We honored our mothers this weekend past, and for those of us fortunate to have them with us, it was an opportunity to embrace the moments we can still share. The rest of us honored the devotion and sacrifice of the women who gave us life, and the memories we cherish.
I am of the latter group. My own mother went on ahead 12 years ago, though it seems like yesterday. My father followed her a short five years later, and the exodus of their generation has left us, ready or not, with the responsibilities they carried so honorably. They take with them the living memory of struggles and triumphs and a history that we would do well to consult today.
As I viewed the headlines this weekend through a historical lens tinted by nostalgia, I imagined my parents and so many of their contemporaries who have also departed, alive to read those same headlines, and it seemed to me that in some ways, each generation departs just in time. My grandfather, who brought memories of the late 19th century into the modern age, who lived as a pioneer in a time when survival hinged on small communities of the self reliant, grieved late in life over the changes he saw in his beloved mountains. He was spared the sight of our unbroken ridgelines replaced by picture windows framed in floodlights, but some of his last thoughts on the subject were prophetic when he said, “One day rich men will fight each other over these mountain tops, but don’t judge them too harshly. That’s the closest to heaven some of them will ever get.”
My parents were spared the pandemic. At a time when their circle of friends and family had diminished almost to a point, they did not have to suffer further isolation and privation, nor the crushing waves of fear and anger swept along by the fear and anger business. They both spent their careers in the health industry, and I can only imagine the frustration they would have felt in witnessing the conflicted and disjointed response of their children and grandchildren to the kind of challenges their generation and those before took in stride.
When we look for a historical context for our present pandemic, the best candidate would be the Asian Flu Pandemic of 1957. That virus was more infectious and had about the same mortality rate as our current nemesis. Yet the 1957 pandemic was overcome within a year by a combination of common sense, personal responsibility and immunizations. Society was reinforced by a stronger fabric of faith and family life, and the nation was not so weakened by the fragile and the entitled, or the polarizing lens of partisan politics that diminishes us today.
Humanity does not learn from the past. My personal read of history leads me to this inescapable conclusion. Science advances, yes. We reach for the stars and into the innermost regions of matter itself, but the quality of our characters seems to retreat as technology moves forward. Rugged individuals guided by faith and accountability are yielding to a culture of libertines in a civilization alternately herded and stampeded like cattle by their fears and addictions.
All is not lost. The people who showed up for dinner on Mothers Day, the people we work with, the people we see at church and in school, are not the doomed and depraved that break the news. The fabric of integrity and accountability is frayed, but it is not yet torn. We’ve made some mistakes, culturally, politically and personally, but decisions that lead to hard times create character, which leads to better decisions, and the wheel of history turns…