“These are the times that try men’s souls,” Thomas Paine wrote as America struggled to birth itself. Now, we face the coronavirus pandemic. To strengthen our souls, looking back may offer a clearer picture of the future.

Is the sky falling? Gray clouds have gathered and they’re darkening. According to Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, “It is going to get worse.” At my age, Covid-19 poses a risk, although my health is excellent. Still, the world won’t come to an end.

Am I a Pollyanna? No, a realist. Major events of my 75-year lifetime provide some perspective.

When I was six, Americans were fighting in Korea—wherever that was. At P.S. 174 in Queens, I joined classmates in duck-and-cover drills to protect from a Soviet nuclear attack on New York. Polio still took a heavy toll on children. A friend survived it but emerged with a limp.

Jim Crow was alive and well in the south and practiced unofficially elsewhere. This, too, was a health scare since African Americans’ health was imperiled by being hung from a tree or shot or burned while at home.

The Cold War produced Vietnam. The American toll in Southeast Asia totaled 58,000, including my friend 1LT Howie Schnabolk, an Army medevac pilot shot down on 3 August 1967. Killed and wounded GIs were just part of the story.

The nation was coming apart at the seams. Nightsticks and dogs attacked civil rights marchers. Martin Luther King was assassinated, which led to riots producing death and destruction in urban ghettos. Political unrest forced Lyndon Johnson to forego running for another term as president in 1968. Which gave us Richard Nixon.

American industry took a header. Japanese cars battered Detroit. Then all sorts of industrial jobs fled the Midwest—soon to be known as the Rust Belt—for the American south and then Asia. AIDS emerged in the 1980s. It took the lives of as many as 700,000 Americans, including three of my fraternity brothers.

In the ’90s, the Boom lifted a lot of people’s spirits—until the Bust sent them plummeting. On 9/11, the Twin Towers fell and turmoil reigned. The nation rose up yet launched a foolish and costly war with Iraq. The stock market soared again until, in 2008, the financial industry collapsed with the market hitting its low point in March 2009.

Yet even recovery from the Great Recession wasn’t enough to calm a deeply divided America. Donald Trump won the presidency in 2016.

I’ve seen a lot, but so did my parents: The First World War, the Spanish flu (1918-20) which killed over 50 million worldwide and more than half a million Americans, the Depression, World War Two.

In time of crisis, I turn to the English writer Rudyard Kipling: “If you can keep your head when all about you / Are losing theirs and blaming it on you . . . you’ll be a Man my son!”

Keep washing your hands. Keep maintaining your social distance. Keep your head on your shoulders and your chin up. Male, female or nonbinary, you’ll be a mensch. And as a nation, we’ll get to sing along with another Briton, Elton John: “I’m Still Standing.”

To respond, click on “comments” to the right just below the title of this post. Then go to the response space at the bottom of the post.


  1. Davud Sperber on March 13, 2020 at 5:41 pm

    Wise and assuring words. They are truly needed right now

    • David on March 13, 2020 at 6:01 pm

      Thanks, David. It’s possible to see the seriousness of a situation while holding on to a vision of what comes after.

  2. Michelle de Grasse on March 13, 2020 at 6:03 pm

    Yes! Perfectly put! Thank you for writing this, David! I’m going to share this post as much as possible, because it’s so necessary. All the fear-mongering and panic is not helping, and it’s bringing out the worst in people.

    • David on March 13, 2020 at 6:52 pm

      What’s challenging, Michelle, is determining where the line is between precaution and panic. Stay calm, stay healthy. And Shabbat Shalom!

      • Michelle de Grasse on March 13, 2020 at 7:59 pm

        I can’t afford to give in to panic, because I already have clinical anxiety. I have to do the work I’ve learned in therapy and try to do what I can to be safe about things, and trust that this will be over just like all the events in history you wrote about that have caused mass panic and fear. The line has to be drawn, if only by training my brain to draw it.

        Shabbat Shalom, my friend!

  3. Susan E Shapiro on March 14, 2020 at 3:23 pm

    Love it, David. I share your perspective, as do others in my circle who are “of an age.” I plan to share these “Perls…” with my friends and family

    • David on March 14, 2020 at 3:56 pm

      Thanks, Susan. And thanks for using the “Perls of wisdom” image. Haven’t heard it in . . . days. Shabbat Shalom!

  4. Sue Levine on March 14, 2020 at 4:53 pm

    Very well said. Don’t Panic… Be Smart ….

    • David on March 14, 2020 at 5:53 pm

      Sue, it’s amazing how much doing the right thing helps in any situation. Thanks.

  5. Kay Zaks on March 15, 2020 at 3:58 am

    Brother, you are the voice of reason in this crazy world. I have passed this on to many friends and they are passing it on to their loved ones.

    • David on March 15, 2020 at 4:52 am

      Thanks, Kay. The situation is serious, but we can respond to it.

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