Maintaining the balance between our health and our economy is a tightrope walk across Niagara Falls. Many of us have lost patience, which is a separate matter from the reasons that some protesters wave Nazi flags and carry guns. Maybe they hope to wing the virus with a well-aimed shot.
Nevertheless, those with keener senses easily perceive the grim reaper’s walk among the protesters, because when faced with juvenile demands, the virus is unimpressed. Certainly the shop proprietors, the restaurant workers, the retail associates and the factory workers are hurting. Yet there is little to be gained, and much to be lost, by reopening without serious consideration of the risks to life itself.
In the 1940s, my father was the beneficiary of an all-expenses-paid trip to Italy, courtesy of the U.S. Army. He was there for 18 months, awash with worry about his wife and my toddler sister back home. But rather than protest his circumstances, he demonstrated patience. Rather than lionizing Nazis, he fought them.
Those were hard years for every American. They suffered in ways too numerous to mention. They faced harder times than any I have experienced, for which I am, and always will be, grateful. Have we become so soft that we can’t face what needs to be done now? Are we so tied to our comforts that we are unable to hold our nerve, so accustomed to our little routines that we are unable to patiently maintain for a while longer? Evidently. But as we rend our garments and have our fits, the virus grows bolder.
In late July, 1945, my mother wrote to my father, “Guess what, Betsy and I are really having meat this weekend. After not being able to buy any for so long, I got a chicken put away at Frasers’ Market this morning.” Have those who now insist on fully and immediately opening the economy ever purchased a chicken on layaway? Not likely. And if it should come to that, will we crumble?
Around that same time, my father received a letter from his mother in which she described her search for staples: “Finally rounded up 10 lbs. of sugar and 20 cans of Carnation milk (the latter for two of her grandchildren whom she was keeping).” Like mothers and grandmothers across the country, mine wrote of shortages of nearly everything that made life routine. They endured gasoline rationing. They had to grow much of their own food in “victory gardens.” Rubber was rationed to the point that it became difficult to replace a blown tire. Their privations lasted not for months, but for years.
On Aug. 7, 1945, my mother wrote, “I got a 3 lb. jar of Crisco today and it’s as precious as gold!” She added that “soap flakes” were scarce and, in a comment that presaged one of today’s circumstances, “They say that toilet paper is going to be the next scarce item.” Rather than whine, she met such news with hope and humor: “So I’m saving every little scrap of paper and all the catalogs!” Her years of patience were rewarded the following day as news of the bombing of Hiroshima and a pending Japanese surrender filtered across the nation.
In our pandemic, we will live or die by our patience. Businesses are hurting, our routines are in shambles and we wonder when normalcy will return. But inane moaning about freedom while waving Nazi flags and toting guns ignores one of the most important of our freedoms — to be free from a rampaging disease.