I deliberately exposed my kids to, and raised them on what I refer to as real music. They, of course, were also exposed to Baby Einstein, Backyardigans (which I did secretly enjoy), and too many versions of the ABCs. However, when they were with me, or when I played my guitar, there was very little toddler music. It was the likes of Blue Rodeo, Radiohead, Willie Nelson, Jim Croce, Sting, and Pearl Jam that became their soundtrack. In fact, one of my daughters has been drifting off to sleep with Rockabye Baby! Lullaby Renditions of Radiohead since her birth. Relevant to this post though, I want to reflect on Queen. My kids both love Queen.
It was a no-brainer then that they were going to see the Queen movie, Bohemian Rhapsody, when it came out. Once of course, I made sure it was age appropriate. It was.
They very much enjoyed the movie. After the movie, and coming out of the theater and during the car ride home they had some interesting questions though. It evolved into a conversation that I wasn’t expecting, and one that dealt with concepts difficult to contextualize for them. I cherished the discussion however, and the depth of their questions; I was, I dare say, proud.
Trying To Explain AIDS And The Cold War
One of the main questions was about Freddie Mercury’s sexuality and lifestyle. Specifically, about the AIDS that took him from us. What I took note of immediately was how homosexuality and the concept of being gay was completely normal and accepted by them. Not the case in my youth.
Trying to explain the scope of the AIDS epidemic, and the omnipresent threat of nuclear war was difficult. There was just no way for them to grasp this. My kids were born after the numerous major events of the 80’s, 90’s, and 2000’s. Even 9/11, though familiar, was too far removed for them, despite the multiple deployments I had to Afghanistan during their early lives. The Swine Flu of 2009 is the only real threat thus far in their lifetimes, outside the ISIS terror; neither of which were much more than footnotes to their daily existence.
With the current COVID-19 threat, and its substantial and undeniable impacts to everyone, it got me thinking about that conversation with my kids. Trying to explain AIDS (and the Cold War) as a global threat in the 80’s, wasn’t easy. They’ll understand it better now.
It also got me thinking about all the times in my life that I felt a threat to my freedom and way of life. When COVID-19 began evolving, and imposed the current, and possibly tightening, restrictions both globally and at home, I was surprised to hear chatter about how we had never been through this before, and that there wasn’t a reference for this from which we could draw from. I disagree.
We’ve been through similar before. We have reference points to draw from. Let me expound.
I was born in the early 70’s and lived my teen years through the 80’s. In the 70’s, the Vietnam War ended, and with that I grew up with a hard-to-understand reference to that war being likened to Hell. More tragic though, was the fashion disaster of the 70’s. I know my parents loved me, but seriously:
In the 80’s, I was acutely aware of the Cold War and the threat it posed. Gorbachev was a name I new well, and references like ‘Visit Russia before Russia visits you’ were the norm. The movie Red Dawn only stoked fears. Between the threat of invasion and the nuclear standoff of Mutually Assured Destruction, liberty didn’t seem guaranteed. Also true of the threat AIDS posed, although this really hit me in the 90’s.
The Teen Years And Into Adulthood
AIDS became a global threat and hit close to home. With no cure and speculation aplenty, it was an interesting time to live through. No wonder we Gen X’ers, coming into the 90’s, we were wrought with angst and a terminal view. AIDS hit home for real. I lost no friends; but acquaintances, many. We did have the Gulf War, but it didn’t have the same impact as the Cold War did. It didn’t seem like a looming threat, but, we watched it live and lived it daily. Now, the Ice Storm of ’98, that was an event that hit home. It was localized, but since I deployed with the army to assist with it, it was very real for me; and the lessons from that event surely will be played out in our current response. I have heard it referred to at least once in the past week.
As an aside, I also had to make a decision in 1994 whether to follow through on travel plans to India, which was dealing with an outbreak of bubonic and pneumonic plague. I did go. I will think on the cleverness of that decision as a result of recalling this fact in the writing of this post.
