Doing one’s duty.
We’re coming up on a year now since the stay-at-home orders began. In that time, I have been out of the house (i.e., beyond the street in front), a total of 14 times. Most of these were out of absolute necessity because of family health issues. Otherwise, I’ve been on lockdown.
I see others out and about on social media all the time. That’s cool. I don’t expect everyone, or anyone for that matter, to be like me. I just have a sense of duty to do my part in this war against this invisible enemy we can’t see, smell or hear.
Yes, duty. I’ve been thinking about how I grew up over the last few months as I live life in my self-made monastery. I’ve come to realize that I have a very different set of values than others. I supposed I gained it through osmosis in my youth. Or maybe it’s a generational thing.
As I was growing up, I can still remember the few times my father spoke about his service in World War II. He was a ground pounder in the Army. A lowly private, 19 years of age, sent to fight the Japanese in the Pacific. It was one bloody battle after another for four long years. At one point, my father was training for the invasion of mainland Japan, but a couple of atomic bombs saved him from that ordeal and probable demise.
My dad had already been through a lot by that time. He would reminisce about the many landings he did, where half of the soldiers on the landing craft were dead before they reached the shore. How the guy next to him took one in the head that with a simple pitch of the sea, could have ended up taking him out instead.
He spoke about the holes and caves he had to go into on the many islands that dot the Pacific. How the Japanese soldiers refused to surrender, believing the U.S. troops were lying to them. More often than not, they took their own life rather than be disgraced by surrender to the Allies.
I also think about my brother who went to Vietnam. He didn’t have to. He had a deferment because he worked for a military contractor. But he went anyway. He said it was his duty. That sense of duty almost killed him. He was attacked in the middle of the night at a bridge outpost. Instantly he was in a firefight with the Vietcong. They threw grenades, they shot at him. The only way he could save his life was to drop off the side of a bridge into barbed wire. It was a drop of about 25 feet. The enemy threw more grenades on him as he landed. He broke both legs, took a bullet in his arm and was still picking out shrapnel from his legs for when he returned home. His war injuries are one of the reasons he later drowned at the age of 24.
I think about my grandparents who immigrated from Russia. They had to flee the Cossacks and leave their land grants behind. They had to flee on foot, traveling hundreds of miles to get somewhere safe and could sail to America. They didn’t speak the language, didn’t know the customs, but the promise of America was worth the hardship, the risk, and most importantly, the sacrifice of having to start over from scratch in a land that was foreign to them.
And then I think of my own plight on lockdown. No one is shooting at me. No one is taking away my home or land. I have shelter and food. I am mostly healthy. I live a life that my parents would marvel at; a comfortable life where I don’t have to worry about the things they worried about – my dad and brother being shot at, my grandparents being thrown in the gulag, my mother having to forage for food during the Great Depression, wearing the only pair of shoes he father could afford.
All I have to do is stay home and be a good soldier. When I’m out, I need to physically distance, wash my hands and wear a mask. That’s it. That’s all the sacrifice I have to make. No food rationing coupons, no gas shortage, no blackouts at night or air raid sirens, no blistered feet from walking days and weeks, carrying everything I owned on my back.
This is my duty right now. To be safe, to contribute to this war effort against this invisible enemy and wait for reinforcements to arrive in the form of vaccines. It’s been a little less than a year now. Big deal. My dad did four in hellish conditions, my brother two in the stifling heat of the jungles of Southeast Asia. Others who came before them dug into the trenches in France or fought their brother hand to hand in the Civil War.
All my country is asking me is to be safe, be considerate, wait out the battle and try not to pass COVID onto others, and more important, overwhelm the healthcare system by being selfish and insisting on living life like it was normal.
It’s not. It wasn’t for my ancestors either. I can only imagine my father if he were still here, wondering what the hell is wrong with me because I think I need to go out to eat when there was a deadly virus making the rounds. How I would put myself and others in danger because I was in his mind, just being selfish and self-centered.
Again, I’m not judging others. They didn’t grow up in my family or have my dad. But his truth rings in my ears as I wait for help to arrive. I see the end is in sight, I’m not about to shirk my duty now and leave my post.
North of the Emerald City, content with my marching orders,