I watched The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society again recently. Before the Christmas movie marathons began.* It is still one of my favorite books, Guernesy. And the Netflix movie does it considerable justice, which is more than I can say of most books turned movies.
I think I’ve seen the flick three or four times now, possibly more times than I’ve read the pages. But watching it this time, watching the bombs fly, watching stories of some of the darker parts of World War II (should we really grade the horrors of WWII?), told through a delightful story, it made me think about life here an now. Today.
It really depends on where you look, but America lost somewhere between 291,000 and 675,000 lives in WWI. I know… a wide spread. I don’t care enough to do the research. Let’s just average, because I’m better at math than research. Let’s say America lost 483,000 lives during WWII. That’s over a 5-6 year period. As of today, we’ve lost over 265,000 Americans to COVID. It’s been well-under a year. This is just America, but the perspective is dizzying.
Watching my cutesy little fictional film, I was struck for the first time by what life was like while people were dying at such horrific rates. What life was like when the world was burning, and innocents were so dispensable. Let’s not dig too deep into my sad comparisons, but here we are, and we are in the middle of a war as well, but for most of us, life does not look like it.
We are isolated, and we are hunkered down, yes–well, some of us are isolated and hunkered down–but we are connected through the miracle of the digital form. Many of us are not only isolated from one another, but also isolated from the horrors of this disease. We know a guy who knows a guy. We read about our friends’ friends. We live in our bubbles, isolated against this disease, most of us relatively unscathed. Certainly not all of us, but I can only speak of my own experience. For those on the front lines, and those with real up-front losses, I weep. For the rest of us, I wonder.
I donned my orange this morning to walk out to the mailbox. For in Wisconsin, stay-at-home takes on new meaning during gun-deer season, and one does not venture out, even for a walk, without a protective covering of orange. Anyway, I moseyed out, just kind of floundering for buoyant things in the rut of some rough days, and the sun was warm and welcome. So I’ve set up the last remaining lawn chair on my empty deck and brought a few books out to soak up the last rays of the season.
The sky is blue, and life is all around, out here on the deck. We are, in so many ways, staring in the teeth of a World War, only this time against a virus, and–maybe even moreso–against human pride and human frailty. Yet here I sit under the blue sky, St. Anne in my lap,** life warm and pulsing.
One single chickadee has spent the better part of an hour rummaging through every one of the spent oak leaves on the western edge of our yard, for what I don’t know. I suspect he knows. A flotilla of woodpeckers has in that time scourged the Western hillside chittering from naked tree to naked tree, scouting for their next meal, for their next year’s bounty. One single goldenrod shoots his flaxen head over the edge of my deckboards, brilliant in the sun, shouting, “I am here!”
None of these know that we are at war. None of them knows what it means to socially distance, to mask up. They only look one step ahead, and that is a gift.
We have different gifts. Ours are the gifts of intelligence, and compassion, of love, and the potential for great things. But with those gift comes immeasurable responsibility: to the goldenrod, to the birds, and to one another.
I can’t help but wonder what we’ve missed, what lessons were we absent for, that would rob us of our ability to make simple sacrifices in order to save lives? How have we gotten here?
I don’t know the answers, but I am grateful for the blue sky and the rustling leaves, for the sun animating my woods, for the mosquito taking his last flight into winter oblivion. I am grateful for the ease of the simple, and I am grateful for the responsibility of the complex. I’m grateful for the opportunity to do the right things, even when they’re hard, and I’m hopeful that somehow we can all sit in on some remedial lessons on Compassion and Love.
I think as Americans these foundational things were somehow replaced with Freedom and Rights while we weren’t looking. I don’t know where the slight of hand occurred, but it did. It was never meant to be This or That. We took our freedom and our rights, and we lost something vital in the transaction, and now we are reaping the rewards of that exchange.
We do have freedom. We have the freedom to care and to act with compassion.
We do have rights. We have the right to do what is right.
I’m hopeful that somehow we can come together again, that we can dig out the true and lasting foundations of life and sweep them clean, and that we can place our freedom and our rights back into the only framework that holds them securely: Love.
I’m hopeful that somehow we can wake up and fight for one another, even more vigorously than we fight for our right to a turkey dinner.
Wishing you warmth and hope, and a neverending supply of clean masks,
* For those who need to know the Christmas line-up thus far, or those who just need to end on a lighter note, here it is:
- When Harry Met Sally. No, it’s not a Christmas movie, but you have to start slowly, and it is still one of the best movies on earth, even though it’s awful.
- You’ve Got Mail. You can never have enough Meg Ryan, really. And this one is definitely more Christmasy. And straight up wonderful.
- RV. OK, not at ALL Christmasy, except the dream of what the Gornecki rig might look like for the holidays.
- Love, Actually. Now we’re talking Christmas movies. Maybe my favorite. Possibly even more awful than When Harry Met Sally, but definitely even better.
- On the eve of Thanksgiving: Planes, Trains, and Automobiles. Because yes.
- Thanksgiving proper: The first half of the Lily and Dash Netflix series. Dash and Lily? Whatever. So far it’s cute.
- And next up? Well, I suppose the last 4 episodes of Lily and Dash. Then Elf, Serendipity, Holiday Inn, Die Hard, Home Alone, who knows what else.
** And for those who need to know what the other book is: The Accidental Further Adventures of the Hundred Year Old Man. It’s a sequel. The Hundred Year Old Man Who Climbed Out the Window and Disappeared was wonderful. I read it in South Dakota. The sequel (I’ll spare you re-reading the title) is not as good, but the presence of Trump and Kim Jong-un as realistic characters almost makes up for it.
*** And finally (no, this is actually not referenced above in the least), for those who are wondering, the GoFundMe is going well. We’re over 2/3 of the way there! Thank you for all of your shares and contributions! Don’t stop now!