Dearest Mom and Dad:
You wouldn’t recognize the world we are living in right now, but I think you would have some good advice for us on how to cope with it.
You lived through the Great Depression and World War II, times of uncommon deprivation and sacrifice. You were teenagers (without cellphones) during the Depression and young parents (without access to the internet) during WWII.
It has been a long time since my generation, or the generations that have followed, has had to sacrifice anything significant for what might be considered the common good. It is a skill we had better learn quickly. Countless lives depend on it.
Right now, at the beginning of the third decade of the 21st century, an illness is spreading throughout the world, a vicious viral plague not seen since the days of the 1918 flu pandemic, when you were both 2 years old. I wonder how your anxious young parents, my grandparents, managed during those frightening times.
Here in New Jersey, just outside New York City, we are in an unfortunate hotbed of coronavirus activity. As I write this at April’s end, we’ve had more than 15,000 cases and more than 1,000 deaths in Bergen County alone. But virtually no area of the entire country, or the world, has been spared. Lancaster County, where you raised all six of us kids, has seen more than 1,800 cases and more than 180 deaths. Sadly, we’re still counting — more deaths now, nationally, in just two months than during the entire Vietnam War.
To help curb this massive outbreak, we are not being asked to do too much that is strenuous. Stay at home. Wash our hands. Venture out for the necessities of life — food, medicine. Keep our distance from others to avoid getting or spreading the contagion. Luckily, we can still walk the dog — often! And as my wife Cynthia likes to point out, absolutely no one can keep us from enjoying the endless yellows of the daffodils, the pinks of the cherries and dogwoods, the purples of the lilacs and azaleas.
We are not being asked to leap tall buildings in a single bound, as Superman did with effortless ease when I was a kid. We are not being asked to take up arms and enter into battle, as your generation did with great resolve.
We are not being asked to do much of anything, actually, except stay put, take responsibility and show a measurable level of concern for our fellow citizens.
Sheltering in place should not be a burdensome task, I know you would agree, but Americans in 2020 don’t have a lot of practice when it comes to giving up the freedom to go and do what we please, where and when we wish to do it. We have enjoyed that luxury for as long as most of us can remember, and frankly we have been spoiled by it.
In a fast-paced society fueled by instant gratification, where the world is just a click away, it is hard to cultivate the virtue of patience. Yet patience is what we need, in copious quantities, now more than ever.
More than 400,000 Americans lost their lives in WWII. The toll taken by this stealthy, unseen enemy might have been comparable had we not been urged to stay home by public health experts. We need to be smart enough to continue heeding their advice.
In times of high stress and anxiety, the good news is that a core of essential grace and caring lies at the heart of the human soul, a lesson that you taught us (“Be kind to one another”) and one that we need to apply with vigor right now. We see it abundantly in the willingness of fellow citizens to deliver food — and smiles — to the isolated elderly; sew masks for the courageous first responders, health care workers and others on the front lines of this particular war; buy gift cards and takeout meals to support struggling local businesses; and minister to the needs of the most vulnerable among us. We’re checking up on one another to make sure we’re still OK, and consoling those who grieve.
In a few months I hope to write again to let you know that we rose to the occasion, came together (in mind, if not in body) across all the fractured generations, rode out the COVID-19 storm for weeks and even months in our virtual tornado cellars, and minimized the amount of human suffering. I hope to tell you that we kept the faith and emerged on the other side of the darkness into a better, brighter, more caring world.
I know you would expect no less of your children and grandchildren. And I promise you we have it in us to do whatever it takes.
Although it’s been decades since we’ve seen you, the values you imparted mean more than ever and give us strength and hope, day by precious day. Thank you, as always, for that enduring gift.
All my love, Jeff.
Jeff Forster is a native of Lancaster, a McCaskey High School graduate and a former reporter for LNP | LancasterOnline.