My reading material of choice is historical fiction. I enjoy reading across most periods, but lately my favorite has been World War II era. The stories of the “Greatest Generation” have so much to teach us, and certainly memoirs and biography would be the most accurate way to learn those stories. But sometimes it’s just too hard to hear the accounts of what befell real people during those perilous years.
About a year ago, I picked up a novel called The True Story of Hansel and Gretel by Louise Murphy at my local library. That book led me to The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society. Then came The Bronze Horseman and its two sequels, followed by City of Thieves, and The Madonnas of Leningrad. And the list goes on, with the most recent entry called Purge by Sofi Oksanen. A common theme in all of these novels is survival. World War II brought the ultimate in hard times, particularly for those living in Europe. (I’m specifically not writing about Holocaust survivors and victims. It’s offensive to call what they experienced merely “hard times.”)
Imagine living each day with the threat of invasion of your country and then the fall of your country to the enemy. Random nightly bombings in your city. Neighbors disappearing or being taken away right in front of you. Sharing one slice of bread with your family as your only meal of the day–and the bread is made from sawdust. There’s no gasoline, electricity, or heating oil. Can any of us in America imagine such things? Certainly, America was hard hit by the Great Depression, but World War II actually rescued us from it. And I would argue that our hard times during the Great Depression don’t hold a candle to those of people who lived in the war zones of World War II.
I realize we are in the middle of a long and deep economic crisis right now. Unemployment touches so many families, including my own. But I believe Americans in general have yet to really experience hardship. We are not fighting every day for our survival. We still have our air conditioning, cable TV, mobile phones, and gas in our multiple cars. Our kids can still go to school instead of scrounging for firewood. Even our pets are well-fed instead of in danger of ending up as someone’s meal. And we can spend the next few months deciding on candidates we like in our next free elections.
I read so much in the news about what we don’t have: free health care, more unemployment benefits, pension bailout, etc. I think it’s important to take stock of what we have from time to time. We still have (for now) the freedom to save or spend as we wish, take a job that pays the bills or sit around collecting unemployment, volunteer to defend our country in the military or let someone else bear that burden. Those who lived to tell about the siege of Leningrad, the Blitz in London, or the Soviet-German-Soviet invasions of Eastern Europe could rightly ask, “What does America have to complain about?”
In other words: check your attitude and count your blessings.