If I had to sum up what I’ve learned in the last five months it’s that perspective is everything. While this pandemic has challenged my physical and mental well-being it has also highlighted to me that the situations we live in and the experiences we’ve all had shape and mold us into the people we are.
I saw a post on Facebook the other day that discussed what someone born in 1900 would have to experience throughout their lives. It really made me think about my own grandparents and how challenging these experiences were compared to what I myself have had to deal with growing up.
I’m lucky enough to still have both my grandmothers alive (93 and 87) and while I’d say the biggest long-term stressor in my life is the notion I won’t be able to see either safely before this entire pandemic is over, it’s nothing compared to what they’ve gone through.
Take my dad’s mother. Born the same year that Joseph Stalin would become leader of the Soviet Union. The world population sits at two billion souls.
When she is two, Wall Street crashes. At six, Adolf Hitler becomes Chancellor of Germany. Virtually her entire childhood before becoming a teenager is spent through the Great Depression.
Following the ramping up of Stalin’s Great Purge three years prior, the Second World War begins when she is twelve. Before she can legally buy alcohol, some 50-to-80 million have been killed in what is generally accepted to be the bloodiest war in the history of humanity, eclipsing both the Mongol conquests and Three Kingdoms War.
After half a decade of (relative, and even then that’s somewhat of a stretch) peace, at 23, the Korean War begins. Five years later, the Vietnam War begins before she turns 30.
This is all without mentioning the growing spectre of two superpowers with quite possibly the most diametrically-opposed political philosophies. While relevant even before, at 35, we get perhaps the closest we’ve ever been to mutually-assured global destruction via the Cuban Missile Crisis.
A year later, JFK is assassinated.
At 42, man walks on the moon.
Just before she hits 50, the Vietnam War is finally over, the U.S.’s longest war ever fought.
The reality is this: in the first half-century of her life my grandmother experienced three major wars and the near end of the world. Over her teenage years, countless numbers of her peers and extended family members (thankfully not my grandfather) would perish in the deadliest battle of human history.
We are in the midst of perhaps the largest socioeconomic challenge we have faced so far as humans this century. But it’s important to remember to keep things in perspective. Will this lead to future economic impacts and challenges we probably can’t even fathom right now? Definitely, but if our grandparents could deal with all of the above (plus another pandemic if you were born prior to 1918) we will get through this.
We have to if only to pay them back for the spoils they bestowed upon us.
So as the economy begins to reopen and we navigate this wildly-new-and-confusing environment, let’s remember that it’s the people who are most at risk of contracting COVID-19 we are fighting for. The ones who have had to experience a whole host of other catastrophes that, although different, left their scars across the globe in the form of everything from rotted-out 40-year-old tanks in Afghanistan to a generation so disturbed by war that it forced us to recognize what Post Traumatic Stress Disorder is.
Times are tough, but just like our parents and grandparents had to go through the battles that would shape their world views and opinions, we must tackle COVID-19 and the ensuing socioeconomic impacts with the same gusto and resolve that that the “Greatest Generation” rushed toward on those beaches in Normandy.
Because again, we aren’t the ones at risk. They are.