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Several years ago, Jan and I went on a trip to the Normandy area of France with some dear friends. It was a wonderful trip, especially in that we had the opportunity to engage so much historical information, both from a European perspective, as well as to touch the American investments made in 1944 regarding our engagement with the European theatre of World War II. One particular moment stood out from all the others for me. As we walked the ruins of a major castle enclosure, one of the commentators on the recorded audio tour made this statement, “During this particular period, there were sieges on this castle for fifteen years.” Say what? Yes, it was clear that was an anomaly of major note. I have read enough history to be aware that periods of peace in most places on earth have been very rare. War has been far more common; nevertheless, that historical comment about the castle’s lengthy siege stunned me and penetrated beyond my intellectual levels.
So, dear ones, what should examples like this from history say to us as we begin to navigate our way through this COVID-19 crisis? As I noted recently, it is the first unified global crisis (outside of elements of World War II) that has touched all nations since Noah’s flood. The planet is united in conflict against a common enemy rather than a military conflict between antagonists. Technology has connected all of us at the same time which has never happened on this level before. An enemy spaceship invasion would be a fair analogy. This is our “first rodeo” on many levels! That said, how should this give us any usable perspective?
Compared to billions of our fellow human beings who have gone before us, we are all more or less privileged to varying degrees. Among first-world countries, few of us have lived at war all our lives. Millions of our forefathers have lived in the reality of either going to war or defending their homes and families to the death from raiders, slave-masters, or foreign armies, and many women have lived in constant danger of being attacked, raped, or abducted.
Money is another factor that has allowed people far greater peace and safety. Throughout history, the rich and privileged have not had to worry about food, clothing, and creature comfort in the same way the masses of the lesser financially empowered have. In the US, even our financial lower-class have been far more secure and well fed than all the masses of history, and our middle class have eaten better than almost all the royalty of history. Dare we bring into this comparative-comfort discussion, indoor plumbing, heated showers, refrigeration, electricity, extensive roads, automobiles, phones, electronic media, and so on… We have lived like royalty, though that is not to overlook the reality of the poorest we have today in such places as India, Africa, and others similarly impoverished. Absolute poverty is absolute poverty, but even poverty on a historical comparison is relative.
I have often wondered how our current generations will relate to the generations of history who couldn’t possibly relate to the luxuries and conveniences we have enjoyed. Though we do still battle such injustices as racism, sexism, classism, and massively unequal wealth distribution, we have largely been blessed with security and provision that is historically unique. My hope is that as we go through what now faces us with genuine dialogues we have not faced before, that somehow and some way, we might put this into a bigger perspective and help us all to become more grateful, less demanding, wiser, and sure of the “human rights” that were not afforded to so many other human beings before us. And that is…