Battles We Face

It’s been just over a week since Ukraine was invaded by Russia. And yes, I know my blog is primarily about my weight loss journey, but stick with me; it’s relevant in some ways.

My grandparents were Ukrainian immigrants to the United States; they met and married here in the US. My grandfather escaped Ukraine to New York City via Austria and then Canada. And like many others currently, my grandmother escaped to the US via Poland. This was in 1917 or 1918.

I really never gave much thought to what they faced, to be quite honest. My grandfather was a teacher before he left, and spent the rest of his life as an elevator operator. My grandma became a cleaning woman. Of the two, I knew her better, since she died when I was a young teen; my grandpa died when I was two years old. In fact, he was buried in Ukraine, because he died during a visit there. My father went there to honor his death, which prompted a visit to our door from the FBI. It was 1963, after all.

Seeing the struggles of modern-day Ukrainians against a country that once held power over them and wishes to invoke that power, again, has brought home to me the egregious decisions they must face. I have no idea what Grandma faced; I believe she escaped to Poland with a sister. Her age would have been 18 or so; my grandfather, 24. One or both were from the Chernobyl region. Times were different; they likely had to sift through rumors of aggressions, figure out what to do about it, whether leaving was an option at all, the timing to do it, what to carry with them, where they would end up.

The photo was taken in the US.

Even now, with technology relaying news as it happens, I imagine the same fears exist. Images of those who have sought refuge in Poland, crossing over on foot, carrying small bags, their pets, and their fears that cannot be allayed, are likely not that far removed from the dark days of 1917. Making the choice to leave your home, carrying just a few things important to you, knowing you may never see that home again? Wondering if it’s possible to return to your home at some point — if it’s still standing? If you choose to return, how will you rebuild? And if you can’t return — where will you end up?

Many of us fear the unknown. I know I certainly do. The courage and faith required to not just leave your life behind, but to eventually decide to cross an ocean and hope that your lot will improve, must be one of the biggest risks someone leaving a war-torn country must make. And then, to build a life in that new place, to find love, have a family, live your life? The number of unknown challenges must invoke a strenuous burden.

Life choices and changes are often beyond daunting. Choosing to leave behind what you have been previously in your life not only takes heroic effort to take those initial steps, but seeing it through to the results you hope for either will change who you are through necessary adaptation, or that adaptation daunts you and the change is never fully accepted and complete.

My journey to changing myself cowers in magnitude compared to what my grandparents endured, but it has taken strength, commitment to the change, and once changed, the dedication to stick with it. Such ongoing journeys always include slips and backslides; either we face them and battle through them, or we convince ourselves that where we are is good enough.

I’ve been battling through such a backslide over recent months. Initially, when I first decided to embark on my journey, I didn’t believe it could be done, as I’ve said previously. But through hard work — particularly, head work in accepting my faults and fears, and working through them — I came within a handful of pounds to an initial goal. I escaped the threats I knew were imminent to my health; back then, I feared I would die before I was able to make enough changes to truly save myself. I was caught in a prison that I’d built, and the only one who could bust down those carefully laid bricks was me.

I’ve had my setbacks. My previous fat was a shield against the outside world. When I’ve more recently faced challenges from that world, I’ve found the chinks in the armor I’ve built for myself, and I’ve had to make the committed choices to either figure out what I needed to survive or talk myself into the idea that where I was, was simply good enough.

My grandparents, once in the United States, never really fully embraced their new lives. They lived in a Ukrainian neighborhood. My father was taught from books written in Ukrainian. They never truly learned the language; even before she died, my grandmother had to trust bank clerks to write her checks for her. She was fearful and hid her money in her freezer, wrapped in foil, like frozen meat. My letters to and from her were translated by a friend.

In short, they didn’t fully make the entire journey. Once here, they stopped short. This is not in judgment of them; large cities everywhere have small enclaves of people of nationalities in common. They seek each other out and create their own small communities within the larger surrounding landscape. Not really having experienced what people within those microcosms have done to survive, or what they face, I cannot assume that they are in any way weak. In fact, most likely have made courageous decisions, and the choice to remain in their communities may have much to do with cultural choices. While I can only postulate, my grandparents may have achieved everything they wanted. Through my own personal lens of their lives, I assume they could have gone further, when they may have considered their journeys complete.

Likewise, I have faced whether I choose to remain where I am, or readjust and battle onward to the goals I was so close to just last year. My lot is, after all, far better than where I started. But do I want most of it — or do I want it all?

Friends, I most definitely want it all! Like my grandparents, I will fight while embracing my origins, because without recognizing the places I have traveled to get here, I can’t hope to remodel myself for now and for the future.

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