Living History

history

If only we had a crystal ball that would accurately foretell the future, we might know exactly how to proceed in any situation and most especially during times like those in which we presently find ourselves. Of course we know that no such thing exists and even if it did we might still find ourselves feeling anxious, uncertain and out of control as we wait for a shoe to drop. In truth there are no magic formulas for making the best decisions in a given situation, but there are ways to consider alternatives and then choose a course of action to follow based on rational data. Of course since nothing is perfect there is always a chance that mistakes will happen, making it necessary to adjust as needed.

Humans are part of an intricate web of differing ideas, philosophies, dispositions. Two people might look at the same problem and see it differently. In the luxury of hindsight we may eventually know who was right and who was wrong but in the moment it is impossible to be one hundred percent certain about anything we do. In truth life is a procession of trial, error, correction, and hopefully ultimate success.

I have always enjoyed reading about history. There are certain events whose consequences were so epic that it’s easy to feel as though I am viewing a horror scene in which I know that the boogey man is hiding from the unsuspecting people who are about to get the scare of their lives. I wonder how many Americans from the south would have seceded from the union if they had known the toll of death and destruction that they would endure. Would the people of Russia have revolted against the Czar had they realized the decades of privation and fear that would follow? How many Germans would have supported Adolf Hitler had they seen what would ultimately happen to their country? Would our founding fathers have allowed slavery to be legal in their new nation if they had realized the full consequences of such a decision?

It is always easier to assess a given moment in history once we are able to see the whole picture. We become aware of how things might have been made better. In the heat of the moment we are all too often ruled by more by our emotions, our needs, our personal inclinations than by rational analysis. We desire to find the easy answers even when they are few or nonexistent. Most of the time the situations in which we find ourselves are not dire enough to warrant much of our attention and so we blithely choose sides mostly with those who think exactly life ourselves without giving much thought to alternative ideas. We find comfort in groupthink because it is never easy to be that extraordinary person who goes against the grain of society.

So here we are with all of our human abilities and talents that are tainted by our frailties and fears. We hear the noise of opposing solutions all around us and we are confused as to how best to proceed in light of a worldwide pandemic. There are so many points of view to consider that we feel overwhelmed. We crave simplicity for a complex question. So perhaps we might take a cue from Mr. Rogers and look for the helpers, the people who are working on the front lines all across the globe to save lives. We need to listen to their stories and learn from them, for they are the ones who are living the nightmare in real time while we are isolated in our homes.

During the early years of World War II the United States was decidedly isolationist. It was only after the attack on Pearl Harbor that our nation went to war. We were quite unprepared and our first forays into battle were alarmingly unsuccessful. I have little doubt that the American people felt overwhelmed but they found ways to change the course of history with their sacrifice and determination. They looked to the brilliance of men like Admiral Nimitz and General Eisenhower and supported those who were on the forefront of the war. It took time and treasure and changed everyday life but they were willing to support those who were on the forefront of the war.

We have been asked to isolate ourselves to prevent an outbreak of Covid-19 that has the potential to send our healthcare system into a death spiral. The men and women of medicine are telling us what they need and far too many of us are questioning them and suggesting that what we are hearing from them is little more than scary propaganda, but in truth they are the experts, the generals and the troops who are in the trenches. They should be a primary source for our decision making for the time being. We can worry ourselves with elections and personal causes later. For now we need to rally around them with everything in our power knowing that our sacrifices are small compared to theirs.

Our food supply continues to flow even if we find ourselves lacking some of the luxuries that we once enjoyed. Our children are still learning from parents and teachers who greet them from a distance. Many are continuing to work from home but there are far too many who have lost their jobs, their sources of income. We cannot forget them but we can reassure them that as we shelter in place for now we intend to care for them now and help them to rebuild their lives once the danger has passed.

It is true that our economy and those of countries around the world are reeling. Our work will not be done even when this epic moment has passed. We have to be ready for the long haul just as our parents and grandparents were in World War II. We can’t get too anxious to return to normalcy. Doing so might ruin all of the efforts we have made so far. This fight is bigger than any single individual. It is about all of humankind and each of us has an important role to play. Let us hope and pray that we are choosing to listen to the right voices, the helpers who are risking their own safety to protect us. Listen to what they have to say and be wary of anyone who appears to be more concerned about their own reputations and popularity.  

