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The yin and yang of Croatia
My husband and I just returned from exploring Croatia – a country of breathtaking beauty and painful history. As easy as it would have been to lose myself in the natural wonder of its jagged hills that drop into the turquoise waters of the Adriatic Sea, it was impossible to talk to the people I met without sensing all they have survived.
You see, humans have been fighting over Croatia’s dramatic coastline and magnificent walled city of Dubrovnik for a thousand years. Its most recent scars came from what the Croatian people call the Homeland War fought between 1992-95. (We in the United States remember this as the Bosnian War.)
We personally felt the collision of stunning beauty and the shocking horror of war one day as we explored the city Dubrovnik. Its nickname, the pearl of the Adriatic, fits this gem of a city perfectly. Marble sidewalks gleam in the bright sun. Its narrow side streets – some made of flights of impossibly steep stairs – invite you to wander. Church bell towers reach toward the bright blue sky. The astounding turrets of the stone wall encircling the city make it feel like you’ve walked into a fairytale.
We took a cable car to the top of a nearby mountain to get a view of the city and the sparkling sea from above – and also to visit the Homeland War Museum. This museum houses a collection of photos, videos, and other relics of the war to possess Dubrovnik. It was a grueling look at the terror of war – the damage we cause, the beauty we destroy, the horrors we inflict on one another. I was left reeling at the senselessness of destroying the very place you wish to possess.
We were quiet as we rode the cable car back down into the city. As we walked through the streets to return to our hotel, I took this picture. The photo captures one of countless such doorways that we passed in our rambling walks. The residents of Dubrovnik keep wonderful container gardens outside their homes – brilliant flowers, vibrant green plants, sweetly scented herbs.
A glimpse of war is overshadowed by a glimpse of beauty
It wasn’t until I looked back through my photos that evening that I realized what I had really learned that day – as awful as it was to be confronted with the horrors of war, I had witnessed something even more profound. We people are filled to overflowing with an instinct to create beauty in this world of ours – beauty not to tuck away behind the walls and locked doors of our homes, but to share on our doorsteps with our neighbors, our communities, and visitors from all over the world.
Somehow this soothed my heart that aches over the brutality in this world that can feel positively overwhelming – in New York, Texas, Ukraine. Could these simple gestures of beauty on nearly every Dubrovnik doorstep be pointing toward an answer (or at least a starting point) to the paralyzing question that seems to be on the lips of everyone I know: What can one person do in the face of all this suffering?
We each have the power to love this world back to wholeness again
Robin Wall Kimmerer, author of the brilliant collection of essays entitled Braiding Sweetgrass, writes:
“If grief can be a doorway to love, then let us all weep for the world we are breaking apart so we can love it back to wholeness again.”
In addition to making donations, attending protests, writing letters, and other forms of activism, could we do something smaller? Could we respond to the grief, sorrow, pain, and horror that we feel when confronted with the gut-wrenching events that fill our headlines each morning with small gestures of beauty? Could this help?
Small, personal gestures can have deep impacts on communities
My instinct is that it could help very much. Not only do small gestures of care-taking such as the doorway gardens that fill Dubrovnik make the gardeners feel better, but they also make everyone who happens to walk by feel better. To me, each beautiful pot of flowers (or vibrant mural, or random act of kindness like prepaying a gelato for the stranger behind you in line) is a balm to heal ourselves and this world back to wholeness.
You and I may not know what to do. We may feel powerless in the face of the overwhelming events of today. But you and I have the power to create beauty in this world. We have the power to act on the love that fills us to overflowing. Each time we share the beauty within us with the world around us, we touch others with love. What gift of beauty will you share today?
The events that fill our headlines today can make our hearts and souls ache. Spiritual direction is a safe place to express your pain and to receive the healing gift of being heard. Reach out to learn more.