"This Too, Shall Pass." History, and Life, Say So!Historians/History
Published over thirty times in History News Network, Dr. Bornet hardly needs an introduction, except to say he’s going on 103, a Navy veteran (WWII), born in the North, then educated after high school in the deep South then Far West (Emory, UGA, Stanford), for nearly a lifetime bearing the rare title, Research Historian. His career has so many books and articles and reviews of his—and professional editing he did often for others.
Our title, the quoted part used by Lincoln and in the Bible, has it exactly right. The passage of time can change everything. There can be wartime. Then it’s over and “real life” begins again. Those who lived through a major war know that truth entirely too well, on the one hand, yet gratefully in another and important sense: It ended! For many of us there was the decade that America suffered, that time of no-kidding Depression, 1930 to 1942. It was an era of real concern, one that disturbed nearly one and all. Later came a time that had children ducked under their desks, that was called The Cold War. Some in the know worried through it; others didn’t understand things atomic.
Going back to 1917-18, an ugly yet so patriotic war came, yet that awful World War I of poison gas and trenches and machine guns ended in peace at last with a still memorable Armistice Day. I would be born during that war (October 10, 1917), but would live happily in two decades in peace before the next one. Things change, thank goodness. (Change can, of course, can be for the better—or the worse.)
Some eras begin but don’t seem to come to a close. The Atomic Age started with secret preparation and then actual use of two atomic bombs on a people far away who attacked us. They were people who lived a very different kind of life in far Japan. Postwar, time and effort brought great change. A new day seemed off to a start with the United Nations, a day that had started weakly with the League of Nations. All in all, the concept was that the idea of “nationhood” might shrink with the end of international conflict, and the beginning of international understanding. The League was off to a shaky start in the Twenties. Its successor was organized at the close of World War II. New enthusiasts and patriotic nationalists differed for a long time. Real change had not come, the kind Woodrow Wilson hoped for. But the U.N. lived on.
All kinds of “ages” get started, unexpectedly, and affect us profoundly, then may get taken for granted. The time of gasoline-powered automobiles is a good example. Horse-drawn vehicles seemed to work well enough. But gradually Henry Ford and so many others provided an alternative. Eisenhower thought interstate highways a good idea, and we were at last united across and up and down our landscape. Lady Bird Johnson tried to get us to concentrate on beauty in the terrain, arousing some interest.
It was in President Nixon’s administration that enthusiasts won an Environmental Protection Agency and high hopes lived for an ERA. Trade unions tried mightily to change working conditions in America, but problems never died out, somehow. And the time came when young people moved from place to place with augmented telephone gadgets capable of uniting one instantly with a person of choice. Being alone was to be out of date. Amazing!
The age of the coming and total triumph of radio—first AM, then FM—changed evenings, then daytime. Radio changed our whole lives--as we listened to comedy, “popular” then “country” music of all kinds, hour after hour. All of the sudden, it was the Age of Television (even color!), and we were hooked into a new way of learning and living and communicating, all inside our homes (and the local bar).
Our kitchens changed and with that, our very food! The microwave profoundly altered the lives lived by single persons. Gadgets and things that were new, for example, the ease of keeping clean with washers and dryers, and soaps and shampoos, and electric razors, and new materials for clothing. Enroute, it was surprising, really impossible, to lag behind still dirty, unkempt, ignoring change forced by a variety of inventions.
Malls changed our shopping profoundly. Reclining chairs; electric clocks; changes over the decades in musical instruments and how they got used; new habits in recreation phased in: skiing, for example. Games, puzzles, comics and major changes in newspapers brought changes in their readers. Magazines, readable and illustrated, modified dramatically as Life phased in during the mid-thirties. Life began in 1935 and Time joined in changing communication of information permanently, it seemed. “Commentators” moved in on the airwaves and columnists could be aggressive with their editorial efforts. Many cared deeply what we thought. (It was not always like that.)
Radio and TV moved in on newspapers and school teachers noticed. Somewhat aggressive professors had egos that demanded to be heard in books and articles. Many, it seemed, wanted us to be informed and persuaded with or without our awareness. Parents hoping to mold their own heirs free of outside interference were finding the task uphill as education and media reached out hoping to conquer attitudes long advanced and absorbed in one’s home. As for preaching, ministers lost ground in the 20th century without doubt.
None of that, in a way, was “atomic”; that is to say, life and death. Detouring there for a second, coffins gave way substantially to cremation (with savings at the end). Funeral parlors caught on. The entire, variable, insurance industry, innovating with all kinds of new concepts (reverse mortgages), involved financial invasion, but did wonders for widows and others when loved ones abandoned their livelihoods. Vitally important was the influence of Medicare and of modern medicine. Vital was the beginning of Social Security payments (in 1940 from the 1935 law); it was a true revolutionary alteration in national life, no doubt about it.
There was for a time on these pages the title: Time Passes. And why is that fact of considerable interest to us now? First, at this point in the lives of so many at home and abroad, changes in what we do and how we live can add up to making life difficult. That Virus has wiped out our lives as we knew them, very fast indeed. We are overwhelmed. We say to ourselves, “the world changed when we weren’t looking! We put in so much time reflecting morbidly on our passing lives at this crucial, critical, awful time. It was the spring of 2020, and a little before, when the lives of many lost total stability! For nearly unbearable months we developed and endured a vast upheaval in the lives we thought were laid out for us. Time is Passing, whether or not, and at this moment in time and space it’s bringing a life that’s demoralizing. What to do?
