By Trudy Wischemann
“We have nothing to fear but fear itself,” said Franklin Roosevelt in his first inaugural address in 1933, the day he took over the Presidency from incumbent Herbert Hoover whom he had defeated. It was three years and four months after the stock market crashed in 1929, sending the country into a decade-long tailspin that only World War II pulled us out of. Roosevelt may not have known that much about fear when he spoke those words, but the truth of them has lasted through the decades.
Then, like now, fear wasn’t the only thing we had to be afraid of. A third of the country was unemployed. Businessmen in suits and raincoats stood in bread lines with the most defeated Skid Row bums. Dispossessed farmers and sharecroppers hit the road with their lives on their backs, in their car trunks and beds of pickups and wagons pulled by mules who would soon also be out of work. People starved, got sick, and died without notice. It was a desperate time. For people suffering, it must have been hard to imagine how defeating fear itself could help us overcome these other dangers.
But fear is a real enemy as well as a survival instinct. Fear can suck the life out of a day. It can suck the courage out of our bones. It can suck away faith. It can keep us from doing things that will improve our chances of survival. And so FDR was pointing to the one enemy we, his people, had any control over: fear. And it helped.
Which brings me to my real topic: the use of the word “unprecedented” to describe the dangers and hardships we’re living through now from an unknown virus. I would like to recommend that we stop using that word to describe this episode in world history. It may turn out to have been unprecedented in one way or another, but calling it that right now, as the story unfolds, is premature in my mind and sets up fear about simple uncertainty. It may turn out that never before in the history of the world have so many people been able to avoid and/or overcome the dangers and hardships of communicable disease by sheltering in place, or by receiving medical support from an indomitable health care industry.
We might find support for this idea by looking overseas. Currently, Great Britain’s prime minister is in the hospital hoping to recover from COVID-19. In his stead, he appointed a cabinet person to take over his duties while fever makes his mind unreliable. That seems so adult, so responsible somehow. And into the lurch, the possible canyon opening up at the top of their nation, the Queen stepped in Sunday night. She, whose first official speech at the age of 14 was to comfort children being frightened by the Germans’ bombing, Queen Elizabeth spoke to her people again at the age of almost 94. She told them we’ll get through this. Our young people are just as able to endure hardships as we were when we were young. We will get through this. We’ve been here before.
So let’s take hold of our fear and set it aside. Let’s use wisdom instead to direct our activities, and discover that compassion flourishes once fear is conquered. If we do that, we will get through this with our nation and our humanity intact.
Trudy Wischemann is a writer who is grateful to be cloistered in Lindsay. You can send her your at-home stories c/o P.O. Box 1374, Lindsay CA 93247 or visit www.trudysnotesfromhome.blogspot.com and leave a comment there.
This column is not a news article but the opinion of the writer and does not reflect the views of The Sun-Gazette newspaper.