Before Russia’s launch of the 2022 war in Ukraine, it might have been said Ukraine President Volodymyr Zelenskyy’s weapons of choice in times of disagreement were, by nearly all accounts: humility, eloquence, and a natural charm. American filmmaker David Dodson, who worked for a decade with Zelenskyy on various projects, described him in interview for Business Insider magazine as “the Tom Hanks of Ukraine.”
Dodson also gave him the nickname “Chaplin” as the legendary Charlie Chaplin. A video compilation shared by Kat Abu on Twitter shows Zelenskyy competing on his country’s version of Dancing with the Stars (which he reportedly won in 2006). In one segment of the compilation, he is costumed to look like Chaplin while dancing with as much energized precision as Derek Hough, Janet Jackson, or anyone in love with life ever has. (Does this mean he’s likely to have a profile on IMDB? Actually yes.)
yThe image of performing artist Zelenskyy dancing to one infectious tune after another is far removed from that with which the world is now most familiar: an embattled courageous president struggling with all his might to save his homeland and his people.
Ukrainians follow him willingly because they fell in love with him during a time of relative peace. The world now rallies behind him because the war he fights can be viewed as unjust not only when considering Russia’s president’s unprovoked aggression, but when acknowledging betrayals which made Ukraine more vulnerable than it should have been.
Of Angels, War, & Peace
Just as the increasing threat of the COVID-19 pandemic in 202 forced me to rearrange established priorities, confirmed reports of Russia’s three-pronged land, sea, and air attacks on Ukraine did the same. My focus had been on completing pre-publication tasks for an artbook on different aspects of the pandemic upon individual lives around the world. I stepped away from it long enough to post Ukraine, Russia, and the Art of Being Human, which includes the poem “Angel of War.”
At the time, it seemed ludicrous to imagine the possibility of what we are all now seeing on screens and in print, what we are hearing on podcasts and dreading as we go to bed at night and get up the next morning.
With the conflict growing more intense by the day, the Poet, the Air Force NCO, and the Journalist in me all agreed that having already acknowledged the Angel of War with a poem from The River of Winged Dreams, it was time to show respect for the Angel of Peace with the same. And yes, Volodymyr Zelensky is as human as the rest of us, but at this 2022 moment in history he exemplifies the angelic potential “of our better natures” a lot more convincingly than most of us can claim.
The heroism and inspiring leadership of the Warrior-President of Ukraine are self-evident, and, clearly more authentic than the kind of photo-op posturing too many witness in political leaders around the world. The poem I’m sharing now, however, is not only presented as a tribute to him. It is my way of sharing the pain-ridden journey of the more than one million Ukrainians, largely women and children, who have been forced to abandon their homeland.
Angel of Peace
Such are these places
where lovers of bliss behold
the angel of peace:
Above the burning,
and below the cold of all
the sad killing fields;
Where poetry sighs,
smiling magic in the lap
of flesh and blood joy;
Upon the shoulders
of elders carved beautiful
by sage artistry;
Where a starbright gown
trails healing through gardens of
In the arms of dreams
that shepherd hope through the eyes
of praying children;
bristling silk storms from the shores
of my skin to yours;
In the taste of a
woman glowing firemilk through
the tips of her breasts;
Afloat on rhythms
of minds too stoned on love to
recall how bombs work;
At the edge of a
man’s kiss casting holy spells
of sweet compassion;
Inside the beauty
of faith’s unburied treasure
sparkling truth and hope;
Beneath trees of song
heavy with angelic light,
evergreen with strength;
Upon the wings of
nightingales trilling comfort
to embattled grace;
In your heart’s whisper,
soft as love, that truly all
is well with your soul.
(from The River of Winged Dreams)
For more reflections on the war in Ukraine please check out The Angel of War and the Year 2022 and Ukraine, Russia, and the Art of Being Human.
Author of Dreams of the Immortal City Savannah
and Greeting Flannery O’Connor at the Back Door of My Mind
Creator of Original Silk-Featherbrush Artstyle
World-changing catastrophes––like the earthquake that struck Mexico on September 7, and the back-to-back twin maelstroms, Hurricane Harvey and Hurricane Irma, that rocked the United States this month––have a way of bringing to the surface humanity’s innate, but too often dormant, capacity for compassion. The life-and-death dilemmas they create strip us of the conditioned tendencies that cause people to fixate on superficial differences which encourage needless conflict rather than focus on shared commonalities that make community-building possible.
In their aftermath, we often see concrete demonstrations of exceptional considerations not only through the actions of celebrities like Beyoncé and Stevie Wonder who donate their time and talents to raise millions of dollar to support relief efforts. We also see it in the less glamorous actions performed by ordinary citizens contributing in whatever humble way they can.
