Generations of Courage

Nice to read and hear so many stories over the past few weeks about the resilience and courage of citizens at home and abroad as they face man made terror or natural disasters of floods, volcanic explosions or major earthquakes.

But I am not impressed with the tone of the reporters worldwide who report with a note of proud surprise that citizens of the world, circa 2016, can be so brave in adversity and so caring for each other in their fight for survival and recovery. I do not question the veracity of their stories, but am constantly amazed that they write as though the terrors are new with the united courage to face them happening for the first time.

I can only assume the stories of self-sacrifice and neighbour helping neighbour are being told by post Second World War baby boomers and the X,Y,Z generations following them; generations that had never listened to their parents or grandparents. Or if they had listened, had paid scant attention, dismissing as boring, old stories of nightmares lived through, of courageous survivors and neighbours who cared and shared in times of duress.

For some the old wartime catch phrase “keep calm and carry on” was recited with a hint of laughter as funny as the now old codgers who once proudly recited the words as they stepped from air raid shelters into smoke filled dawns to look on devastated homes but kept calm and carried on.

Not an easy thing to do, then or now. When confronted with destruction of hearth and home tears and despair flow easily. But so does the calm joy of survival and the need to take courage, to clean up and start rebuilding. It’s the way we were, the way we are, the way I hope we shall always be in time of trouble.

I remember my mother standing in the doorway to her always immaculate kitchen and weeping as she watched rain water cascading down a stair case before mixing on the scrubbed flagstone floor into a black sludge with soot bomb-shaken from a fire place chimney. The slate roof to our house – and our neighbours’  houses – lay shattered in the street. Rain had started to fall as the air raid all clear sounded.

She shed brief tears, ordered my sister to find a broom, shovel and mop. The cleanup had started. I was dispatched to check on an elderly couple living next door: “Make sure they’re alright and if they need anything … and then run up the street to see if Hannah Towers and her baby are alright and if they need anything and then run to meet your dad walking home from night shift to tell him we were all okay.” Mother didn’t want him turning a corner and fearing the worst when he saw a row of ruined houses.

My mother was not unusual. She was just one more among millions of mothers to whom “keep calm and carry on” was more than a catchy saying. It was an essential reaction when disaster, whether man made or by nature, brought  unprecedented harm our way. And it’s comforting to know the genes of chivalry are still alive and well capable of surviving the cruelest of blows man or nature can deliver.

I just wish media in all its twittering forms would be less breathtaking in its reporting and, well, just “keep calm and carry on.”

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