We must summon our forbearers’ grit to defeat COVID

They survived the Great Depression and World War II, and we will survive this pandemic if we emulate their fortitude.

I don’t know about you, but I’m tired of the coronavirus, the pandemic and all the public health measures that have made my life smaller since March.

I miss having dinner with my friends. I miss my daughters and their families. I miss travel. I miss schmoozing with colleagues at my office. I miss going to work. I miss going to the opera and the ballet. I miss not worrying about getting sick or making someone else sick. I miss having lunch every week with my good friend. I miss seeing the faces of passersby, shop keepers, and fellow walkers. I even miss business travel.

I read about worldwide “pandemic fatigue,” and I understand it from the inside out. I know you do, too.

But then I read about the surge of cases worldwide. I read about the number of infections and hospitalizations ticking upwards in our community, state and country. And when I do, I know the coronavirus hasn’t gone away. It still lurks in the air and on hard surfaces, expelled from its human hosts, hoping to replicate in a new body. Viruses are part of nature, and they are designed for survival — as we are.

We are at war. And COVID is the enemy. Because it’s invisible, it can be lurking anywhere.

Like many wars, we grow weary of the sacrifices that we make to keep each other safe and to hold the virus at bay. These sacrifices are many — from restricting contact with each other, the loss of jobs, economic security and more.

And then I think of the greatest generation, those 20th century men and women who lived through the Great Depression, World War II, the Holocaust, The Korean War, the Vietnam War and more. They’re our parents and grandparents, most of whom have passed away. My mother was so poor during the Great Depression that she had to live with relatives because my grandparents couldn’t afford to feed her. My mother didn’t have enough money to ride the subway. They depended on the generosity of neighbors for food. They lived through World War II, which impacted every corner of the earth, and lasted for six long years. My mother moved in with her mother-in-law with my older brother, just a baby, while my father was in post-war Germany.

My parents and their friends had cores of steel. They were like our mighty Douglas firs. Strong winds would make their limbs bend, but their trunks did not break. Their life experience made them sturdier and stronger. They were dedicated to making our lives and the lives of their grandchildren easier than their own. They wanted us to have a better life than they did. They worked hard to make it so.

My grandmother was 23 during the flu epidemic of 1918. Her husband contracted the flu and survived. She died when I was a teenager. I wish I could ask her how she managed during that pandemic, which lasted most of two years. None of those adults who lived through that flu pandemic are still alive to share their stories with us.

This is when we need to draw from the strength of our brave 20th century forbearers. We need to double down on public health measures, stand tall and make our parents and grandparents proud. We need to borrow a measure of their grit, determination and strength, and make it our own.

We can do it.

Paul Schoenfeld is a clinical psychologist at The Everett Clinic. His Family Talk blog can be found at www.everettclinic.com/family-talk-blog.

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