When I was a kid, I often heard my grandparents talk about the Great Depression. I grew up knowing that my grandfather felt very fortunate to be a dentist, because that was something that was always needed, even in hard times. He had to keep his prices extremely low, but he said he was grateful to be able to earn enough to keep a roof over their heads and food on the table. I knew that my grandmother always made sandwiches for the people who knocked on their door, asking for help. She said she didn’t have any money to spare, but she could make sure that no one went away hungry.
Listening to those stories shaped how I understood my grandparents. I grew up knowing that they were grateful for what they had, and willing to share with others in need. I’m sure they had their moments of worry, fear and frustration as they lived through those dire times, but my general impression was that they were essentially strong and caring people.
I know we will be talking about this current pandemic for a long time to come, and that for many of us, this will be the defining crisis of our lives. And that made me wonder what I’ll be able to say about how I coped with this, and even more importantly, how I’ll know I reacted to it.
When this is over (and it will be, even though no one knows exactly when), I’m going to look back on this time and ask myself, “Was I brave or fearful? Was I wise or foolish? Did I make the best of a bad situation, or did I made a bad situation even worse?” And I’m going to have to live with those answers for a very long time.
I know I won’t always like my own answers, if I’m brave enough to be completely honest with myself. I’ve had my moments of fear, frustration and self-pity, and I suspect that most everyone else has too. We’re human, and we can’t possibly be strong all the time, especially with a crisis that just seems to go on and on. But when I’m feeling down, it does help to remember my grandparents and how they somehow managed to stay in touch with their best selves even at a time when it must have seemed as if their entire world was falling apart.
And so I’ll try to do the same. I’ll try to find things to be grateful for, every single day. I’ll resist the urge to lash out at others who say things that “trigger” my own fears, and I’ll refuse to use this pandemic as an excuse to attack those whose politics, religion, or any other belief system is different from mine. I won’t remind anyone that their predictions about how this crisis was going to play out were wrong. And most importantly, I won’t let the uncertainty about how long this will last and how much damage it will do to our society to push me into stockpiling supplies so that others have to do without.
Because some day I will be asked about how I handled this dark time, and I’d like to think that I learned a thing or two from my grandparents. Which means that I want to follow their example, and try to stay in touch with my best self too.