Varieties of Angels and Monster Truck Drivers
On September 4, famed British author of the Harry Potter series, J.K. Rowling, shared this quote by me on Twitter: “Varieties of angels, like varieties of love, are many” (Aberjhani). The quotation was posted along with a video, from AFP News Agency, in which the driver of a mega truck, a bearded white male, is seen wheeling his way through the flooded streets of Port Arthur, Texas, helping people cope with the ravages of Hurricane Harvey.
In this day and age of strained racial anxieties in America and around the world, many people would hesitate to associate the driver in the video with the concept of angelic behavior. As he admits himself, the gargantuan-wheeled trucks are something he and others usually utilize for fun in ways rarely considered heroic. However, the aftermath of Hurricane Harvey provided an opportunity to employ the vehicles in a completely different and literally life-saving kind of way:
“You know,” he said, “we’ve had people trying to pay us, but we’re not taking any money. The hugs and the kisses, and watching a grown man cry when you come save him, it’s all worth it.”
Such is the kind of disposition that makes an everyday culture of compassion both credible and possible. Like the giant truck seen in the video, compassion equips us with the means to move past the destructive elements that prevent us from connecting with the potential for greater higher good residing within everyone.
That a global culture of compassion is needed now more than ever has become increasingly evident from by the nonstop talk of possible war between the U.S. and North Korea, and the string of terrorist attacks in London and elsewhere throughout the year 2017. The only thing standing in the way of citizens worldwide making it real is citizens worldwide making the choice to do so.
Most importantly, a true culture of compassion goes beyond basic acts of kindness to encompass mindful considerations of how everyday human activities, such as work, political engagement, social interactions, and economic enterprises either enhance or diminish the quality of human lives. In addition: it takes into account how our actions and aspirations impact the Earth’s ever-evolving biodiversity and general global environment.
One Good Quotation Deserves Another
Some have wondered what prompted celebrity author J.K. Rowling to use my specific quote and whether I had anything to do with the choice. My guess is her informed humane instincts were simply leaning in the same direction as the mega-truck driver’s in the video: toward compassion. It is not exactly something I could have influenced other than, like Rowling, by always striving to communicate something of value to humanity and hoping someone finds meaning in the attempt.
And in this case, thus far some 11,094 re-tweeters have found the shared words valuable and more than 37,970 Twittizens have expressed appreciation by clicking the like button. That being said, the quotation was particularly apt for this specific video because both negate assumptions and prejudices, and both propose exercising a more expanded form of awareness.
My response to Rowling’s tweet was also an acknowledgement of the Dalai Lama’s observation that “we all possess the seeds of love and compassion.” Whether we take time to cultivate their growth, however, tends to be another matter. And where that is concerned, the tweet with which I replied to Rowling was a quote by her: “It is our choices... that show what we truly are, far more than our abilities” (J.K. Rowling).
We can choose to evoke the angels our better nature because doing so makes life more joyfully sustainable for humanity as a whole, or we can choose to demonize each other based on such superficial differences as nationalities, religion, or race for no beneficial reason whatsoever. When tempted to give in to the latter, it is worth remembering that catastrophic events such as hurricanes, earthquakes, tsunamis, and wildfires don’t ask for immigration papers, birth certificates, or bank account balances before bringing on the full unrelenting force of pure non-discriminating pain.
Poet-Author-Artist Aberjhani spend almost a decade writing his most recently-completed manuscript on culture, history, and race relations in his hometown of Savannah, Georgia (USA). He is currently at work on a play about attempts to change the name of the Eugene Talmadge Memorial Bridge.
NOTE: If you missed part 1 of this special tribute to the jazz singer and songwriter Al Jarreau please check it out here. Part 2 begins now.
For the past few years, I have been particularly grateful for the technological advances that allowed me to catch online streaming of Al Jarreau's International Jazz Day performances from around the world: Washington D.C, Istanbul, Paris, etc. When news of his death came on February 12, 2017, the only thing I could really focus on was the astonishingly beautiful gift that was his presence in this world.
The first song by him I was able to access to commemorate his triumphant artistry was an MP3 file of the 1993 live version of "Summertime" from George Gershwin's and DuBose Heyward’s classic folk opera Porgy and Bess. The second was a 3-song set with the equally-amazing singer Randy Crawford on their 1982 Casino Lights CD recorded live in Montreux, Switzerland. Once again, like all those years before in Berkeley, I found myself compelled to sing along. This time, employing a style utilized for the Songs of the Angelic Gaze series published in The River of Winged Dreams, my participation took the form of a haiku jazz poem:
Jarreau Jazz-riff Earth-tunes for
Contemporary award-winning American author of classically-styled works in history, poetry, creative nonfiction, speculative fiction, and journalism.