I was jarred awake by loud claps of thunder, bolts of lightning and torrential rain pelting our metal roof. I stumbled through the house and did what you do in a rainstorm: closed the windows, checked the doors. I crawled back into bed now fully awake, listening to the storm, my mind blank. I tried an old trick which is sort of like counting sheep, but my version is counting to 20 in French, backwards and forwards, backwards and forwards… I love French, but usually it’s so boring and sleep-provoking. But not this time.
For the past two weeks of isolation, I had been entertaining myself by reading the history of firsthand accounts of the invasion and suffering of the British populace under the Luftwaffe — the battle of Britain’s blitz in 1940, where death was a daily occurrence with German bombing raids. The British soldiered on by not surrendering their mental state, but hanging tough, and simply accepting what they could or could not control. As I lay awake, my thoughts wandered to these stories; when I looked at my watch, it was 4:30 AM on Tuesday, June 6th. It dawned on me (pun intended) that 76 years ago to the day was D-Day: the allied invasion of Normandy that began the bout of a different virus: Nazism. I have walked on the beach in Normandy and run my fingers through the sand (literally and metaphorically), and I am always amazed at what it all represents and meant. But this and other great moments in history felt anything but to those living them, just as our present will be textbook fodder for generations to come.
One day we woke up and found ourselves faced with a dire threat that we have no choice but to overcome. Here’s an excerpt from a speech Churchill gave to the Royal College of Physicians in 1944:
Disease must be attacked, whether it occurs in the poorest or the richest man or woman, simply on the ground that it is the enemy; and it must be attacked just in the same way as the fire brigade will give its full assistance to the humblest cottage as readily as to the most important mansion.
This is a war, and surrender is not an option. The Brits saw death up close and personal, in the streets, bomb shelters, in the air, or on the sea; our hospitals have been overwhelmed with sickness and death, running as fast as they could to keep up and eventually get ahead of the Grim Reaper. Many died in ICUs without saying goodbye to anyone, much like the Brits would go to the basement of a building to shelter and never get a chance to say their goodbyes. There is nothing that can be said. But once again, we will win.
Just like the Brits had to rebuild a lost generation, we also have no choice but to rebuild as best as we can. We must stay mentally strong and not let our sadness for our neighbors and our fear for our own overwhelm our intellect and keep us from doing the best we can. We must resist the temptation to sling away protection, and we must be on guard at all times. We have to earn back our privileges, and also create new ones. We have woken up to a thunderstorm in the night, demanding our attention. We must close the window to keep the rain out.