I keep hearing how we are in unprecedented times, and that we have not experienced anything like this before, and that statement is true – for us. However, so many of our grandparents and great-grandparents and beyond have gone through worldwide pandemics and know what is waiting for us all on the other side.
A pandemic is defined as a disease that has spread across several continents. That being said, according to Outlook Magazine, the first pandemic on record- back then it was called pestilence – was marked in history in the days of ancient Greece in 430 BC. About 25% of the population died from this strain of Typhoid, and so pandemics throughout history were in the record books.
For most of us, it is almost impossible to comprehend the ferocity and regularity with which life was upended throughout history. We often write off the devastation by quipping about how far the human species has come in the development 0f medicine and science. This is true, but this tragedy wasn’t just during the Middle Ages when the plague destroyed the populations of Europe. In fact, as recently as the first half of the 20th century both plague and conflict emerged on an epic scale, again and again.
Diseases like the Spanish Flu and Polio have not been the only things that upended everyday life in the early parts of the 20th century. World Wars, the Great Depression, and so many other things affected folks back then. They were restricted, and stricken with grief and loss, and forced to go without basic needs being met. These times make for great book fodder and nostalgia for those of us who did not have to endure the times, but their outcome and the lessons learned and demonstrated by those folks is ageless, and is what I am hoping we all can begin to appreciate more in the future when the COVID-19 pandemic is part of our history as well.
My grandparents all lived through the Depression and World War II. They were all young adults, some of them on the front lines of war, others doing everything they could to keep the family farm afloat during the Dust Bowl years. I’ve been told stories my entire life, about things my grandparents did during those times to make it through day by day. I know many of you have heard similar stories, some of them more tragic than my own. Those stories are always relevant and help us appreciate the generations who went before us. My grandparents all had dynamic roles in my life, and I think back to all the little things that make up my memories of them. Simple pleasures that they spent my entire childhood demonstrating in their day to day lives, and honestly until recently I had not given much thought, but the recent events in our world have given me time to think and consider these small joys that filled their lives.
Simple things that brought them joy. Things like playing cards just the two of them, day in and day out, they would always begin a game in the morning as soon as breakfast was cleared and the newspaper read. They would play throughout the day when they were together, they taught us to play, and it was just second nature to them. Or sitting outside and looking for and listening to the birds, making it a game to determine what type of bird was singing, where they were in the trees or pasture, and always followed by a quick lesson for me to understand what that particular bird was known to do or eat. Simple joys.
My other grandparents were similar in the joy found in those simple pleasures, though for them it was different joys. Crossword puzzles, word jumbles, and piles of books from the public library were how my grandfather spent a lot of his free time. He also spent time building little knick-knacks from scraps of wood, or when he could get away an entire afternoon out fishing brought him great pleasure as well. My grandmother would do jigsaw puzzles, and spent time watching and listening to all the birds in their area.
I did not often appreciate these skills when I was younger, but I think about how content these people were in having the opportunity to just be together, doing these simple things that brought them such pleasure.
That’s the lesson I hope we can all learn from this. I hope we can get beyond the tragedy, beyond the devastation, and rebuild our little corners of the world, lining them with some simple pleasures, and recognizing that my grandparents were not just doing those things because they didn’t have smartphones or access to the things we do today. But rather, because they knew what it was like to endure life without those simple things, without the person they loved.
They appreciated those things because they were infinitely better than waiting for word and hoping that it would be a love letter from a soldier and not a telegram from the war department. Playing cards after breakfast was a small pleasure, but it was an appreciated one because being able to have a few moments of time to sit and play cards was cherished after the tough years during the Depression when my grandfather traveled across state lines looking for ways to bring home money and support his family. These simple pleasures were treasures, and I am hoping that during this time of uncertainty we too can begin to appreciate with new insight, those simple pleasures in our own corners of the world.
So – watch the birds, learn a card game, write a letter or email, enjoy this time with your family, consider it a unique and precious gift, and consider how many amazing memories will appear as the silver lining to the current devastation we are all learning to deal with in today’s world.