Waving the Flag: A Symbol of a People’s Spirit and a Symbol of Hope for Us All

Shortly after Russia invaded Ukraine, David and I bought a Ukrainian flag online. When it arrived we unpacked it and David asked, “Which color goes up?” Of course we Googled it and discovered blue was up, so we put the flag on our front porch flagpole and it has waved in the breeze since then.

Well let me shift topics – but not really, as I hope you will see. About a year ago my spiritual adviser, Fr. Pete Creed, gave me a copy of a little book titled Between Shades of Gray. And when I say “little,” I mean little! It's a pocket-sized text that enables the reader to literally let it rest in their pocket while taking a break from reading. The type is very small and the paper very thin, so the whole book does fit nicely into the palm of one’s hand.

I started reading the book and was entranced by the story, but couldn’t keep up with it as I got busy with something else. So David took it over, and remained absorbed in the story – all the way to California on our flight last Thanksgiving. Someone at our hotel benefitted from that work because, after having finished it, David donated it to The Mission Inn lobby “library” in Riverside. When we got home, I ordered another copy from Amazon and this one turned out to be book-size. [See second photo below.] I began reading the story about a month ago and finished it this past week. Let me say a bit about the book without being a spoiler of the story, because I hope this blog will whet your appetite enough that you’ll order a copy for yourself.

Between Shades of Gray was written by Ruta Sepetys and published in 2011. According to its cover, it was turned into a film titled “Ashes in the Snow.” Sepetys was born in the U.S. and is an award-winning author of historical novels. According to her book’s bio-sketch, she has presented to NATO, the European Parliament, our U.S. Capitol and embassies around the world.

The historical setting for the narrative is Russia’s invasion of Lithuania at the outbreak of World War II. The country was invaded and seized, and many civilian citizens were brutally shipped out in cattle cars to Siberia and beyond. It is a truly brutal story and hard to read – even with a nice glass of red wine by one’s side. The back cover of the Penguin publication provides the following synopsis – I think just enough to lead you to open the book and read, but not so much so that the plot is spoiled. This is the paragraph as it appears on the cover:

A knock comes at the door in the dead of night, and Lina’s life changes in an instant. With her young brother and mother, she is hauled away by the Soviet secret police from her home in Lithuania and thrown into a cattle car en route to Siberia. Separated from her father, Lina secretly passes along clues in the form of drawings, hoping they will reach his prison camp. But will her letters, or her courage, be enough to reunite her family? Will they be enough to keep her alive?

The cover heading for this precis reads, "A GRIPPING NOVEL OF SURVIVAL AND HOPE IN THE DARKEST OF PLACES," and the book itself received rave reviews by The Wall Street Journal and The L.A. Times, and was listed as a “notable book” by The New York Times.

Now let me add a personal note – at least a somewhat remote one – to this account. My late husband, Leon H. Levy, was ethnically Jewish. His father, Samuel Levy, was a Lithuanian refugee who fled some kind of persecution as a 14-year-old adolescent, and somehow found his way by ship to the United States. He met Leon’s mother, Dora – also part of the Jewish diaspora – having made her way from Scotland to the U.S. They married and settled down in Patterson, New Jersey, and Leon was their only child.

Anyway, that’s all I remember of that family’s history and no one has survived to ask any further details. They did have relatives in Europe who became part of Hitler’s “Final Solution” during the war. But circling back to the beginning of this blog, the historical parallel with what is happening today in Ukraine and what has gone before this latest invasion and brutal attacks on civilians – including Crimea and other lands Russia has seized or at least tried to – makes this historical fiction by Sepetys play out all over again on the TV news each night.

And what can we do, while Ukrainian President Volodymyr Zalinsky pleads for “weapons and not a ride?” Our government understandably doesn’t want to trigger some mad unleashing of Putin’s nuclear arsenal. As a country, we can send weapons and other military equipment, which we are doing, as well as other kinds of aid. But what can we do? Well, we can send money to our favorite charities trying to bring aid to the suffering of those on Ukrainian soil.

Is there anything else we can do besides sending money and praying? Well yes. We can buy a blue and yellow Ukrainian flag and fly it as a symbol of support and hope and solidarity. And what else? God only knows. So fly the flag, folks. Fly the flag.

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Sandra M. Levy, Ph.D., M.Div.
I am a clinical psychologist, Episcopal priest and author, and I currently serve as Priest Associate at St. Martin's Episcopal Church in Richmond, Virginia.