Through times both thick and thin
Daily I look up at the photo of my grandfather, who ran our hometown paper from 1936 and continued to work until the day he died at age 84. (There are pics of my greatgrandfather and my father, too, all inspiring publishers.)
I look to those men — and also Art Kowert and Terry Collier here in Fredericksburg — for inspiration during this trying time. Our small business, like so many others, is going to struggle for a while due to this coronavirus. The threat of COVID-19 — the strain of coronavirus that threatens everyone no matter age, race or political party — has pressured our healthcare system already and we may not even be topping out of infected cases.
There is a misconception that because someone owns a business, or manages one, that their financial worries are gone. For a few fortunate souls, that may be true. But for most, the amount of leftover revenue is a fraction of what comes in when we consider employee pay, insurance, rent, cost of goods, and many other expenses. Even profitable businesses that are run by folks smarter than yours truly may now struggle as we deal with a near complete shutdown of commerce.
Yet, I look to my grandfather, “Poppy,” we called him, because he ran our hometown newspaper through The Great Depression and during World War II. You can tell looking back at our files, where every issue is collected into a bound volume, that there were “thin years” during those historic events. Advertising, a newspaper’s largest revenue source, dropped a lot in those times.
Coming from a small town, my grandfather would let some people barter for their subscriptions or their advertising bills. Sometimes it was produce, sometimes eggs. And occasionally, livestock. Probably made for some lively front office discussion as the feathers flew when settling up a bill. (That practice continued into the early 1980s for at least one old-timer in our hometown.)
One good thing about times of struggle is that we are reminded of the things that matter. My desire for a new iPhone with the whizbang new camera was shelved weeks ago. We are incredibly grateful that our family is healthy and that our son made it home before travel was shut down. (His AmeriCorps program was suspended for the time being, and he worried he would be stuck.)
I am also thankful that technology allows our church to bring its inspirational messages. My Pastor George Lumpkin’s calm voice is so needed in these hectic, crazy, uncertain times. Like many churches, ours is experimenting with different ways to deliver their message of hope. Last Sunday, musicians used the Zoom video-conference program to perform, each musician in a different spot to uphold distancing.
And though we see some ugliness and greed in these times, we also see the goodness of our neighbors and our fellow Fredericksburgers. We see donations rise, volunteering spike, and sharing of goods and skills. A virus can’t take away the strength of this community, and neither could the Depression of wars.
Isolation seems to make these times more trying than most. Columnist Frank Bruni wrote that it’s another cruel aspect of this global pandemic: “At the very moment when many of us hunger most for the reassurance of company and the solace of community, we’re hustled into isolation.
At the very moment when we most desperately crave distraction, many of our favorite means of release are off limits.
… “That rules out, say, a childen’s soccer match. That forbids church. Americans who pray are no doubt doing that more and harder than ever, but not among the stained-glass symbols of God, with the balm of a pastor, rabbi or imam close at hand.”
One of my favorite writers, David Brooks, posed some introspective questions in a recent column. He and Bruni are both based in New York, where the threat is more imminent, but Brooks posed some fundamental questions that we all can consider:
“Are you ready to die? Would you be content with the life you’ve lived?
“What would you do if a loved one died? Do you know where your most trusted spiritual and relational resources lie?
“What role do you play in this crisis? What is the specific way you are situated to serve?”
If we can get past our initial panic — say, once our cupboards are bursting with toilet paper — we might use this time to reflect and think about the things that inspire us and hold us together during hard times. As Brooks said, “... meaning is a vital medication for the soul.”
We can’t barter our souls for produce or livestock, so let’s hope they are being judged on good and kind deeds in times of trial.
God bless, and do good.