In the midst of the expanding coronavirus pandemic I’m reading “The Splendid and the Vile,” the bestseller by historian/author Erik Larson, and came across this sentence: “Here, in the midst of a world conflagration, came proof that the greater rhythms of life persisted and that a future lay ahead, despite the uncertain prospects of the moment.”

While the author’s words describe another nightmarish moment in world history – the Nazi’s anticipated all-out attack on the British Isles in 1940 – the sentiment expressed seems particularly resonant and hopeful for our own time in this dangerous age of COVID-19.

The book chronicles Prime Minister Winston Churchill’s plans to withstand the military assault and take the fight to Germany, turning the course of the war and preserving democratic Europe and “Christian civilization.” His fighting spirit, unflagging energy and eternal optimism in the face of overwhelming odds are inspirational and aspirational. Today’s leaders could learn something from The British Bulldog. He declared war on Germans; Trump has declared war on germs.

What jumped out at me, reading this passage while hunkered down at home and bemoaning my limited, isolated life, was the phrase “the greater rhythms of life persisted,” and it got me thinking. What are the greater rhythms of life? And how do we preserve them (or simply register them) in times of fear, illness and death?

While housebound during the crisis, our family forced forsythia, quince and rhododendron blossoms, bringing vibrant explosions of yellow, orange and purple into our otherwise drab, solitary lives. Spring is near, that annual miracle in Maine, and the world will turn, and to our delight present us with even greater gifts of color and fragrance.

The downtime we are experiencing gives us all the chance to ponder what’s most important and meaningful to us, like family, friends, pets, work, play, reading and writing, laughter, travel and toilet paper. We’re also gaining a greater appreciation for faith, hope, kindness and compassion.

On a somber note, it also provides the opportunity to ponder just how fragile our world really is, how easily it can become upended and unglued, and to think seriously about our mortality, a subject we typically ignore. At 66 I’m in no hurry to depart this Earth, but the possibility of death, the reality of it, enters my mind more often now. The coronavirus has accelerated this kind of thinking. We need to be prepared for when, not if, illness will strike.

A famous Churchill quote from the book feels particularly apt now: “Never in the field of human conflict has so much been owed by so many to so few.” He was describing the bravery and sacrifice of the Royal Air Force fighters who risked their lives defending their country in The Battle of Britain. Similar words surely apply to the frontline healthcare professionals and emergency responders who’re risking their lives to save ours, in a different but no less deadly kind of battle.

With gratitude, we’ll all rise up and bravely face an uncertain future.

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