On a lazy Sunday this past Labor Day weekend, I decided everything on the “to do” list could wait while I nourish my soul. I decided to challenge myself with something I don’t know much about. I watched something having to do with war and veterans, another essential part of our labor force. I watched Heart of Invictus, produced by Prince Harry for Netflix and expected to see a lot about war. Instead I viewed compelling and inspiring stories about the people who defended their communities and towns, and the challenges they faced doing so.
One such hero was a woman named Yulia “Taira” Paievska, a gritty hero and mother who was a paramedic for the Ukrainian army and an Invictus games competitor. This docuseries covered her journey before the war broke out. It was daunting to hear the hopes of the Ukrainians talking about being glad they weren’t in a full-on war and hoping it would not come to that, while knowing that within a year, they would be invaded by Russia.
Taira’s heroism started in her town, taking care of the sick. She wore a camera when the war broke out and filmed her journey through the war. Sadly, she was captured by the Russians, used as propaganda for the Russians, and did not make it to compete in the Invictus games, her whereabouts are “unknown.”
Another person who stood out was a Korean man, Na Hyeong-Yoon, who competed with no arms and made the most poignant statement in the series. He said, “You don’t overcome disabilities. You overcome the perception of disabilities.” As a person with a “disability” myself, I understand the concept of overcoming stigmas as opposed to overcoming your own deficiencies.
Heart of Invictus highlighted the heroes who fight for their communities, so they can live a “normal” life. In the aftermath of their “trigger” moments, trauma and PTSD was highlighted, and we saw the personal struggles they overcame following the wars they fought and, in Taira’s case, during.
The third most poignant moment for me underscored that we are all on a journey of healing and we all come out the same way, from a mother’s womb into this world, trying to find community in our journey in life; overcoming pain, sometimes daily. This was beautifully conveyed when, during the award ceremony, a prince (Harry), gently and lovingly bent over to a man in a wheelchair and kissed him on the forehead, then adorned his neck with a symbol of valor and authority.
Another “Invictus” moment I’ll leave as a surprise that you can discover on your own. Our towns and communities are made up of many people who come into this world, and play the role they were designed to, whether by education or inspiration.
The laborers are many. As Labor Day passes by this year, I reflect on those who take on the role of protecting their towns and communities. Many carry a lot on their backs and shoulders while carrying their own pain and trauma, and their struggle is a labor of love.
EL Serumaga is a resident of River Forest.