April 9, 2020
The rain has stopped! I got out onto the trails by my house early for once on Saturday, not having to wait for a break in the rain. The birds were greeting the day and each other, flitting from tree to tree in joyous community, blowing off social distancing. Woodpeckers rattatatted a percussive accompaniment. I saw a gathering of ten trillium in a two-foot area and wondered if they should be reported.
As horrifying, frightening, and confusing as this situation is (and I’m talking not only about Covid-19, but about the one who is supposed to be guiding the country through this and is terrifyingly failing to, with literally grave consequences) there is something adventurous about being in the midst of history-making. Novels will be written, movies will be made, history will be recorded; and we will have been there in a way we have not been before.
My parents were born during WWI, quickly followed by the Pandemic of 1918. They were teenagers during the Great Depression and just beginning adulthood when the United States declared war on Germany and Japan and four years of their lives were consumed by WWII.
As I dig into their history of those years, and read novels and accounts of the period, I no longer wonder why my parents’ generation was called the Greatest Generation. Following the challenging first 30 years of their lives, they went on to make this country what it has been during my lifetime: their strong marriages, a booming economy, tremendous strides in technology and civil rights, the list goes on. And they made the lives of their children, grandchildren so easy. Yes, we’ve had pockets of sorrow: Viet Nam, AIDS, 9-11, a couple recessions, and others (remember the gas shortage?); but nothing that has touched every one of us this directly. Our sense of entitlement has known no bounds. And now? It’s our time. What will we do with it?
As my father readied to board the troop ship that would carry him across the Atlantic to England in March of 1944, he wrote my mother one more letter before the mail-blackout crossing:
“This is adventure of the first water, though perhaps not the type I would have picked. Don’t worry if you don’t get letters for a while. In this business as in no other ‘no news is good news.’ I certainly am ‘weller,’ happier, and more enthusiastic now than I’ve been in some time. There’s a latent spirit of adventure in everyone and this experience sure as the devil is bringing it out in me.”
A word search of the letter excerpts I reduced his 500 letters to, brings no other mention of the word “adventure.” He got over it quickly in the humdrum of his job as a meteorologist. He often noted, though—as did his brother and sister—that train, ship, and plane travel, moving to states across the country and then to foreign countries, was quite something for farm kids from Michigan. Not the adventure they would have chosen, and certainly not for the dire reason and consequences, but they made the most of the unusual circumstance.
In a striking juxtaposition of their times and this time, I made some face masks the other day. I’m told it’s impossible to find elastic. Well, hey, I’m good. I’m living in the house occupied by Depression-era parents for 50 years. I pulled the box labeled “elastic” off the shelf, only to find it was full not of purchased elastic, but bands cut off underwear and pulled out of worn-out pants; some of it with no stretch left. My mother took great pride in proclaiming that she wore underwear with holes in it so her daughters could have new. I pulled a few wide bands out of the box, cut them in 7-inch lengths, then cut each length into fourths. Voila, underwear ear straps.
And hey, if it comes to it, I have a supply of WWII ration stamps too. Sadly, none are for toilet paper.
I’ve been wondering for a while, as I watch TV, when will come the ads reflecting our lives right now. I watch the evening news detailing how many people died each day, how many new cases, who has done what right and wrong. In the breaks are ads with people standing close to each other groups, children on playgrounds, couples and families on vacation (most glaringly on cruise ships)—no one wearing masks—and they look like scenes from another time. “Let’s get Mikey! Yeah, he’ll eat anything!” I finally saw the first “in the time of Corona” ads ironically on April Fools Day: Stanley Steamer and Verizon. Deep sigh. Done with time travel and back in the 21st century.
I heard someone say recently that, given the lack of leadership in the country (e.g. “My advisors recommend now, that we all wear masks. You can if you want to. I won’t be,” DT), it’s a “choose your own ending,” adventure. I miss my grandchildren, I miss hiking new trails, I miss time with friends and hugs. But staying safe and keeping others safe for as long as it takes in order to hike and hug another day is the ending I’m choosing.
Anyway, I’ve been walking nearly daily in the forest next door. Spring is busting into fullness. It cares nothing for this crisis and that is comforting. Last year’s dead leaves give way to new ones. The tattered trillium— the early harbinger of spring—begins turning pink then purple in its death throes.
Spring will become summer, autumn will become winter. November third will come. The cycle begins again. Spring rain and mud give way to summer warmth. This too shall pass, life will forever be changed, we will adjust to a new normal. There will be some good in it, whatever we make of it.