Couches and Community: What the Greatest Generation Taught Me

It dawned on me the other day that I have been preparing for this moment my whole life, well, at least for as long as I’ve been a reader.

I’ve read WWII era historical fiction novels and memoirs for as long as I can remember. I have always been fascinated with both the unthinkable atrocity and the incredible bonds of community.

As a post 9/11 military spouse, I’m sometimes guilty of longing for that time period I’ve only read about. A time period in which war touched the lives of nearly every human being.

Hear me, I’m not wishing for more or greater conflicts. I don’t want war to affect everyone in a horrific sort of way, but, rather in a way that causes us to change the way in which we live to reflect that something bigger than ourselves is happening.

I’ve been longing for something that created incredible bonds of community between both the military and civilian populations. Something we all experience together.

I never imagined it would be a global pandemic.

~

There’s meme floating around that is meant to shame, and to put this generation in its place, with its cutting snark. It reads, “Your grandparents were called to war. You’re being called to sit on your couch. You can do this.”

But we’re being called to something bigger than sitting on our couches, we’re being called to band together as a community to participate. To flatten the curve. To keep the weak safe. To protect the elderly.

~

I get it. It seems so odd. Banding together, separately, of course, against something most of us don’t see.

As a Navy spouse I am guilty of this very idea-the idea that because I can’t see it happening, it isn’t. Throughout both wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, I’ve gone on vacation. Filled up my gas tank. Bought whatever I wanted at the grocery store.

I’ve never had my gas rationed. I’ve never had to draw lines down the backs of my legs, so I look as if I’m wearing stockings. I’ve never had to plant a victory garden or purchase war bonds. I’ve never had to become a riveter because all the boys were “called up.”

Only when it’s my husband who is deployed, do I truly remember that we are at war, and we have been for almost two decades. My husband’s entire career has been during a time of war.

But it’s easy to forget, because the costs are difficult to detect.

~

I find this pandemic environment is similar. I see the numbers, I hear the projections, but because I’m not a healthcare professional, I don’t see the front lines of people whom are being affected.

But I know this, we’re being called to action. We’re being asked to halt our regular lives and regular routines, for the betterment of our community. It’s not convenient. It’s not fun. Some days it’s lonely and full of anxiety.

These days of social distancing remind me of all the books I’ve read. Not because there is extreme atrocity, but because there is phenomenal community.

People are coming out of the woodwork to offer their services. To read books aloud. To doodle. To teach. To deliver groceries. To paint encouraging words in windows. To create beautiful sidewalk chalk pictures.

We are being called to action, action that stretches far beyond our couches. And it makes me wonder, what stories do I want my grandchildren to read about this time period? Stories of great fear? Or stories of great community?

When novels and memoirs are written about these times, when history teachers type out their lesson plans, let it be the people’s rise to action that inspires future generations. Let them find in today’s struggle a resonance of what I find within the stories of the WWII era. Let them see the surge of help and generosity without compensation, the outpouring of love and compassion for neighbors and friends. Let them see that this pandemic united us and shaped us into the next great generation.

grayscale photo of man woman and child
Photo by Kristin De Soto on Pexels.com

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