“Unprecedented.” It’s a word we’ve seen and heard a lot lately. It refers to “an event without previous instance; never before known or experienced.” Unprecedented and its cousin adjectives, “unparalleled” and “unfathomable” are frequently used to describe the current COVID-19 pandemic.
It’s true. We’ve never been through anything like this in our lifetimes. It’s threatening our lives – and our livelihoods – and it’s disrupted everything, everywhere on the planet. Right this minute we don’t know how long it’ll take before we get a handle on the spread of the disease, or when we can expect things to return to some semblance of normal in our daily lives and businesses.
When we’re mired in the muck of uncertainty it can be hard to imagine that things will ever get better. This is precisely why I want you to play a brief game of make-believe with me.
Here goes. Most people working in the scuba industry today were born between 1958 and 1988. Except let’s pretend you were born in 1908. By the time you were age six, the world was beginning what people called “The War to End All Wars.” The United States entered into that horrific war in 1918, just as you were celebrating your 10th birthday.
The following year, 1919, the Spanish influenza pandemic swept the globe. It infected over 500 million people, killing 50 to 100 million. Thankfully, you were too young to fight a war and you and your family weren’t stricken by illness.
When you were 21, the stock market collapsed, triggering the decade-long Great Depression. Jobs were scarce. You struggled to stay employed, housed and fed.
During the mid- to late-1930s you were just getting back on your feet and working hard to provide for your young family when the next catastrophic conflict, World War II, plunged the world into chaos. Like so many people your age, you went off to fight a war on foreign soil, wondering if you’d survive and have the chance to see your family again.
I could continue to list a variety of conflicts and crises from one decade to the next, but I’ll stop here because I think you get the picture.
All of these tragic events happened well within the span of one lifetime, from the early 1900s to the mid-1940s. My goal is simply to give you a way to use history to reframe what’s happening in your life, and in our world right now. Looking forward isn’t easy, but looking back can give us valuable perspective.
You didn’t live through the Spanish influenza pandemic and you didn’t endure either World War, but your ancestors did. Your parents, grandparents and great-grandparents lived during “unprecedented” events. They worried about illness and jobs and money and personal safety and putting food on the table – the same as you’re doing right now. And they did it all without Netflix or Facebook or Amazon Prime deliveries.
Remember this: you come from strong stock. You come from a long line of people who struggled and found a way through difficult times. You can find your way, too.
Yes, this COVID-19 time does qualify as unprecedented and unparalleled and unfathomable and a whole lot of “uns.” But it’s not unstoppable. This will end. In the meantime, don’t let it make you come undone. You’re here because the people who came before you had what it takes to get through hard times. You’ve got it in you, too.