaded Ukraine.

It seemed like weeks, it had been like a cat and mouse game - will he or won’t he (Mr. Putin) - invade his neighbor? More and more Russian troops were amassing at the border.
“Would he really?”  Diplomatic, political, and military expert minds were widely engaged. And the rest of us ‘with baited breath’ did our own fog-assessments.

Then all at once it became clear. Putin’s army entered Ukraine. It was war. Guns were blazing.

We had already begun hearing how the Ukrainian people were preparing to endure and maybe even hopefully prevail.

The Ukrainian people - now they are very very real. We see them in the news photos and video clips.

And their leader. President Volodymyr Zelensky. That guy wearing the green T-shirt. He and his people are one. A leader without ego. When I mention him in conversation, an almost universal response is a wish we could have someone like him, and have it work.

Sadly we are living in a new time (or a throwback to an old time). We are living in Putin’s world, in which sheer force tramples on whatever is in its way. “Make Russia Great Again.”

We see Ukraine as vulnerable, perhaps it will soon be swallowed. The US offered to secret Mr. Zelensky out of his country, so he could rule his people from a safer place. (Maybe even to Mar-a-lago - sorry, I couldn’t resist that.) Ukraine’s president says “No, I’m staying with my people - I am here, I am here, I am here” He rules even from a cellphone in the middle of an empty street in Kyiv - and the people see and listen.

I didn’t think we would ever see a leader like this in our world again. And he knows he could be dead in the morning.

Sunday morning I went to church. Perhaps seeking some wisdom or solace for a troubled soul. The preacher said sometimes all we know what to do is to pray - and she did. Then she did something she’s known for - asked us where we have seen God in our recent days. What usually emerges is a sense of God as gentle, sweet, loving and beautiful, full of wonder. Bless her for that, but…  Something in my elder soul balks - though I’m generally unsure how to respond otherwise.

Then on Sunday afternoon I knew my own response to her question.

I believe it was the previous day, I saw a video vignette on my cellphone of a young Ukrainian father kneeling in front of his young daughter, hugging her, his wife at his side, all crying. He was saying good-bye to them, as he headed into battle. And I knew also there was no promise any of the three would survive. My eyes were full of tears. And I knew then that I had seen God. Not that he would/could change it, but only that He would never abandon it.

What’s so real about this “Ukraine” is that we honestly don’t and can’t know what will happen, how it may end. Happy endings aren’t promised here. We do know it’s an unfolding David and Goliath story. And most of us are rooting for David (Donald Trump and Fox commentator Tucker Carlson notwithstanding).[1]

These Ukranian people seem to be beautiful people. And, though I know little about their politics, I do know they have known suffering, and they have a hunger for democracy. In some ways they’re like what we used to be.

What does it mean to fight for Freedom? For them it is to repel an advancing Russian army, realistically bent on crushing them. Freedom to live and prosper on their own land and to cherish each other. And what is our own (white people) vision of fighting for Freedom?  Not having to get vaccinated and not having to wear a mask. Yet underneath, especially for the darker skinned and others among us, it needs to be so much more.[2]

I look at my own history. I was born to Pacifist parents. And the two-pronged social programming of being a Methodist back then was Temperance and World Peace. Both had been active in the latter when my parents met and married in the Chicago area. My father was pursuing a career as a “Minister of the Gospel”, and as the war drums of Europe were calling, they moved to Colorado to pursue his seminary studies and ‘sit out the war’. Then, five months before Pearl Harbor, I was their first-born.

My parents are long-gone now, dying in 1978 & 1985. And even though my Dad and I would talk about many things, I never asked about what it was like to be a pacifist and a mountain preacher during WWII. I do have a box of his sermons, and perhaps someday I’ll open it to see what he preached when the Japanese bombed Pearl Harbor and he had a new 5-month old son. My parents did a good job protecting the three of us from that information - but I know if I’d asked, especially as an adult, each would have shared. (There are so many thing I’d like to ask if they were still around.) And I wish I could ask them now about the fight for Freedom in Ukraine.

