I used to assume that when wars ended, people just resumed their lives.
During this pandemic, I’ve searched for a lesson from the past to help guide me through our daily lives. It’s not exactly a war, but it is a defining national crisis. I’ve needed some kind of roadmap.
I asked my mom if these days reminded her of the Vietnam War and she said that during those hard days, family and friends could at least be together. The isolation of this COVID time is brutal for so many people.
So, I went back further and wondered what life was like for my grandmother during World War II. I know that she was waiting for my grandfather to come back from the Pacific so that they could marry. I know that she felt a part of the war effort. I know that part of her role was to “keep calm and carry on.” I know that she handled life with grace and fortitude.
She died last year and yet, I’ve felt her presence so much during these pandemic days. Some of it is that the pace of my life is slower than I can ever remember. We hardly go anywhere, almost like we are rationing gas. I only see my girlfriends when we are sitting outside on our porches. I sent my son away to college in a town I’d never seen. When I’m trying to make a decision about whether or not my family should do something, I pretend that there is a correlation to people in the 1940s following the rules of blackouts in cities. I want us to be good citizens, even if it means we have less fun. I have asked myself many times how my grandmother would handle different situations.
This past week, as I’ve read about vaccines being distributed, I’ve been imagining what it will look like for all of us to come out of these hard times. How exactly do people transition out of a war?
We’ve all seen the pictures of parades welcoming home soldiers from World War II, but it can’t have all been celebrations. I’ve also seen pictures of people walking to work past bombed out buildings in London. Millions of civilian lives were lost; a staggering number of soldiers never returned home; the grief must have been almost unbearable.
After something devastating happens to a country, we are irrevocably changed. People are scarred. People who have made great sacrifices can’t help but feel resentful of those who profited from the calamity. Adults have aged and kids are forced to grow up faster. Our old lives have gone, including relationships that ended and jobs that were lost and faith that was shaken.
How do people resume their lives after a pandemic?
I think we must return slowly and very, very carefully. I anticipate less striding out into the streets and more peeking out from our houses; less of a bolting and more of a re-emerging.
A part of moving forward will be for all of us to assess what to bring with us and what to leave behind. As we pick through the rubble, we get to decide what we carry forward. And with whom.
I know it’ll still be some time before the vaccine is available to everyone and we can return to something that feels almost normal, but I want to start preparing my heart. I don’t miss the busyness of our lives before the pandemic, but I do miss the richness and fullness of our days. I miss the celebrating that comes with gatherings and holidays and small victories. I miss joy.
I love a song by the Decemberists called “After the Bombs.” The lyrics say,
“After the bombs subside/ We meet in the streets/We pinch at our skin, while we wonder how we escaped harm/After the rockets calm, then we’ll go dancing. Won’t we go dancing? Yes, we’ll go dancing ’til it all starts over again.”
When I was a child, I remember watching my grandparents dance often. They would glide around their family room to songs from the 1940’s. I always thought it was kind of embarrassing (in the way that all adults who love each other are icky), but now I find it incredibly brave. Their joy was hard-earned. They came out of those war years dancing together and they didn’t stop.
That’s how I want to move from these pandemic times to a new era: dancing with the people I love; joyful and brave and grateful for each day. Dancing together and never stopping.