“That Virus”--as a great many have gotten to refer to it--is now recognized as a Destroyer First Class. There is little need here to run through a list of what it has done: to home life, to that loved place of just being and living daily; to incomes, to all kinds of habits, to people we see daily—and no longer do—to what we used to talk about. To the very level at which we can live! Especially to schools and to much schooling! No need here to keep harping on the devastating Changes that are moving in on habits we thought virtually eternal!
Our ordinary movements seem controlled—no longer ours! Within a day or two a university president conjectured openly that “we may have to close permanently.” The stable institution’s a century and a half old, for Heaven’s sake. Yet the infrastructure is intact, and the need is exactly as before: virtually permanent--unless, unlikely, students turn out to be happy learning on TV, sans live teachers, “all alone.”
Back to our chosen Title. TIME does indeed pass. Things change. Think about that often, please. I tend to think that even two years of Intermission, or interval, will have trouble permanently harming you and yours. I think idly of those eras when our lives changed profoundly. Nothing permanent. (Think of when we evolved from our ages 15 to 17….)
Fortunately, in most cases, our lives didn’t really change forever—although in so many matters it proved better that they did. Take the invention that brought Polio’s downfall; or, say, the dominance of computers on how and what we do. Soon there came a new normalcy. On reflection, what happened was, well, marvelous, changes that became treasured. A new and different life emerged—almost when we weren’t looking. Maybe we got a new house to live in. Different employment. An end to days of woe that came and then went. There have been times when things altered for every one of us, and, by golly, we survived. Opportunities long out of reach were now there for us. (Admittedly, some damage we suffer can be permanent, ugly, unthinkable. But “the good fight“ can be won.)
An example in my young life: change destroyed my father’s life as a Philadelphia engineer. Houses and cars were seized; he and mother moved in with my sister 50 miles from our town. The Depression crushed us. For a year I lived down our earlier street with a kindly Aunt and her husband. Then my parents moved several thousand miles away and “started over.” I joined them. Soon, he was happily productive; my life was changed by my major newspaper delivery job and I even washed the school’s lunch dishes (but hardly noticed). I had new friends in school, different from kids I had known, but who cared? Time had indeed passed, and still was, but in my case, life went on.
You, dear reader are at this moment in a position to return to a paragraph of your choice above, say 24 months from now. You will have the happy opportunity, then, of seeing how CHANGE ultimately did well for you and some friends. It probably wasn’t able to really wreck everything. Nearly all those alterations, let’s hope, were endurable. Now: you can, indeed, you must, recall when you first started thinking to yourself: “This, too, shall pass.” Time changes everything. Most of us, I expect, will be living still in 2022 or 2023. That virus will quite possibly be conquered in one way or another. Scientists worldwide are its dedicated enemy, maybe as never before. Yet: maybe in essentials that extraordinary virus will survive quite a while as good as New. No. No. Let’s Hope and work for its early demise due to effective vaccines, and better treatments changing both onset and time of contagion. And we—behaving ourselves as told?
Join me in this: things don’t remain the same. Believe it. Whatever is devasting our people at this time, well, the era is ahead when, just maybe, it won’t. Looking at the history of your own family—a decade or more ago, then living uneasily in a European country, a South or Central American small nation, when in a hostile City, or endlessly working by the hour in some fields; Time may have brought improvement for you. Let’s hope so.
In my case, my life was uneven! There was unexpectedly losing a rewarding job and then came one I disliked intensely. There was then the morning of 1977 when a heart infarction surprised me and proved devastating. In no time at all, my world was entirely different with half my heart gone. A few years made for a giant difference. Endurable for me and mine. First came survival. Next, circumstances changed. Yet: that virus doesn’t own us forever, however awful things may seem to be at some passing moment.
You and I can count on time passing. We both can count on it. Endless moping is for the needlessly disheartened. Be thoughtful about a world in which “things change.” That damn Virus will be set back on its butt (to use language that communicates). Either a New or an Old Normalcy will return—count on it. Maybe you’ll love some of the changes that come—but I admit that’s a lot to expect!
Many who now watch and enjoy radio or TV once said “turn off that racket.” Those who loved horses abhorred early autos. Many said: “I like the appliances I have.” Or, “As a woman, I really enjoyed working during the Forties in that plant. I was happy then.” It’s unlikely, but maybe Virus Change will alter one or two things for the better; or not! Somehow, I rather doubt it.
I just watched Vera Lynn, heroine vocalist of World War II, singing the hopeful songs of survival that meant so much to the British (and us) back then—The White Cliffs of Dover: “Tomorrow, just you wait and see”—and others that make one tear up. “We’ll meet again, don’t know where, don’t know when….” Those were awful days for our coming Allies. The years 1939 to 1945, ARE GONE! (For those who won, and those who lost, alike! Remembered sadly are the dead boy heroes from Oxford and Cambridge who fell.)
“Good fortune attend ye,” ‘tis said in Ireland and by the Irish everywhere. I don’t have to tell you, the reader, that Times Change. Admit it: many of the changes turned out to be “for the better.” So, go ahead and memorize the idea that “Time Passes.” Consider this slogan as untoward events seize us and try to be permanent: History teaches that “This, too, shall pass.”
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