In the fog of war

Truth is the first thing to go in war.  Or so they say.  The only ones I’ve ever waged have been against myself.    But I was reminded of that old axiom as I got an unsolicited group text last night that read:

“tonight from 11.40 pm nobody should be on street.  Doors and windows should remain closed as 5 helicopters spray disinfectants into the air to eradicate the coranavirus.  Please process this information to all your contacts.”  Couldn’t tell if it was some bored teenager in need of spell check and a lesson in junior year grammar or just another Russian spambot trying to stir chaos in the world.

But I will admit… there was a small part of me that wanted to close the windows.  And eventually did.  After doing some digging on the web search navigation bar of my choice – Askcheeves.com– I found that a similar text had circulated around rural Maryland and some local newspaper in Iowa had covered it.  They all agreed it was bullshit  The times these helicopters were releasing their voodoo in the air had changed, but the spelling was the same.  As we all play a universal game of telephone – it’s amazing to watch the birth of hyperbole.

Shakespeare once said that “present fears are less than wild imaginings…” Now granted the quote comes from Macbeth and we know how that ended  – it does hold true to these times.  The early days of anything often live with pomp and misinformation.  We have to brace ourselves against the coming storm, for sure; but also the lag.  As we adjust individually and redirect collectively. In the early days of world war two, untested soldiers sang songs and wrote poetry assured they would be home by Christmas.  And we all know how that turned out.

I have always been a Civil War amateur history guy and I take comfort in the stories of how U.S. Grant knew his troops at siege needed tasks that built and maintained morale if they were going to endure the hardships of siege warfare.  To that end, I try to do small tasks that add up every day as we take to our castle keep and wait and brace ourselves against a soon to be surge. When so much is out of our hands, I find comfort in organizing the junk drawer and watering the plants.  Doing laundry takes on a whole new meaning in the era where any given surface could be contaminated.  It sure is fun.  Especially in a building that sounds of coughing at night.  So much coughing.  Nothing but coughing.   It’s a comedic opera of absurd proportions for sure.

Every day is filled with experiences that I never even fathomed before. This really is another end of innocence moment for us that always seems to repeat itself every few generations.  We remember, till we forget, then something happens unforseen and we remember again.  And anyone who knows history tells the rest of us we were stupid to think we were different.  And so on it goes.

I don’t know about you, but there’s a mindfulness that develops when I fold things or clean the counter as the modern hustle quiets.  I heard it said one time that the point of any kind of mindfullness is to feel every heart beat and be grateful for it.  I’m not a master by any means, but I can taste the fruit of the practice from time to time.   And I like the taste.   It sustains me in those moments when panic wins.  So does laughter. Lately I laugh at the way we will all be experts in rationing soon.  And urban foraging.

Speaking of which:

We picked some rosemary on our walk the other day.  It came from a neighbor’s border shrub.  With a smile over a cinder block wall, strangers became neighbors.  Later we used their gift of rosemary to raise the social class of some Irish stew A. was pressure cooking in the Instapot.  As we blew on our spoons and enjoyed the inheritance of cultural identity on a made up holiday about a made up saint to keep Irish Catholics putting their quarter in the dish, we remarked how odd it was that people I lived adjacent to for years, many of whom I never met before, now feel closer than ever – even though we must keep at a social distance.  Common peril does that.   As we doggie-paddle our way to some kind of something to hold onto in the fallout of our innocence- the base hierarchy of needs about shelter, food, etc become more real to us who have benefited long from a priviledge we may not even have recognized we had.  Things like clean water, indoor plumbing,  gas for the stove and air we can breathe.  They mean more.

But I must say to take a lesson from teh trends of history – wars tend to go off the rails as they begin to erode at social custom and pray on our baser instincts like what we see now in some of our leaders who need an enemy in all of this to vindicate themselves.

In the early days of the Civil War, people road out to picnic and watch the  war show in their Sunday best with parasols.  Eventually, that horror became what it was.  And history reminds us always that the time optimism of conflict “experts” make in the beginning never ended up quite being what it was.

I think of how our country had to suffer through Hoover before FDR and hope 45 will be one day like a Hoover.  I also remember that era of trouble which touched the whole world birthed some of our great social works.  But it took a dozen years.  It’s a long road.  And it must be taken one step at a time.

History is full of how enduring hardship became the tipping point in enterprises of great conflict.  The birth of this nation came not on the battlefield at all, but in the dead of winter.  Wintering an army in Valley Forge through influenza may have sent the message to the crown that we were serious and not going away which would prove too costly to the King to go on.   And thus America was born simply by having another wood chopped for a hard winter.

Truth is – Things take time.  But first we have to detox from our instant gratification that I know I have grown dependent on, and then something will settle on us.  I hope.  Maybe a peace like none we’ve ever known before. An unshakeable faith.

Lastly, I think of Edward R Murrow’s radio broadcasts from London during the Blitz.  And I wonder what will be our light.  What unifying thing in the human spirit, what sobering voice of truth will cut through the static.  For now, it’s the sound of children playing on the street again.  Which I hadn’t heard for a while.  And the rain in the window.    That’s good enough to get through till tomorrow.

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