Did You Serve?

Years from now, our children and our children’s children will ask us what it was like to live through the Great Covid-19 Pandemic.

WW2 ration stickers

By that time, it will be written about in history books and the subject of documentary films. It will seem distant and abstract to future generations, in the same way that World War 2 seems distant and abstract to my generation.

It is reasonable to expect questions from these young people as they seek to understand the magnitude of what we have gone through. These will be the same types of questions that my generation would ask someone who lived through World War 2: Did you serve? What was it like? Did you support the war effort? Were there things about life on the home front that were unusual, out of the ordinary? How did you feel about the restrictions and rationing that the government set up?

With the pandemic, the questions will be slightly different but they will be analogous to the questions about World War 2. I have listed a few here:

Questions for the WW2 generation Questions for the Covid-19 generation
Did you serve? Were you a doctor, nurse, or other health care worker directly caring for people sick with and dying from Covid-19?
Did you serve honorably?* Did you as a health care worker support and reinforce the public health measures put in place to slow the spread of the disease?
Did you support the war effort? Did you not flaunt or actively oppose vaccination and face mask requirements? Did you do your part to socially distance and cooperate with public health measures?
What was the home front like? How did it feel to have to wear masks in public almost all the time; quarantine or isolate for days, weeks, or months; have schools move online and events cancelled; and make decisions about the relative risk of what would otherwise be a normal, everyday activity?
Did you lose a friend, loved one or family member? Did you lose a friend, loved one or family member?

Two years into this pandemic, I don’t think it is too early to begin pondering what our legacy will be. How well did we handle this crisis? Did we come together as a nation to fight the threat? If not (and clearly, we have not), why didn’t we? What prevented us from doing so, and what will that mean for any threats, domestic or foreign, that arise in the future?

Sadly, people are beginning (or maybe it’s been going on a long time) to view fellow Americans with suspicion, not unlike, I imagine, the French who collaborated with the Nazis and the French who actively fought against the Nazis. That makes it very hard to remain united as a country.

Will this country of the people, by the people, and for the people survive on this Earth?

I hope so. But in the meantime, there is work to be done.


*People presume that everyone who serves in the military serves honorably. However, the facts are that some people do not, and end up being court martialed and dishonorably discharged. It’s not a comfortable question to ask, but it’s valid. There reportedly are doctors, nurses, paramedics, and others who have refused the vaccine, spread misinformation about ivermectin and other things, and distributed counterfeit vaccine cards. This is not honorable behavior.

The Road Trip

We were somewhere near the Tennessee-Virginia border in early April. Night was falling, and I was at the wheel of our minivan. We’d been driving for most of the day, having left Arkansas a little before noon.

My son Julian was in the passenger seat, queuing up music on his phone to play this new Canadian artist he’d recently discovered. I was trying not to lose sight of the other car in our caravan, the black Chevrolet with my other son and his girlfriend. The interstate was hilly here and with their taillights not working properly, it was easy to lose track of them.

Julian had driven until we switched drivers somewhere near Knoxville. We’d run through a variety of conversation topics, and the scenery rushing by outside had kept our attention. But with dusk and a change of drivers came a change in mood, as we continued to roll into the night.

The coronavirus pandemic had only recently become a reality, and it had been three weeks since I’d begun working from home every day.

As the music played, I asked him how community college was going, now that they’d moved classes online.

“I’m not going to class anymore,” he said. “And I don’t think I’m going to enroll in the fall.”

“Oh?” I said.

“Being online isn’t working for me,” he said. “And I think this coronavirus thing is only going to get worse.”

We listened to the music for a minute.

“You’ve been staying in your room a lot,” I said. “Some days I hardly see you.”

“I need my space,” he said.

It was hard to be optimistic about the coming months. Anything I could think to say would sound hollow. I nodded in agreement, but realized he couldn’t see that in the fading light.

“What’s your plan, then?” I said, throwing the topic back to him.

“I don’t have one,” he said. “What’s the use anyway? It feels like the whole world is a shit show right now. Everything I expected for this year isn’t going to happen.”

I glanced over at him. His dimly-lit face gazed out at the highway ahead while he got quiet again as the music played. He leaned forward to turn up the volume.

That night, I had no way of seeing just how bad it would get, both in the world and in Julian’s life. The weeks and months to come would be filled with awful news, the shutting down of normal life, the cancelling of so much, and Julian being fired from his job, retreating further from his mother and me, leaving the house to go smoking, getting drunk alone in his room late at night.

But we had a long way to go still until we could get home to relative comfort and some sleep.