A New York doctor responded to a question from a journalist last week about how things were going in relation to the Coronavirus. He said, “It’s hell. Biblical. I kid you not.” My thought: Come on man, have you never read a history book or the Bible for that matter?”
Here’s the truth. This is a nasty virus, and I’m sure it’s pretty rough on New Yorkers right now, but it’s not anywhere close to the worst they’ve seen. New York City has faced outbreaks of Yellow Fever, Cholera, Typhoid, Influenza and Polio over the decades, and they were a lot worse. And, they faced them at time when science, medicine and government couldn’t do much to help. Last week, the total number of dead in New York was about 400 since it began. In the 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic, between 400 and 500 deaths a day were recorded from October 16 – October 26. The military had to be called-up just to deal with the bodies. Right now, the doctors and scientist, who are managing this epidemic for the United States, are largely optimistic about the numbers going forward. It's not going to be as bad as they thought.
Oh, I understand the doctor in New York. We’re spoiled. It’s unusual for us to have to interrupt our lives for anything. Normally, we can make a call, take a pill or file a form, and it’s the best of all possible worlds. So, when things interfere with our perfect world, it opens the door to hyperbole and cries of whoa is me, but in truth, it just ain’t that bad folks.
I’ve been thinking a lot about my Grandparents in these last few days. Partly, because this pandemic is taking the very old in large numbers, but also because they always handled crisis with such dignity and calm. They were born into the Great Depression; faced a horrible world war that they very easily could have lost; and still raised their children too create a new vision of peace, love and inclusion for our nation. There have been many in history who have made great things happen, but never before, maybe in anyone’s history, has a generation sacrificed so much for a nation or for their successive generations. They are truly the Greatest Generation.
In all of the most difficult times in their lives, I remember my Grandparents clutching their rosary beads and whispering prayers. They survived the worst by clinging to their faith. They were hard people and would not have fit well into the woke culture of today. They were from immigrant families. They had personally faced discrimination, poverty and sadness beyond what we can imagine. When she was just starting first grade, my Grandmother had to take care of her siblings, get them fed and delivered to the babysitter before she took a public bus to get herself to school. Two of those younger siblings died, and she couldn’t even finish high school, because she had to go to work to help the family - a reality that embarrassed her for the rest of her life.
Grandpa was in World War II. He served on a gunboat in coastal rivers in China and was at Okinawa. It’s hard for us today to imagine what happened there. It was the largest amphibious assault in the Pacific Theater of World War II – 160,000 casualties. My Grandpa was 18 years-old and never mentioned a word about it for the rest of his life. Now, tell me how rough we've got it.
We lack the wisdom of the Greatest Generation, and we get awfully critical about almost everything these days. The other guy should have done more. Someone is always to blame and deserves nothing but our venomous ridicule. Everybody owes us something. We take no responsibility for our failures or for our unwillingness to prepare. From cradle to grave, someone should be taking care of us. It’s not our job. We’re just so damn perfect, and everyone else needs to get their shit together. How ashamed of us the Greatest Generation must be…
Today, many of them are dying, but true to their generation, we aren’t hearing a lot of complaints. Some are even happy to be going home – to be with their friends who left so long ago. We need to do the best for them that we can. We need to praise and honor them until their last breath, and we need to thank God for every moment he shared them with us.
We so often miss the point, but we have an awful lot for which to be grateful. We live in an amazing country at an amazing time, when science and understanding gives us incredible opportunities to live better lives. Instead of dwelling on the negative, we should learn the lessons of the Greatest Generation and praise God for what we’ve been given.
Photo of Grandparents - John & Irene Kawa.