Friends of Padre Steve’s World,
Barbara Tuchman wrote:
“One constant among the elements of 1914—as of any era—was the disposition of everyone on all sides not to prepare for the harder alternative, not to act upon what they suspected to be true.”
Her words are as true as when she wrote the in her book The Guns of August, published over a half century ago. The fact is, that historically speaking all that we thought true about the world we live in has been changed in a historical nanosecond. Walter Lord, one of my favorite narrative historians wrote in his book The Good Years 1900-1914:
Economics were only part of the story. Almost overnight, Americans lost a happy, easygoing, confident way of looking at things. Gone was the bright lilt of “When You Wore a Tulip”; already it was the sadly nostalgic, “There’s a Long, Long Trail a-Winding,” or the grimly suggestive, “I Didn’t Raise My Boy to Be a Soldier.” A mounting crescendo of screaming headlines… atrocity stories… U-boat sinkings… charges and counter-charges shocked the nation, jarred its faith, left a residue of doubt and dismay.
Nothing seemed simple any more. Nothing was black and white. Nothing was “right” or “wrong,” the way Theodore Roosevelt used to describe things. And as the simple problems vanished, so did the simple solutions. Trust-busting, direct primaries, arbitration treaties and all the rest. They somehow lost their glamour as exciting panaceas, and nothing took their place. But the problems grew and grew —preparedness… taxes… war… Bolshevism… disillusionment… depression… Fascism… Moscow… fallout… space… more taxes.
So the old life slipped away, never to return again, and wise men sensed it almost at once. Men like Henry White, the immensely urbane diplomat who had served the country so well. “He instinctively felt,” according to his biographer Allan Nevins, “that his world —the world of constant travel, cosmopolitan intercourse, secure comfort and culture —would never be the same again.” The Philadelphia North American felt the same way, but in blunter words: “What does this mean but that our boasted civilization has broken down?”
Perhaps it was just as well. There was much that was wrong with this old way of living —its injustices, its naivete, its waste, its smug self-assurance. Men would come along to fix all that. New laws, controls, regulations, forms filled out in triplicate would keep anybody from getting too much or too little. And swarms of consultants, researchers, special assistants, and executive committees would make sure that great men always said and did the right thing.
There would be great gains. But after all the gains had been counted, it would turn out that something was also lost —a touch of optimism, confidence, exuberance, and hope. The spirit of an era can’t be blocked out and measured, but it is there nonetheless. And in these brief, buoyant years it was a spark that somehow gave extra promise to life. By the light of this spark, men and women saw themselves as heroes shaping the world, rather than victims struggling through it.
Actually, this was nothing unique. People had seen the spark before, would surely do so again. For it can never die as long as men breathe. But sometimes it burns low, leaving men uncertain in the shadows; other times it glows bright, catching the eye with breath-taking visions of the future.
That being said, yesterday was a good but exhausting day. The CDC and the military, including the Navy, came to their senses over the weekend and decided to recommend that all Americans were face masks to prevent more infections from the novel Coronavirus 19. They decided that as a minimum that even improvised masks could reduce the spread of the virus, even though the masks might not be fully effective. However, I was recommending that to my chain of command every time that I could over the past month, only to be told that the Navy was following CDC guidelines.
I have served as an ICU and ER Chaplain during two pandemics and I have to say that some protection, any protection, is better than none. So I went to work yesterday with the mask that Judy made for me and began my walk-about ministry for the the day. it is amazing how serious most people are taking things now versus a week or two ago. I guess we are finally waking up to the fact that the novel Coronavirus 19 is like nothing we have dealt with in our lifetimes, and it is changing the world that we live in before our very eyes. What we thought was true just a few weeks ago, and our supposed invulnerability to disaster or disease, has been shattered.
I lost count of the number of people I spent time with and checked on throughout the day. Tomorrow I will do more of the same with other across the shipyard. One of my jobs as a Chaplain is to help advise the Commander and other leaders of the pulse of the command, without breaking anyone’s confidentiality. I can say that morale among our sailors and civilian workers is pretty good, although there is a lot of anxiety about the COVID 19 pandemic, and all the economic, social, and family impacts that it is causing.
The fact is that people matter. I will do video, phone, email, or other types of non-face to face ministry, in fact I advertise that fact, but where I really belong is doing face to face ministry, within the confines of social distancing, with my face mask and gloves on, is walking, listening, talking, caring, sharing, and praying for our people. My God, the burdens that they are carrying are immense, as I am sure that yours are at this time.
Thankfully, where I work, we have a caring chain of command, and I am blessed to be serving where I am now. Not everyone can say that about their workplace, military or civilian. Our people, military and civilian alike make me proud, and it is an honor to serve them in a time of crisis. A longtime friend, and reader of my writings here had misunderstood some things I said. He wrote me a long and thoughtful private email. I have known him since I was a sophomore in high school, and his dad, a pastor played an important part in my life and ministry, until he unexpectedly died on an operating table at the hospital where he served as a chaplain.
Instead of being offended I took the time to write my friend back, to both thank him for his thoughts, express my continued thoughts and appreciation of him, and let him know that he and his family were never out of my prayers. I then took the time to explain things in my life that led me to where and who I am today, that he might have misinterpreted. He replied, that my explanation really helped understand why I write the way that I do, and he said, “it looks like all that you have been through before have been preparing you for today.” I agree with that assessment, without all the things that I have been through, experienced, learned, and sometimes painfully grown from, all have helped prepare me for today.
Let’s face it, it is really hard to completely convey one’s story unless you occasionally share a meal, visit, or drink together. The virtual world of blogs, social media, texts, and instant messaging is helpful, but it is not the same as sitting alongside one another. This my preference, despite being an extreme introvert, to push out where my people are, and yes, social distancing is painful, but unfortunately necessary right now, but within the guidelines I still push myself out, when all the other institutional caregivers switch to non-face to face mediums. I do use them, but as a back up to face to face, mask and gloves, observing proper social distance visits to the places where my people work.
So with that being said I must lay down my head, say a few prayers and read myself to sleep with our oldest dog surprisingly snuggled at my feet.
Until tomorrow, stay safe and be careful out there.