I am presently reading The Guernsey Literary and Potato Peel Pie Society – a novel. I am not far along, but already I have found myself thinking of my grandparents, and all the women and men of their generation, and shaking my head in amazement.
This book is set in the U.K., shortly after the end of World War II. My own grandparents are American, so were not affected in the same ways as these characters, but still went through many similar and difficult experiences. One of my grandfathers was in the Navy, the other parachuted into Normandy; both my grandmas had the experience of parenting their first child alone for a time. These things, and all the attending complexities, are not for the faint of heart.
In this book, one character speaks in a deliberately cavalier fashion about her flat, or rather her ex-flat, which was bombed. (Flattened? Un-flattened? Heh. See, I feel I can make a tiny joke because the character does. In fact, part of the story is about the necessity of finding humour in the midst of – and at the expense of – the war’s darkness.) As I said, it makes me shake my head, amazed
at the way humans adapt to harrowing circumstances,
at the horrors humans are capable of perpetrating,
at the creativity that is born when people are given constraints such as rationing and curfews,
at all the things we take for granted every single day,
that all this flat-bombing and rationing and confiscating and hiding and secretly resisting and escaping and grieving and attacking and starving and killing and surviving happened so recently,
and especially that all this still happens in many parts of the world. It’s happening right now, this very second. People are losing their loved ones, children are seeing things they should not see, lives are being disfigured. But these conflicts seem far away as we trot about our errands amongst bounty and twinkle lights.
I’m not saying this to be a bummer. I’m saying it because I try to remind myself every day of how fortunate I am. I maintain I’m the luckiest woman in the world, and I appreciate it, feel grateful for it, at every opportunity.
I mentioned this to my grandma once, and she said she felt the same way. She lived during the war. She went through fear and worry for her husband and family of a kind I hope I’ll never experience. Her husband is no longer with her on Earth. She deals with the not-insignificant challenges of age on a daily basis. But she had great love with her husband, and still does with her family, and I know she also reminds herself of what’s important: folks who love you, a good meal, a special song, an interesting conversation, a warm sweater when it’s cold, a cool breeze when it’s hot, hugs, kisses, stories, daydreams, memories. These are the things we must remember to savour, because that’s when we feel the breadth and depth of our good fortune. I hope I’ll still be remembering this in sixty years, gracefully and graciously, like my grandmas.