During this pandemic crisis, we’ve had to adjust how we’ve handled typical holidays or events, such as Easter and Mother’s Day. When before we might have taken in a church service with family and then gone out to lunch or dinner to commemorate these events, this time, many of us caught church online and fixed dinner at home. We also didn’t get to properly memorialize our city’s most life-changing event – the April 19th bombing of the Murrah Building 25 years ago. We had to watch the ceremony from home, and we didn’t get to memorialize and commemorate the victims and survivors with our annual OKC Memorial Marathon. For many, these times have made us feel disappointed, isolated and fearful.
And now, it’s Memorial Day. For me, it won’t really be much different during this time of social distancing. I will have spent the entire weekend by myself, traveling the state to decorate the graves of my relatives and reflect on the events and sacrifices of their owns lives.
Memorial Day Weekend is a time that I keep very special. About 15 years ago, I realized that I had forgotten the importance of Memorial Day. However, as my parents and other close relatives passed away, it became imperative to honor them, and I took it as my duty to be the one to make sure they are remembered over Memorial Day Weekend.
I travel down to southeast Oklahoma to several cemeteries there, and then to Shawnee where my parents are buried, then over to Chickasha for extended family. My husband’s family is buried in Oklahoma City, so I spend time there as well. I spend time in the cemeteries, cleaning around the graves and setting up the decorations. For the relatives I knew, I spend a quiet moment thinking of fond memories. For those I never knew, I spend the time thinking about what their lives were like.
And, now, as we continue to navigate this pandemic crisis, I have been contemplating a great deal about the times these relatives lived in and how they handled the adversities that came their way. While we lament this pandemic crisis and the toll it is taking on our lives and the economy, these family members lived through many precarious times.
They lived through the first World War and the Spanish Flu pandemic that started during that war. I wonder how they felt about social distancing and not being able to go to parties or dances. Were they willing to wear masks, and how did they treat those who had differing opinions about the severity of the health crisis?
Then, there was the Great Depression. As we face a situation today where 20 million Americans have lost their jobs, I wonder how did my family members handle the fear of economic uncertainty? They were hardware and dry goods store owners in the very small town of Stonewall, OK. What kind of supply disruptions did they have due to the economic crisis? What hardship did they endure and see from their neighbors? Were they gracious to those who needed extra help to get by?
World War II occurred when my parents were in their late teens and early 20s. How many friends did they lose during the war? How many of their friends who survived were forever changed from the trauma they witnessed? My husband’s uncle was a pilot whose plane was shot down over the ocean and his body never recovered. The family plot in Stonewall includes a commemorative gravestone for him. His widowed mother, my father’s grandmother, received his Purple Heart. How could she possibly have handled the heartbreak of not knowing what happened to her son?
Remembering how our ancestors dealt with the adversities of their lives can help us today as we seek perspective and hope. My ancestors are no different than the ancestors of my fellow Club 29 Rotarians. All of our families have experienced war, famine, strife and fear. Yet, they got through those hard times, and we will, too.
As Rotarians and people of action, we have a strong background of reaching out to help others. As leaders in our businesses and various communities, others look to us as examples of how to weather the storm graciously and with dignity and respect. Our Service Above Self motto not only speaks to our willingness to reach out and help others in need, it also speaks to our attitude in crisis.
As we look toward the future and the impending recovery from the chaos of this crisis, we can reflect on the examples of our ancestors and take inspiration from their determination to work toward a better future for the ones who come after. Because that’s exactly what Rotarians do.