We are living history from moment to moment. May God help us to do it right.

And So I Worry

WorryI sit at home during this time of self isolation and I worry. Let me make it perfectly clear that I do not worry about myself. I will either get the virus or I will not. If I get it I will either survive or not. I am seventy one years old and my journey on this earth has been good. I feel very close to God and that belief brings me great comfort. My anxieties and concerns center on other people whose lives are being upended or may be upended by what is unfolding at warp speed. I am one of those individuals who wants our president to know that I am very scared of the repercussions of this pandemic and how they will affect the entire world, not just my little corner of it. I am most especially concerned for the young who stand to inherit a situation that will forever impact their lives in ways that few of us are even considering because nothing of this magnitude has ever before happened.

I am fearful for the medical community, people who understand what protocols they need to stay safe and keep their patients safe. They are on the front line and their pleas for our attention and help are real. They are not children crying wolf. They are highly educated, highly qualified individuals who are trained to stay calm. When they are afraid I know that the rest of us should also be afraid and that our job is to insist that immediate measures be taken to assist them in any way possible. If that means that we all stay in our homes avoiding contact with others, so be it. We need to listen to them, not a man whose claim to expertise in science and medicine is his relationship with a very bright uncle from M.I.T. The medical community tells us that this is serious and I believe them and so I worry about them.

I am anxious about the people who are already losing their jobs and their businesses. I know who they are and how vulnerable they are feeling. Nothing about their situation is typical. They have no guarantees that our economy will quickly return to a normal enough state to provide them with secure employment when all of this is over. My own city is the oil capital of the United States and that industry is collapsing almost as quickly as the virus is spreading Already there have been furloughs and layoffs. Sadly if the general outline of the Senate’s plan to stimulate the economy comes to pass many who have been most affected by economic loss will receive no relief even though they are the ones who need it the most. The proposed bill would only send checks to people at or below a certain income level based on 2018 tax returns. These people were working and doing well back then, but now they have no income and their retirement investments are in a shambles. Thus I am anxious for them.

I see a political game of back and forth insults playing out on social media even as we should be working together to achieve the common goal of defeating this virus. If there ever was a time when we should set our differences aside it should be now and yet I see so many instances of the quarreling only intensifying. Blame and finger pointing is on the rise as though it must surely be the fault of some nation other than our own or some group that does not believe in God or those who voted for a certain person in the last presidential election. The political paranoia and poison is operating at full tilt when we should instead be working together. Covid 19 is apolitical, a virus that randomly chooses its victims, and so I worry because I keep hearing accusations and excuses instead of a united front from those in charge of guiding us through this battle. I would be far more calm if the press conferences included members of both of our major political parties. I would be relieved to hear that plans were being made in a bipartisan way for the good of the country. I would feel less anxious if we were able to heal the wounds and divisions of our nation and the world even as we fight the virus. Since I don’t see as much of that as I think we need I am ill at ease.

The  millennials are more like those of us who are Baby Boomers than either demographic may think. We Boomers were a rebellious group that was often misunderstood by our elders. We looked honestly at the world as it was and were unafraid to point out its problems. We witnessed racism that made no sense and we stood up to our elders and spoke out against the ways things had always been done. We worried that the war in Vietnam was not being waged in an honest and legitimate manner and we voiced those concerns. Our parents and grandparents thought we were rude and too inexperienced to have valid points of view.  They disapproved of our audacity. So too are today’s young people taking note of things that bother them. Surely we should remember how demeaning it felt to have our concerns silenced when our intentions were so sincere. It’s time we listened to our young because they are about to step into an adult world that will be riddled with residual problems created by this pandemic. We are handing off immense challenges without acknowledging them and supporting them as much as we should. I worry about the future not because I don’t think they can handle it but because so many of us are not willing to consider that the millenials have a bigger stake in making things right than us older folk do. It would serve us all well to remember that aside from people like Benjamin Franklin most of the revolutionary men who forged the independence of this nation were very young.

