My grandfather, Gordon Clark, died at the age of 95 in 1991. A soft-spoken man with a great sense of humor and a fondness for Irish Whiskey, “Pappy” also survived many trying times in his long and extraordinary life. I still have the German flare gun he brought home from WWI as a member of the Battery B, 12th Artillery, 2nd Division of the US Army in France. He lost his fortune in the Great Depression, and rebuilt his life and family in the years to come.
Closer to home, I photographed Charles Norman Shay, 96, of Indian Island, Maine. A decorated Army veteran and Penobscot elder, Shay was a combat medic in WWII, was taken prisoner of war in Germany, and then served again as a medic in the Korean War. Along the way he was awarded a Bronze Star, Silver Star, and the Legion d’Honneur, meaning that Shay is, quite literally, a French knight.
Many of us haven’t literally fought in the trenches, but we’ve all lived through trying times.
If you’re in your 30s, you’ll remember living through the Great Recession, the War on Terror and 9/11. If you’re a Gen-Xer, you remember the gas crisis, the stock market crash of 1986 (plus one in 1992), Desert Storm, the Iran hostage crisis, and the fall of the Soviet Union. A bit older and you remember the throes of the Cold War, the assassinations of MLK, RFK, JFK; the Cuban Missile Crisis, the resignation of Nixon and Vietnam. Before that, there was the 1957 influenza A (H2N2) virus pandemic that killed 1.1 million worldwide (116,000 in the US), the Korean War, “duck and cover” drills, and the McCarthy Hearings. The Greatest Generation fought WWII and endured hardships and deprivation that we’d find hard to imagine today.
We’ve been through tough times before.
At times like these—of great uncertainty and great fear—it’s easy to get overwhelmed and to think that nothing can be done. But that’s not entirely true.
It’s important to remember that we as a society will make it through the Covid-19 pandemic, and chances are, you will too. Yes, the world will change. Yes, this virus and the resulting economic impact will have far-reaching and for many, devastating effects. Yes, much remains unclear.
But what is clear? What was important one short month ago no longer seems so significant. Instead of doing lots of busywork, most of us are at home, connecting with loved ones. Or perhaps we’re at a critical job, doing essential work to care for, feed or provide for others. What we are doing now matters.
This isn’t a time for selling, or for expansion, but it can be a time for growth. It’s a time for doing what’s essential, taking care of yourself and others, and for growing in whatever ways you can. These weeks and months of forced downtime are an opportunity to slow down, reflect, live simply and plan for what is to come.
I’m taking classes to learn new skills that I’ve long wanted to develop. I’m editing my portfolio and trying to stay healthy (thanks, Arnold Schwarzenegger!). My hope is that I’ll look back in a couple of months, as the world is getting back to work, and I know I’ll be grateful if I spent my time well; happy that if I couldn’t control the situation or the outcome, I could at least control my response.
Here’s to surviving—and thriving—in this moment where it matters most.