Liz Flaherty photo

Let’s Be the Helpers

In 1918, my grandparents’ oldest daughter, Amy, died in the influenza epidemic. She was 23. My grandmother used to spend a lot of time alone in her rose garden. Not until I had children of my own did I wonder if that was where she did her grieving.

In 1941, my parents' second child, Christine, died of diphtheria. She was three. My sister still remembers the quarantine and that people stood outside at the funeral. Mostly she remembers growing up without her little sister. And that our parents were never the same again.

In 1948—71 years ago this week—my friend Debby’s parents lost their first child, Janice, to polio. She was six. I remember Deb telling me about her mother talking to an elderly cousin when they were visiting a funeral home years later. They talked a lot, and it was a joy to Deb’s mom to talk to someone about Janny. Someone else who remembered her.

When I was looking for updates for this, I saw that my great-grandparents lost a daughter when she was 14. Later, the two-year-old son of a great-uncle died and his father died two years later.

Loss. Grief. Irreversible life changes.

This, then, is what we fear the most, isn’t it? These are the things that either break us or bend us so far there’s no coming back to what we were. They remind us to be grateful for every day because tomorrow’s not promised. They also remind us not to give up, because if we do have those tomorrows, we need to make something of them, even if it’s no more than the proverbial lemonade.

So here we are, in the middle of…something. It’s different, I suppose, from those things I listed above, different even from Nine Eleven. Because it’s now, not then. We’re learning some things on this tortuous path. How to enjoy our own company. How to refrain from physical contact. How to differentiate between want and need. How to take our time. We are reminded to cherish friends and family and connection.

There are hard lessons in this, too. That there are many, many people who don’t care about anyone else. They are the ones who fill their grocery carts with staple items and too bad for everyone following them.

That there are many, many people who continue to play the blame game for the situation even when it’s obvious there are no winners. Democrats versus Republicans, Liberals versus Conservatives, Millennials versus Boomers. I am guilty of this, too—not of blaming anyone for the virus itself but of blaming officials for their responses (or lack thereof) to it. So, I repeat, to you and me alike, there are no winners in the blame game. And again in case, we didn’t catch it the first two times, there are no winners.

We learn again what we really always knew, that different people prioritize different things. I’ve always rather scorned people who collect money just to collect it and because it’s a way of keeping it away from someone else. Now I’m scorning people who collect toilet paper, bottled water, and ammunition the same way.

Volunteerism, always a backbone of society, is showing its strength during this crisis. Hands-up and hearts-out people are taking food to ones who can’t get out and making sure children have meals even if they’re not in school. Mr. Rogers’ mother told him, “Look for the helpers” when things were scary. She was right. Let us not only look for them but be them as well.

We are in large part remembering to be grateful to the essential personnel who are still working, who are taking care of the rest of us, often at risk to themselves. I can’t help but wonder how long it will be before certain ones among us will once again be insisting they have no need to make a living wage for the work they do.

Columnist Connie Schultz says, “When this pandemic comes to an end, we will not be who we were at its beginning.”

She’s right, isn’t she? I’d love to think we’ll come out of it stronger and better and kinder. I’m going to try to do just that. Think that way and be that way, too. I hope we all will.

Have a great week. Be nice to somebody.

 

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Liz maintains a blog that you can visit by clicking this link: www.windowoverthesink.blogspot.com.

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