I am an admitted worrier. I do not need anyone to tell me to set aside my worries and be happy. I am already happy, but I think about things and fret over solutions for problems. I do not need anybody to suggest that if I only trust in God all will be well. God and I have a beautiful relationship and I know that He/She does not play favorites nor smite people in spite. What I do believe is that God gave us wondrous minds and imaginations with which to tackle our challenges. I worry because we don’t always use that precious gift as well as we should. I worry because even in a pandemic we sometimes forget that the most important commandment of all is to love one another.

I hope that I am wrong in all of my fears. I pray that we will rise up and become better for all of the difficulties that lie before us. We may be in for a hard road ahead. We have everything we need to do well but I fear that we will be so busy chiding and advising anyone who does not think exactly as we do that we will miss opportunities to find the way forward without a world of pain…and so I worry. 

Living In the Twilight Zone

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Do any of the rest of you feel as though we have been caught in an infinite loop of The Twilight Zone? I know I do. I find that I awake each morning feeling rather good until my brain reminds me that nothing is exactly as it was only a couple of weeks ago. I won’t be planning a camping excursion any time soon nor will a trip to the grocery store be as unremarkable as I had grown accustomed to it being. As long as I am in the quiet and safety of my home I don’t feel anxious at all but as soon as I turn my attention to the outside world I am stunned by the extent to which we are all grappling with the unknown and my cockeyed optimism is rattled just a bit more.

I keep thinking of Rod Serling’s greatest stories and how they have stuck with me even though they seemed to be only the stuff of science fiction, unlikely to ever transpire. There is the tale of the young woman stuck in her New York apartment as the world is slowly and painfully coming to an end. Then I remember episode featuring a man who is a lone survivor of some cataclysm making the best of the situation by planning to read away his loneliness only to drop and break the eyeglasses that allow him to see. When I see the photos of empty shelves in grocery stores I am reminded of Serling’s take on the effects of panic in a cautionary story of a once friendly neighborhood that turns on itself at the first sign of trouble. Those shows had a way of stunning us with their shocking endings but we never thought that any of the creative scenarios might possibly come true.

Let’s face it. Despite all of our past grumblings about the unfairness of the world most of us would be more than happy to rewind to September 2019 if only we might never have to face the unraveling of the world that has slowly enveloped all of us in fear. It’s difficult to go the the dark possibility that maybe things will never be quite the same again. If there were indeed a way to undo all that has happened would we remember how it felt to be threatened with loss and privation? Would we be more willing to be appreciative of our good fortune and then share it with those who have not been as lucky? Would we be more attuned to working together to solve problems. Would we always be generous and less wasteful, eager to slow down to enjoy our families and our friends? Would we treasure life more now that we have seen how fragile it and our institutions can become? Would we be able to see how destructive our hubris can sometimes be and begin to value our differences?

The human experience is riddled  with instances of grave mistakes as well as stunning victories over injustice and evil. We seem to slowly work our way toward better versions of ourselves as long as we don’t get lost to temptations that interfere with our focus. We work best together when we are willing to tap into our more enlightened natures by a willingness to admit that we rarely have all of the answers. Perhaps we have been moving too quickly of late. Maybe we have been to busy competing with one another and building resumes of our accomplishments that are not particularly important. We have scurried about too quickly, forgetting to take the time to be still and hear the beating of our hearts and see the simple beauty that surrounds us.

This is indeed the most incredible event of my lifetime and I have seen quite a bit in my seventy one years. It has the potential to define us in the long stretch of history. We will eventually move on from this, but will we have learned from it? I know that I have been continually reminded of the wonderful people who are part of my life during the last few weeks. I have felt their love surrounding me. I want to cherish that feeling and never forget what it has meant to me. My hope is that the whole world will find renewed pleasure in the simple act of spreading kindness and understanding every moment of every day.

I am not so naive as to believe that this is a kumbayah moment in which humankind will shed every aspect of its darker side. People have endured plagues, wars, economic depressions and holocausts many times in the past and yet we still haven’t found a way to prevent those things from ever happening again. We fall back into our bad habits again and again which is why I find it somewhat hypocritical to denounce our ancestors when our own modern track record is not free from sins. Instead we must attempt to learn from mistakes and rectify them as best we can.