Two more comments from this first Ukraine week.

I read a comment about Ukraine’s National Anthem now being played all over the world.  Finding it on YouTube, I believe I played it a dozen times that night before I fell asleep. It was beautiful.

I also am heart-warmed by the rapid readiness of Ukraine’s neighbor countries to so open their hearts and homes to the refugees - the estimated numbers of whom are already beyond any ability of my own to comprehend.[3] That crisis alone will shake history.

At the  end of the first week, I see the men (Davids) going off to fight the Goliath, and the women and children and old ones going off into refugee status. And a maddened Mr. Putin just drops more bombs, now especially on civilians.

And what will a second week bring?

May God help help them and us all.

And may we all Pay Attention


[1] In the Biblical narrative, David, the young boy, killed Goliath, and went on to be a great, maybe the greatest, King of Israel.

[2] Like that long ago iconic Walt Kelley Pogo cartoon, “We have met the enemy and he is us.”

[3] I just found a UN statistic that says 1.5million refugees into neighboring countries after just 10 days.


Every year (except the last two) at the Michigan Renaissance Festival, nearby my home, a man of Gypsy personality and energy, with the stage name Manolete, comes up from Florida. And every year I attend his “Pyro Gyro Show” - a magical mixture of dancing and fire manipulation. Then he finishes each show with these same words:

We are from many places this day, perhaps from all over the world. When we live from our passions, and speak from the heart, we are all the same. So on this day of all days, in this place of all places, live from your passions, and speak from your heart. And we are all indeed familia!  Gracias.

I don’t quite know why, but those words bring me something that I need now - a world united by our common passionate caring humanity - we are all indeed family.

March 6, 2022    William K McDonald

Comments (6)

  • Such heartless selfish cruel arrogance is so hard to understand in a leader. I have a new understanding of my my dad going off to WWII although he was lucky to be used as a carpenter. So many will know tragedy and be terrorized and scarred for life. So many had their homes destroyed and are displaced. I pray to God Trump bites the dust in politics. I hope he and Putin get to account for their prevarication and irresponsibility towards humanity.

    — Denise, 3/6/2022
  • please unsubscribe

    Please unsubscribe. Your comments re Ukraine crisis are appalling naive & offensive.

    — Don Mc, 3/7/2022
  • There's no bad publicity, PTBarnum

    "I’ll read this tomorrow, I said. Then I caught a glance of the unsubscribe comment. Got to read it right now! Thanks for keeping on paying attention.

    — Cynthia, 3/7/2022
  • Bill, your thoughts on this resonate with me. Thanks

    — Andrea C, 3/7/2022
  • Pain and Poison at my backdoor

    I am American but live in Italy. There are Ukrainian women in my village, many in the entire country, working as caregivers for the elderly. They live in the homes and send their wages back to their families, supporting multiple generations, sacrificing their intimate relationships in order to give their children and grandchildren a better life. Their loved ones are refugees now, traumatized by the terrifying assault on Democracy. Civilians are the cannon fodder and sacrificial lambs that stand, and fall, indiscriminately, for Putin’s Machiavellian lust for absolute power or annihilation of anything contrary to his fantasy.

    To the unsubscribe comment above: How callous and ignorant a comment. It reminds me of the non-believers in the recent Netflix film 'Don’t Look Up', obstinate refusal to believe the truth, even as it’s barreling down to wipe out mankind.

    — Elizabeth, 3/8/2022
  • Honesty

    You always write with honesty, and fact.
    These traits are so rare today and I can see from Don Mc they scare the hell out of social media trolls looking for anything they can find fault with.
    For reasons I don’t understand, they feel ENTITLED to disregard any and all truth or facts. Then the gas lighting starts and they appear to truly feel justified with their temper tantrum that follows if anyone dare to speak truth to them or at them.
    It is so ridiculous but it does serve a purpose, it keeps all the negative and hateful behavior trend alive and spreading.

    — Robert Hall, 3/21/2022

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Bill McDonald
Fenton, Michigan

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