When the going gets tough…

The chips, as they say, are down.

The coronavirus pandemic has swept its way into every corner of American life. Even where the virus has not yet reared its microscopic head, it has impacted each and every one of us. Athletic tournaments and concerts and festivals canceled. The Olympics pushed back a year. Baseball season delayed. But most importantly, businesses shutting their doors, some perhaps forever, retirement accounts shrinking, senior citizens sealed up inside nursing homes, families unable to visit their loved ones. Lives disrupted, and many ended.

That’s the bad news. And depending on what website you click onto or network you watch, it’s just the beginning. I know a novelist, a former Green Beret, who is saying on his blog that it might be two to three years before we turn the corner and get back to “normal.” Of course, he has to say that, because on his website he’s pushing his survival books. How to ride out the apocalypse in less than 200 pages.

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It’s bad, but not as bad as they say. We hope.

But there’s good news. Leaders are stepping forward and getting things accomplished. Some have to be dragged kicking and screaming, but others, some expected, some surprising, are doing the hard work and making the tough calls that must be made.

We’ve been through this before, you know. I don’t mean “we” as in those of us walking around (within social-distancing limits) today. The crises we have dealt with in the past generation or so are nothing compared to what our grandparents and great-grandparents went through. We had SARS and H1N1 and AIDS and even 9/11, and many lives were lost, but the nation did not slow to a near-standstill, the economy didn’t threaten to crater, and supposedly-educated people didn’t start talking like zombies were just over the hill.

 

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The zombies are not on their way.

 

No, I mean “we” as a nation, as a society. You want to talk about toughness? Making the hard calls, persevering through adversity? Okay, let’s talk about what America faced, and overcame, just a few generations ago.

 

The Greatest Generation, and their parents, were tough. They had to be.

My grandparents were kids in 1918, ranging in age from two to 16, when the Spanish flu pandemic swept across the land. Brought home from Europe by returning troops, the deadly virus killed hundreds of thousands of Americans, the equivalent of over 2 million today. The scientists couldn’t really figure it out, so there was no hope for a vaccine. The doctors didn’t have much to work with when it came to treatment. Once you got it, the game was pretty much over for you. And with communications being as slow as they were—no radio, no TV, and most homes didn’t even have telephones—it was hard to know what was going on, or what to do.

But they did what they could, and most of them pulled through. And, by the way, they won the First World War while they were beating the pandemic. The nation recovered, and before long the good times were rolling again.

 

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Our ancestors fought and defeated a deadly enemy over there…
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…and then banded together to beat an even stronger foe over here.

 

They didn’t roll for very long. Barely a decade later, the economy crashed. The Great Depression gripped the nation in its heartless vise. Millions were out of work. Crime flourished. Many thousands died of malnutrition or lack of medical care. My mother lost two siblings. Her father found work shoveling coal out of railroad cars for a dollar a ton. People did what they had to do. The government did what it could, but it was up to each citizen to do their part, too. And, for the most part, they did, and the tide turned.

Things were starting to look up when another war started. We tried to stay clear, but then it came home, hitting us hard. But once again, we had strong leadership showing the way. FDR declared the day after Pearl Harbor that we would win an “absolute victory.” I asked my grandfather, “Did you ever think we would lose?” And he said, “No. Nobody ever thought that.” Historians tell us now that it was touch and go for a long time, and surely Roosevelt and his advisors knew that, but they never said it publicly. They had to project confidence and optimism, while still being realistic. They made the tough calls, the country unified in the face of the threat, and the enemy was defeated. At great cost, to be sure, but no triumph ever comes cheap.

 

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Chicagoans lining up for a free cup of coffee and a doughnut in 1931. The fact that the shop was funded by mobster Al Capone made no difference. Food was food.

 

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Ten years later, millions of Americans signed up to fight another enemy, tyranny. Millions more fought the war on the home front, in factories and shops and fields, enduring rationing and fear and a lot more. 

 

 

We’re up to bat now, whether we want to be or not.

Now, it’s our turn. We admire our recent ancestors as “The Greatest Generation.” Most of them are gone now, and this virus is taking more of them. It’s up to us, their descendants, to carry this burden. JFK said, “…we shall pay any price, bear any burden, meet any hardship” to defend liberty. He said that to a comfortable and powerful America in 1961, but the words can apply to us today in the face of this very real threat. They should apply, anyway. We’re already seeing signs that Americans are stepping up, doing what needs doing, making the sacrifices that must be made, even in the face of relentless doomsayers on TV and the handful of jerks taking advantage of the situation.

My father often told me, “When the going gets tough, the tough get going.” He was a child of the Depression, saw his brother go off to war, and learned the lessons taught by his parents and grandparents. He taught those to me and my brothers, and we passed them to our kids. I suspect you can tell similar stories.

Well, the going is sure as hell tough right now, and it’s time for the tough to get going.

What will our descendants say about us, a hundred years from now? It’s up to us to write that history. With faith in God to guide and comfort us, and faith in each other to help those who need help, we will persevere. We will not be defeated. We will not let the Greatest Generation down.

 

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We will write this chapter of our history. We can accept defeat….

 

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…or we can push through the pain and despair to achieve victory. It’s completely up to us.

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