*If we really have to…and yes…we really have to.
When the Coronavirus pandemic hit the US in full-force, KitKat and I—like others around the world—went into “stay-at-home” mode. With additional time on my hands, I figured “There’s a blog post in all this…” However, I couldn’t figure out what to write about. I know that, compared to a lot of other people dealing with this situation, I’m very, very fortunate. Because—in addition to those who are literally dying from this pandemic—there are many others who are living through incredibly stressful scenarios. To name a few:
- Going to work each day in healthcare without adequate PPE.
- Being stuck in their homes with an abusive partner.
- Not being at the hospital bedside of a loved one struggling with COVID-19.
- Providing “essential services” at close to minimum wage and putting oneself at risk.
- Facing sudden unemployment with no emergency savings.
- Trying to work while supervising school for small children in a too-small apartment.
- Small business owners struggling to keep their business alive despite being deemed “non-essential.”
- Having a compromised immune system and being terrified to go outside or get necessities.
- Being homeless with no way to protect oneself from illness.
- Living alone and facing incredible loneliness.
- Not being able to visit one’s elderly parents for risk of infecting them.
Actually, the last one of these is the only one that applies to me, but that’s a story for later. KitKat is dealing with a couple of these challenges as well, but both of us are relatively lucky as far as these things go. After living in this Brave New World of Global Pandemic for a few weeks, however, a theme has emerged that I’d like to touch on. It’s about resiliency.
You’ve probably seen memes similar to this one:
The implication seems to be that today’s youth are a bunch of wussies** compared to previous generations—particularly compared to The Greatest Generation. It’s easy to see where this perception comes from when I think of some of the haircare-related memes and messages floating through my social media feed lately:
I can see the humor in these and have even “shared” a couple. However, the underlying message—Do NOT try to cut or color your hair yourself!—annoys me.
While I appreciate the skills of a good hairstylist as much as the next person, we’re not talking about doing brain surgery on yourself here. If you’re adhering to the mandate to stay at home and find you can no longer stand your gray roots, then by all means—use a box dye and color your own hair. The world will not come to an end. In fact, millions of people who can’t afford or aren’t willing to pay for in-salon color do this all the time. You can’t pick them out on the street and, as far as I know, nobody has died from it (but you might want to Google “hot roots” first). Same with cutting your own hair. Plenty of people do it. And if you don’t like the results, hair grows back. Once this pandemic is over, you may decide to continue with the DIY or you might appreciate your hairstylist even more. But either way, you’ll learn that you can survive a temporary salon shutdown—and isn’t that empowering?
I’m not using this example to pick on hairstylists. My point is: You can do whatever you need to do to get through this. Of course, you can! I believe that this generation is no less strong than the ones that came before us. We just haven’t had as many opportunities to exercise our resiliency.
Another example: Technology. I’m one of those people who can’t live without my smartphone. But you know what? I actually could if I had to. Heck, I lived successfully for 30 years without one. I know it can be done. And, while it’s certainly a nice-to-have when quarantined, it’s also possible to live without cable TV or online streaming. One of my favorite stories involves Lucky telling me how her friends in middle school pitied her because our family was ‘too poor to have cable.’ I informed her that we could easily afford cable (we had just taken the whole family on a not-inexpensive trip to China and Japan) but chose not to have it. Her mind was blown.
Another example: Cooking. Restaurants are closed and while many people are ordering takeout/delivery to support those establishments, there are others who are fretting because they don’t know how to cook. Here’s a thought: Rather than doom yourself to Kraft mac-and-cheese and frozen dinners, try cooking. It’s really not that hard and it actually gets easier with practice. Many of you have the time, so what better way to use it than developing a skill that will serve you well for the rest of your life? Again, it’s not likely to kill you. Even a bad meal can usually be eaten—and you learn better from the mistakes than the successes. Julia Childs herself advised, “Learn how to cook. Try new recipes, learn from your mistakes, be fearless, and above all, have fun.”
Give it a shot! There’s no better feeling than know you have the ability to indulge your every culinary whim. In fact, tackling something that you find daunting is a sure-fire way to build resiliency and gain confidence in your ability to withstand challenges. And couldn’t we all use that kind of mental boost right now?
I referenced The Greatest Generation earlier. My parents were both of the GG and I have the utmost respect for the sacrifices they made. However, I don’t believe that they had some special strength imbued in them that skipped subsequent generations. I think their bravery and resilience were just qualities that they honed through use. They had to regularly flex their resiliency muscles to survive the tough times they lived through.