We’ve seen hoarders and thieves and individuals who have attacked Asians in the misplaced belief that they are somehow responsible for our present woes. At the same time we have witnessed even more signs of generosity, courage, brilliance and understanding. When all is said and done these are the qualities that will remind us of who are and should be as the human race.  Our questions right now should not dwell on judging others, but rather on how each of us might help. These are the things that will provide us with the optimism we need to build the future and take us out of the twilight zone.

   

Get Busy Writing Now

Journal

I am always fascinated by the long, lovely, highly descriptive letters and journal entries from important historical times that were somehow saved by the sentimental people who found them. They became treasures because they opened a window to a moment when an ordinary soul took the time to vividly speak of the happenings, the privations, the fears and the hopes that they were experiencing. My mother-in-law had one such heirloom from a relative in the United Kingdom who communicated news about World War II to the family members who had emigrated to America. The words are so poignant and give voice to how the lives of ordinary folk were touched by the unfolding drama. The personal aspect of what the author conveys makes the letter all the more compelling in bringing the realities of daily routines under the duress of war to life. There is a special kind of voice in such first person communiques and luckily their existence traces it’s way far back into history.

I often write in the hopes that my words may one day resonate with my descendants. I know that my grandchildren are presently so busy building the foundations of their own adult lives that they rarely have the time to sit still and read my insignificant tracts. They are instead mastering mathematics, learning of the history of the world, enjoying the genius of the world’s greatest authors. They toil from dawn to the late hours of the night studying the fundamentals that will ready them for the future.

I have been in their position myself when I had little time to tarry and ask my grandparents or any of my elders to describe their lives. I was all too often impatient with their recitation of tales from their youth. It was only as I aged that I began to enjoy hearing what life had been like before I was even born. By then I had more questions than time to ask them. There is so much more that I would like to have known. Their knowledge, wisdom, and accounts of the past are forever lost. Because their educations were limited no written outlines exist. I will never know the full details of their experiences because I foolishly undervalued what they had to say.

My mother-in-law was a keeper of personal history. She researched genealogy and saved seemingly meaningless trinkets and correspondences from members of her family. She reveled in telling their stories and her own. I recall a time when she described her final year of high school when rationing was the rule and the young men who had been her classmates had gone to fight World War II. She showed me her yearbook which looked more like a thin magazine with its paper cover and lack of pages. She brought out a ration book that had once belonged to one of her aunts. She read that letter from a distant relative in Britain whom she had never met but with whom she felt a strong connection. I was fascinated by her dialogue and somehow felt that I had an understanding of those war years that no textbook or college lecture might ever have given me.

Each of us has a story, a history that might become a book. We may think our lives to be dull and unworthy of describing on paper but in truth our everyday thoughts and actions may one day become a treasure for some distant descendant intent on finding roots and knowing the people who came before. I am always thrilled when I discover even a kernel of evidence about my ancestors. I suppose that there comes a time for each of us when knowing such things becomes quite important. The more help we get from those voices from the past, the more exciting our search becomes.

We are now in the midst of a moment in time that will no doubt become a topic of discussion for years to come. We are part of history in the making as we navigate through the unknowns and unprecedented restrictions of the world’s battle with Covid 19. I find myself thinking that keeping a daily journal of what I witness happening across the globe and how I feel about it may one day prove to be an extraordinary gift to my great grandchildren who are yet to exist. What a glorious find my account may one day be even if I never get personally involved with the illness (and I pray that I am saved from ever actually knowing it). I can be a reporter of what I see unfolding in my tiny slice of the world. Surely there will be a future someone like me or my mother-in-law who will be curious enough to want to learn about the very personal aspects of the outbreak.

The very word history indicates that all that happens to us is a personal tale outlining how we react to unfolding events. The books that our descendants will one day read to learn about this moment will speak in more general terms without explaining how our own families endured. Keeping a journal of our thoughts will not only give us something to do while we self isolate but may also become a priceless heirloom of the future. Get busy writing your story now. It’s a worthy and important task.

We Can Do It!

