Now that we have been in self-isolation for more than a month, not surprisingly, we are missing things we typically enjoy and have come to expect. We feel cramped a bit because we cannot go where we like and do as we please. Our favorite stores and regular haunts are closed, access to friends and family curtailed, schools shut down, sporting events on hold, and our entire daily routine has been flipped on its head.
Reports from news sources pile on with even more serious losses. Phrases like “Great Depression” pop up and point out job losses and scary financial predictions. Add the continued physical danger and loss of lives caused by COVID-19, and many say that we have never seen hard times like these on such a global scale.
The frustration is becoming visible. While the press and the public are lobbing complaints at the government and corporations concerning their actions during the pandemic, protests are pushing against the requirements to stay home and proceed carefully about returning to our former normal.
But as I have had more and more time to reflect on this pandemic, I am also reminded of significantly harder times experienced by not-so-distant generations. I recently read six books, fiction and non-fiction, on World War II and started reading more about World War I. We think we are in isolation!
I am astounded by the emotional, practical, and physical suffering experienced by those in battle and families back home. What did anxiety feel like for those who had no idea where their fathers, brothers, sons, and uncles were serving or how they were doing from day to day? Who could measure the loss of all the homes, cities, military hardware and lives that were demolished or that sank to the bottom of the sea? And yet many of us personally know and can recall the names, faces and stories of people who survived and endured these traumatic times and times much like them in wars that would soon follow.
I especially think of my father. Raymundo Romero who was born in the last metal pitched-roof house at the northeast corner of Trampas, New Mexico in 1907. He was the seventh-born of 10 children. He was a man small in stature, but giant in character and example.
I remember how for eight summers between 1935 to 1942, he served as Fire Lookout atop Picuris Mountain near Penasco, New Mexico. Accepting this position meant that he was in self-isolation for four to five months at a time. He was re-supplied with canned goods and a few fresh foods three or four times during the summer by pack horse. I recall his stories about how he looked forward to those visits and have read his diary entries about those times.
One detail helps me realize how good I have it. My father created a small “cooler” to keep his food fresh for a few more days. It was a box wrapped in burlap that he would wet daily, suspending it outdoors for the night air to keep cool. He hiked one mile down and then back up each day carrying two-gallon sized canteens. This march at daybreak supplied him with his fresh water for the day.
Thinking about those times helps put things in perspective for me. I can jump in my car and get fresh things from the grocery store whenever I need them. There may not always be a wide selection, but, amazingly, necessities are there and continue to be restocked. I don’t hike for water and can quickly get to beautiful places by car. I can hop on my computer or either of two phones to communicate easily with family and friends. I can order good books from Amazon and have them delivered to my doorstep in a matter of hours or a few days. My dad only had a radio for news and music and a crank telephone to the Ranger Station to report any potential fires. I have lots of screens that give me news, movies, and too many programs to watch in a lifetime.
When I practice gratitude, my list grows even longer. I’m grateful for how supply chains continue to operate, and how medical systems, while strained in some places, are functioning heroically. I’m glad there have been no large-scale bankruptcies that sparked a panic.
Think about work. If COVID-19 had struck just a decade or so earlier, there would have been no Zoom for virtual meetings and client interactions. FaceTime didn’t exist until 2010. Business would have ground to a halt except for those tasks and messages that could have been sent by email.
Think of schools and universities. While we sadly lost graduation events and experiences, teachers and students moved smoothly to online classes that would have been unthinkable in recent decades. Not everything in the classroom can be replicated online, but most schools and universities of yesteryear would have had no option except to shut down completely.
You can make your own list, but when I remember how much we do have, even in demanding times like this, I begin to feel differently. When I remind myself that I am not as isolated as I sometimes think, and my losses are not so unique, it changes how I see. People I know and love have suffered in more challenging ways and serve as a model and inspiration to draw strength from today.
I don't know about you, but it helps me to keep things in perspective by comparing this current experience with what others before us have suffered. Somehow, I feel more grateful and even in possession of something very precious…a little more inner fortitude.