Becoming A New Greatest Generation

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I suppose most of us are battling fatigue from Covid-19 and a national election. Putting all of the trials of 2020 behind us would be a wonderful thing, but the odds of that happening anytime soon does not appear to be in the cards. We long for a semblance of normalcy and would love nothing better than to wake up one morning to find our lives returned to freedom from the sacrifices we have made.

For me, the journey through the past many months always calls to mind the ravages of World War II and the impact that it had on daily life across the globe. It’s difficult to imagine the years of death and deprivation and fear that became an unthinkable way of life in Europe from September 1939 to May 1945. For a span of almost six years uncertainty and death hung over the continent while a twin tragedy was playing out in Asia and the Pacific. I cannot imagine how difficult it must have been just to make it from one day to the next, and yet somehow the world’s people soldiered forward with a determination to rid the world of the evils that caused the deaths of millions across the globe. 

My parents were not yet even in high school when it all began. My mother often spoke of her father’s attempts to determine what was happening in his native country of Czechoslovakia. He would quietly listen to the radio with an unemotional countenance that was unable to hide the concerns that he had for the people back home. The news programs became a daily fixture in houses across America as everyone prayed that our country might be spared from war even as it became more and more evident that such was not to be the case. On December 7, 1941 the die was cast and the USA would battle alongside most of the rest of the world for the next four years.

Think about that. Years and years of shortages, attacks, loss of lives and property. Even the end of the war required a decades-long rebuilding process. We had a friend who was born in Bremen, Germany shortly after the surrender. As a child he suffered from vitamin deficiencies due to lack of proper nutrition. He played among the ruins of his city as a boy. It would be decades before a true sense of normalcy returned all over Europe. 

I wonder if those of us living in the present day would have the same kind of determination and willingness to endure years of sacrifice. I wonder if we would have been as willing to give of ourselves for the good of all as my grandparents, parents and aunts and uncles would have been. I wonder when so many became so spoiled that the thought of wearing a mask or sharing the riches of this country became unacceptable. Why is it so difficult for large swaths of the nation to be compassionate? When did meanness and hate become acceptable in so many quarters?

There is so much talk of making America great again, but the vision that such folks have of greatness seems shallow and lacking in compassion. They are led by a narcissistic individual  who craves their adulation while abusing those who disagree with him. He spews so much hate and acts as though he is just being funny. There is nothing humorous about his jokes. He pretends to be religious but he never seems to go to church. He wants credit for everything while actually doing little or nothing. He is the poster boy for a distorted view of freedom and love of country. 

Patriotism has nothing to do with waving flags or singing songs. Those are rituals that only have meaning when they are accompanied by an earnest intent to bring freedom and security to all of the people regardless of how different they may be. Those who love this country will endure hardship if that is what is needed. They will sacrifice for a better future. They will fight to right wrongs. They will make suggestions for improvement with love, not hateful banter. They will attempt to bring us together not purposely drive wedges between us. They will accept responsibility for past mistakes, learn from them and strive to improve rather than blaming everyone else. 

World War II was a time of intense contrast between good and evil. People overcame horror with courage and grit. If there was ever a moment of greatness that we would do well to have again, it might be found in those long years during which the common cause was more important than individual wants. It would be grand to find that spirit once again. 

It is said that we might stop this virus from its determination to spread if ninety five percent of the people just wore masks and kept those social distances. We might help those who have been impacted by the virus if we were to all agree to a bit of sacrifice whether it be in accepting lesser salaries so that more might retain their jobs or contributing more in taxes. Getting out of ourselves and learning to empathize with others is the key to greatness, not hoarding our good fortune. Understanding the hopes and the fears of one another and allowing all of our differences to be honored is the way to a better world for all.

We are not yet out of the woods. There may be more suffering to come. Let us consider emulating the generation of World War II that demonstrated the right way of doing things. Let’s be like the people who understood that evil was unacceptable and were willing to do whatever it took to eradicate it. We can be better than we have been of late. Let us become the new Greatest Generation as we build for the future instead of longing for the past.

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