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Temporary troubles in a marathon

“Stop the world I wanna get off.”

Tea Bags For Tears, The Great Deep

I’ll bet many people have said that around the globe over the last few months. Pandemic, obliterated economies, job losses and social issues on a massive scale… it’s enough to make most of us want to throw in the towel.

How about you? How’re you doing?

For me, I’ve had this niggling thought for the longest time through lockdown, and it’s basically this: we were not meant to go through it all alone.

(Disclaimer: it’s a lyric on one of the songs on the upcoming Great Deep album called Tea Bags For Tears and I have blogged about that already.)

I think it’s a mistake for anyone to think that they are the only lone soul going through a tough time at the moment. I say this because I feel as though there is a generation that needs to hear it.

Consider for a moment my grandparent’s generation, who lived through two world wars and understood this concept of “grit” intrinsically. They understood the disruption to routine and “normality” (whatever that is). During their young adult years they lost jobs, businesses and loved ones. They looked around them at a world fundamentally changing and didn’t know whether it was for the better or for worse. What would the future bring? They didn’t know. Why was it happening? They didn’t know. However, they understood how to grit their way through those periods, both extrinsically and intrinsically.

Simple motto, really: Life is tough – deal with it.

Where did their grit come from? Were they born with it? Was it learned?

One thought I have is that their social circles were physical, not like today’s – which is mostly virtual (through phones or screens). Every encounter, every interaction, every shared experience was in-the-flesh. Every day, right in front them, they saw the good and the bad of a person and that person’s story, and they made their conclusions on others and the world around them based on this evidence.

Nowadays, most of the world is scrolling through social media feeds and making false conclusions based on everyone else’s life. But this is not new. It’s been this way for the past decade or more.

The issue right now though, is that there is no blueprint or model for grit, emotional toughness, care and support.

So what do we do?

How do we make sense of our own situations? How do we see that we’re not alone in our troubles and understand that we can actually make it through periods of hardship? It’s one thing to say “just deal with it” or “grit” your way through it… but how? And why should we?

Firstly, you might have heard that it’s healthy to take a long-term view of current events. We’re in a marathon, not a sprint. Understanding this Covid-19 period (and how we need to cope with it) as a marathon and not a sprint means you’ll preserve energy for sustaining some important changes that need to be made. Businesses folding and jobs lost are tough things. However, these things are not insurmountable as long as you have air in your lungs. It is possible to adjust, find a way through to a new kind of exciting and fulfilling life.

My grandfather’s family-owned grocery store.

My grandfather worked in and was poised to inherit a local grocery store that his father owned. His whole life he’d grown up understanding that this was where he was heading. His hopes, his dreams, his livelihood and his family’s future were all pinned to this little business.

Then suddenly one day, that all crashed and burned. The apartheid government’s Group Areas Act came into effect. It meant that no one in the population, who was registered as a white person, could live in the area. In his memoirs, my grandfather wrote:

“For us, this legislation meant that our store lost 80% of our customers in one year and gained none.

“The shop would not support one of us let alone two. Daphne and I soon came to the realisation that it would have to close. Almost at the same time large grocery chains opened: Pick ‘n Pay, Spar, Checkers, Woolworths.”

Here he was, a young married man with a family to feed, and his whole way of life was upended through no fault of his own.

I remember him telling me years later about how he mourned. He was angry with God, with the government, with life… and in proper despair.

He applied for various jobs with the new supermarket chains but nothing materialised. Then he applied for a post as an accounting clerk at Coronation Brick and Tile Company and was granted an interview.

“A vacancy occurred in the ‘non-european’ wage department,” he wrote. “The post was offered to me, I was ready to accept any post.”

By the time he retired, his three children had been through school and university, the mortgage was paid off and he had seen nine grandchildren arrive. And he was fighting fit. To cope with all the life still running through his veins, he continued to work his retirement years as an administrator at his local church, less to do with a need for money and more to do with not driving my grandmother completely insane!

Grandad, in his office, near retirement.

Grit. That’s what I think of when I think of generations before mine. And understanding that this season we’re in right now is a marathon, not a sprint.

I think it’s worth noting that grandad didn’t go it alone. He would often recall anecdotes of his working relationships with colleagues, for they enriched his life.

In light of this, there’s a lyric in Tea Bags For Tears from 2 Corinthians: “these are temporary woes”. We look at our fallen world right now and it might sound insensitive to say these are light and momentary troubles around us.

Do I have a lack of empathy for people’s situations? No. It’s hard. But it’s not insurmountable, and it’s not like we all have to go it alone.

A marathon takes grit. And we’re in a marathon.

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