As I mentioned earlier, the last item in the earlier list of hardships applies to me. On March 7th we moved my elderly mother into Memory Care and the following week, her senior living community—like others around the country—banned visitors. During the window between move-out and visitor-ban, my sister and I were cleaning out Mom’s apartment when I came across some items of great sentimental value—my dad’s letters to his parents and my mother during World War II, when he was a 17/18/19-year-old serving his country. It was fun to read his letters and hear my dad’s voice in them. (My dad had suffered dementia for many years before he passed away in 2017, so this was a new glimpse into the man whose loss I had long since grieved.)
When one thinks of a war-time letter, it’s easy to romanticize the dedication to the cause, the call-to-duty, the patriotism, etc., “Dearest Mother, tomorrow I face my greatest challenge. Defending my country against the evil threatening our very democracy. I pray that God guides my feet and instills bravery in my heart as I meet the deadly foe…” or some such noble prattle. That’s not what these letters contained. Here’s an actual excerpt from my dad writing to his step-dad about serving on Guam (where he guarded Japanese prisoners as well as “important provisions”—like beer and cigarettes):
“There was one other question you asked and that was what I did in my spare time. When I’m not on watch, I’m either sleeping, eating, laying down or sitting down. I’ve given up all forms of exercise except walking and that’s essential. When I first got here, I used to throw the ball around a little, but this climate wasn’t made for that, so I gave it up. It’s really too hot around here to do too much of anything. Don’t misunderstand me ’cause it’s not that I’ve grown lazy, just too much heat.”
My dad’s other letters likewise contained evidence of boredom. He wrote about the tedium of Navy life, exchanged comments about topics pertaining to friends and family back home, and begged for more mail to break up the dull routine. In one letter that made me smile, he asked his mom to find him a lighter because his stopped working (like many of his peers, my dad smoked cigarettes when he was young but fortunately had quit by the time I came along).
Again, I’m not minimizing my dad’s service or anyone of his generation. Harold, my mother-in-law’s partner, was a ball-turret gunner during WWII. He flew 35 combat missions over Germany, so to call him brave would be a serious understatement. Yet, I suspect his letters back home were probably as unassuming as my father’s, simply because that’s the kind of man Harold was. Heroic, yes, but modest and humble. He just did what was required of him at the time. And when it was no longer required of him, he happily went back to farming.
Both my father and Harold had hard childhoods. Both lost their own dads when they were young children. Both grew up in poverty. No doubt, these earlier life challenges helped build within them the resiliency that later served them well in dealing with the challenges of WWII.
And our time is now. We’re all being called upon to help defeat a common threat and to succeed, all of us need to do what is required. There is heroism in that, too, even if all we’re required to do is stay away from each other. By helping each other get through this crisis, we are building our own resiliency. And let’s not overlook the true heroes among us. The healthcare worker in New York City who shows up each day despite not having adequate PPE is no less heroic than Harold flying those combat missions over Germany. These brave, selfless people are serving others despite a very real threat to their health. We all owe them a debt of gratitude, and we certainly owe them the respect of adhering to social-distancing guidelines so we don’t overwhelm (or further overwhelm) our local healthcare systems.
This pandemic got me thinking of my favorite passage from the children’s classic, “A Little Princess,” by Frances Hodgson Burnett. The main character, Sara Crewe, contemplates whether she is actually a decent person or whether it just appears that way because she’s lived a charmed life and has never had her character tested:
“Things happen to people by accident. A lot of nice accidents have happened to me. It just happened that I always liked lessons and books and could remember things when I learned them. It just happened that I was born with a father who was beautiful and nice and clever and could give me everything I liked. Perhaps I have not really a good temper at all, but if you have everything you want and everyone is kind to you, how can you help but be good-tempered? I don’t know how shall I ever find out whether I am really a nice child or a horrid one. Perhaps I’m a hideous child, and no one will ever know, just because I never have any trials.”
If you’ve read the book, you know that after Sara says this her life becomes rather wretched—testing her in ways she never could have expected. Yet she perseveres in dealing with her new challenges without becoming “horrid” or “hideous.” She discovered—like many of us are learning now—that the only way to build resiliency is by practicing it.
**Yes, that’s how you spell it, Barbigrrrl. 🙂