Do We Have What it Takes?

Welcome to my random musings about the world, on a weekly-to-occasional basis.

Where we are: Settling in on Bonaire—it looks like we’re going to be here for a while.

Do we have what it takes?

While we were In London, I listened to the audio recording of a book about the first week of the Blitz. While I was listening, I was walking around the neighborhoods that were flattened in those first terrifying days of bombardment. (Fun fact: when we were in London a few years back, our Airbnb was in the building where some of the earliest civilian Blitz fatalities happened. As interesting historical locations go, it was fascinating. As Airbnbs go, it was dim and cold and a bit grimy. This year, we opted for a nice modern Residence Inn.)

I’ve mentioned before that this is my favorite way to experience a place—walking, listening, and learning about whatever is right in front of me.

But Covid added a layer to our most recent London visit that I hadn’t really expected. I mean, on paper, you wouldn’t really think a pandemic has all that much in common with aerial bombardment, would you? At least, I wouldn’t.

But so much of the story struck me as similar: the importance of the government’s public messaging in those crucial early days, the mental toll of uncertainty and fear, the demoralization that settled in when it became clear they were in for a long haul, and ultimately, the quiet heroism of people who did what they could to keep each other safe, and get through to the other side.

We like to talk about America’s ‘Greatest Generation’ with admiration and respect. They did what had to be done, out of a sense of shared responsibility. Millions of individuals came together because each one felt compelled to do the right thing, no matter how hard it was, and that group effort stopped the plague of Nazism.

At the beginning of the war, everyone in Britain was issued a gas mask. They were bulky, awkward, leather and glass affairs. People carried them around, kept them close at hand, and, most importantly, put them on when they were told to do so.

I’ve never (knock very hard on wood) experienced being bombed, but I imagine it has a completely different urgency than a virus, which is invisible, insidious, and far more individual. The masks, though—that I can relate to. Luckily, mine are cloth or paper, easy to carry and easy to wear. Luckily, I don’t have to dig children out of piles of rubble, or let my neighbors share my bomb shelter, or stay awake for days on end putting out fires.

How do we stack up, as a society? Do we have what it takes to work together, to protect each other through this crisis? Can we maintain our vigilance, overcome exhaustion, and outlast the threat? Are we willing to make the personal, individual sacrifices that will be necessary to defeat this enemy?

What will the history books say about us? What will our grandchildren say about us?

From my writer’s notebook:

I stumbled across a disturbing article in the British newspaper The Guardian a couple of days ago. Apparently there has been a series of burglaries in war museums across the Netherlands. The items are rare and recognizable, so they would be impossible to sell on the open market. This has led officials to believe they are ‘thefts to order’—in other words, someone is directing the theft of specific items that were owned and used by Nazis, because they want to possess them.

Take care,


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