Adversity In Adutlhood
Pre-Internet, and moving around for weeks without contact during the Ice Storm, it, again, wasn’t broadly threatening, but it was real, and it was tangible. I saw the best of humanity, and I saw the worst during this time. At the beginning it was all-hands on deck and communities came together. In time though, and especially when normality began to be restored, the generators began disappearing, and the food stocks were being pilfered. The one thing that really got to me though was when the impatience began to show from those we were helping only days before. I clearly recall drivers honking their impatience and trying to get around our efforts to direct traffic as we helped the hydro teams dig out power lines and enable them to raise and reset the power lines and poles. Human nature.
Of course 9/11 will live in infamy. I was deployed to Bosnia when the towers came down. Waking up to that event left one feeling stranded. Do we plead with our loved ones back home to avoid gathering to mourn, for fear it might provide a target? When the towers settled in the Manhattan streets, we deployed soldiers were told we might not be heading home, and instead might need to back-fill the US commitment as they took up arms in Afghanistan. The unknown, and the uneasy sense of having no control of circumstance were becoming my norm.
Home safe at the end of 2001, life was barely back to normal before SARS hit in 2003. My wife worked the SARS epidemic and I can assure that is a marker for her. In August of 2006 the power went out in Ontario and Quebec. With no access to cash from ATMs and with everything shutdown, I for one now always keep a little cash on hand and some emergency supplies ready. Of course, in a similar vein to COVID-19, let’s not forget the Swine Flu of 2009. In 2010 the earthquake in Haiti had the world’s attention. In 2013 it was Ebola. So too, ISIS emerged, and by 2014 their ability to target any nation was a true threat; and one that struck even here in Ottawa.
Now, I acknowledge that COVID-19 is different. I suspect that not since World War II have the measures we are currently seeing been imposed. And of course, with the ability for so many bodies to traverse the globe so quickly, this is a no-shit issue. My family, for one, is taking this very seriously. Time will tell how the history books take account of this, and what lessons are learned from it.
Bringing It Back To Queen
So how does this all tie back to Queen and Bohemian Rhapsody? Well, I no longer have to try to explain to my kids how AIDS was a scary threat from the 80’s; which they were struggling to comprehend. They now have their version of the AIDS epidemic. Their lives have now been altered. There sense of normal and secure, safe and limitless, has been challenged. This is a moment of growth for them. They do understand that they are living a moment of history. It doesn’t need to be explained. Although I am not happy for the emergence and threat of COVID-19, I will concede some satisfaction that they are now having their reality checked. No one wishes ill on their children. However, this moment of perspective may hold some good for this often shallow 21st century first-world existence. Growth in this instance is inevitable.
I will not make light of the threat we currently face. I am pleased thus far with our government’s, and my fellow Canadians actions. This may change. The Ice Storm and human nature suggest so. I will hold out faith though. We can do this.
Without diminishing the severity of the COVID-19 threat, I will offer some perspective I have, and now, draw from: we have seen our social lives restricted in a way not known to many of us. It may get worse, maybe even much worse, before it gets better. For now though, I would like to offer that Ann Frank is a good source to measure perspective. Despite the current and potential restrictions, we are openly limited. Ann Frank was not. She lived with her family in an attic with a level of caution I hope we never get to. Even if we get fully locked down, nobody is coming looking for us to do us harm. We are all in this together.
Even if we become completely home-bound, I can take solace in the fact that we can at least openly reach out to family and friends, neighbours and community. We can step outdoors, if only onto a balcony or into a backyard. The threat to life is still, at least as of this writing, manageable, and again, something we can deal with without having to hide. I know I am going to be reading Ann Frank’s diary again. I will try sharing this experience with my kids.
I’ll finish with another book referral and perspective to consider as we self-isolate and exercise social distancing. Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search For Meaning is often a recommended read. Frankl was, among other notables, a Holocaust survivor. It doesn’t get worse than that. Yet he was still able to come out with this sage observation:
“Our greatest freedom is the freedom to choose our attitude.”
And that although one can’t control circumstance, one can control ones’ response to them. Even in suffering we have freedom of choice. Let’s keep this in mind as we deal with COVID-19.
Be kind. Be grateful. Increasingly, be patient. Take the necessary measures and remember, we have been through this before. We can get through this again. Truly, in this instance, unlike the others (save maybe SARS) we are in this together. Politics, religion, nationality, ethnicity, sexuality, none of it matters.
Just to visually put COVID-19 into perspective, I found this cool info-graphic – COVID-19 InfoGraphic