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So here we are in early March, a time for the Houston Rodeo, Spring Break, March Madness, St. Patrick’s Day celebrations. Our nature is to enjoy the promise of this time of year when the flowers begin to bloom again, at least in my part of the world. We are creatures of habit and regardless of how much we protest any insinuation that we are not flexible, we feel the earth move a bit under our feet when things don’t go as planned.

We are a generally lucky lot here in the United States of America, at least those of us who are members of the middle class. We plan trips and decorate for Easter and watch sporting events on our big screen televisions. Worries come now and again but we generally work through them. Sometimes Mother Nature brings destruction to our front doors like it did when hurricane Harvey hit Houston, but we take pride in taking control of such situations and putting things back to normal as quickly as possible.

We Americans are notoriously independent souls. We don’t like to be told what to do. Some among us even insist that the government should stay out of our business as much as possible. We can be quite vocal and sometimes even a bit brash when it comes to our ideas about how things should be done, but more than anything we tend to think that we can conquer almost any challenge better than most. We got to the moon, didn’t we? Surely we’ve got the best of everything in the world! We don’t think of it as boasting because it seems to just be the truth.

Suddenly the whole world is turned upside down by a virus that is new and strange. We’re not completely sure what it will ultimately do or how we will put it down. Our instinct is to ignore it as long as it doesn’t come near us. We’ve been saved by those two big oceans that have protected us from wars and left us relatively unscathed by rumblings in other parts of the world for most of history until terrorists found a way to bring fear into our midst. Now we hear warnings that the current threat will not be intimidated by our advanced technology, or national wealth, or borders. It does not respect our traditions or our freedoms. It does not see us any differently than it does the citizens of Wuhan or Padua or Kirkland, Washington. To it our bodies are all just targets for destruction, some more vulnerable than others, but all capable of carrying the deadly disease deeper into our midst.

Leaders across the globe are making decisions without any guarantees. They may as well be blind because there is no certainty as to what will actually work to halt this novel virus. We cannot compare it to the flu or measles or any other known disease because we have no scientific basis of doing so. We have yet to learn all of its mysteries and capabilities. We only have numbers of the sick and dead and the anecdotal stories of those on the front line of the battle against it to guide us.

Covid 19 seems to affect the elderly in more dangerous ways, as well as those who have other health issues. Children and young adults seem to generally have milder cases, but they are not automatically immune to the more critical symptoms and everyone who becomes infected is a carrier. Nations that have insisted on enforcing social distancing protocols early on have generally done better than those that waited until the toll of sickness rose to unbearable numbers. At this very moment there are countries whose healthcare systems have been overwhelmed and the end to their trials does not yet seem in sight. They send furtive warnings to the rest of us to take cautionary measures before it is too late.

This virus is not just a seasonal flu that is being overblown. It is not a hoax. It is not the fault of China or Democrats or President Trump. How we handle it will surely define us in history. We can rise to the occasion and do whatever is needed to end the contagion as quickly as possible or we can whine about inconveniences that we do not normally have. We can demonstrate our concern for all people everywhere by doing our utmost to cooperate with the efforts to contain the virus or we can demonstrate a false bravado by ignoring the requests that we stay home as much as possible.

The NBA season is done for now. Tom Hanks and his wife Rita are among those who have the virus. The world seems to be spinning out of control, to have suddenly gone insane. It will be up to everyone of us to restore calm and reason by following directives and doing our individual best to comply with each request for temporary changes in our behavior. This is a time for prayer, not just for those who are ill but for those who might become that way as well as for the medical personnel across the globe who are or will be fighting this demon virus. This is the time for unity and mending of the divisions that have produced so much rancor in recent times. This is the time for understanding, compassion and flexibility. This is the time to remind the people in our lives how much we love them.

If all goes well most of us will never be personally affected by the horrors of this virus. Hopefully when all is said and done we will actually be able to wonder if it was all much ado about nothing or if we did indeed prevent a more horrific scenario by doing whatever was needed at each juncture of the battle. We can only hope that by this time next year we will have dodged a bullet but for now it is  time to arm ourselves with calm and the good sense to do what is asked of us. Nobody is immune from the consequences if we presume to know more than the good souls who are attempting to protect us. Take care. Keep in touch with one another. We are a strong species that has faced down danger before. We can do it but it will take the combined efforts of everyone!