When times are temporarily hard versus when times are always hard
At this moment when things are difficult for almost everyone, I start to think back to how our ancestors would have handled this. Especially those who seemingly had one obstacle after another to overcome. Both my grandmothers lived through two world wars. Life between the wars and after the second wasn’t always easy for them either. One grandmother lost her fiancé during the first world war, and two of her brothers were prisoners of war. I can’t even imagine how she got through that. I suspect many of her friends were in a similar position. And then, to go through it all again 21 years later, fearing for her younger brothers, nephews and son. Her town was bombed several times and she lost friends. Families lost houses, but neighbours showed kindness and took them in. Back then there were no psychologists or anti depressants (unless you were in a really bad way and then you were sectioned, temporarily or not). But my grandmother, like so many of her generation, never sat down and expected someone to make things better for her. She took care of her family, neighbours and friends. She celebrated all the small victories in life. There is always joy to be found in dark times, if you look for it.
My great, great grandfather grew up in poverty and was orphaned before he turned 10. He managed to avoid the orphanage when caring family and neighbours changed his life for the better and a relative of his sister-in-law took him in. He was out of poverty, but had to spend over 50 years working six days a week in an iron foundry, and lost several of his children to disease as babies or toddlers. Can any of us even imagine that today? How did he cope with all that? Yet he never gave up. He never expected anyone to come and make his life better. Instead, he fought hard for that himself. He taught himself to read and write. He wanted to make sure his surviving children’s lives were better than his. And they were.
And here we are today. Where life is physically easier and we tend not to lose our children to disease so often, yet most people don’t interact with their neighbours and some rarely see their family. The threat to so many lives right now is something completely new to us. Something we did not expect and something we were not ready for. While the majority will survive this virus, it is now time for those of us who are not in a risk group to act responsibly, stop spreading panic, and protect those who are at risk.
But until now, many people have shown themselves to be incapable of acting responsibly or caring about others, so governments have had to take measures to ensure that we do. And many of these measures seem to be scarier than the threat of the virus. As some people are still not complying, more and more strict measures have to be enforced. And that has a knock on effect that is now affecting many, resulting in job losses and a world recession.
But this situation can be as negative or positive as we make it. What would our grandparents and great grandparents have done? They would have protected and comforted each other. Shown compassion to their elderly family members and neighbours. Helped each other. They would not have complained and expected someone else to make their lives better. They would have celebrated all the small victories and found joy in the dark times.
The irony is that right now, we are better equipped to do something about our situation than we have ever been throughout history. We have options. We can retrain for certain jobs, online. Right now. Or we can take a job in one of the sectors that is crying out for personnel, to tide us over. We can find a way of putting our business online to give it a chance of surviving, or create a completely new business. None of those is guaranteed to work, but we must at least try. We must be creative and responsible for ourselves, and not just sit and wait for this to be over. For those of us in quarantine, working from home or in social isolation – we can connect online. We can ‘fika’ as they say here in Sweden (a social coffee break taken twice a day, usually with cinnamon buns or the like) online with others. It’s kind of weird but it works! And while we’re doing that, we can take another lesson from our grandparents and great grandparents. We need each other to get through this. Don't spread panic. Show your family and neighbours more kindness than ever. Especially the elderly who may be alone and in need of help with food shopping. Or healthcare workers who live alone and have so little time between shifts to be able to go out and buy necessities. We need to stop being selfish and hoarding things so others in need do not struggle. We need to be resilient, creative, and caring. And then things will be ok again, because they really will be, eventually. Many of us will lose a loved one. And that is a horrible thing to have to go through. But we will eventually get through it and carry on with our lives. Just like many have done before us.
We’re all in this together. It’s time we all started being responsible for each other and being kind to our neighbours again.