Everyone has their own ways of coping with stress.
One of mine is to find perspective and inspiration from the lessons of history. As a longtime reader of history and a student of human nature (which is really the same thing) I have benefited many times in my life from the harrowing experiences of others who came before me.
I have several favorite go-to periods in U.S. history that I often consider when I feel overwhelmed, and especially when I realize my best efforts may not be enough to shape the future into what I wish it to be.
As the coronavirus has spread around the globe and devastated our nation’s economy over the past few weeks, I’ve been reminded, probably along with many of you, of just how little control we really have over our lives.
Uncertain times, like the ones we are living in today, is when my love of history helps me the most.
The fact that Abraham Lincoln was unsure of many things as he led our country through a bloody civil war is somehow comforting. Some of the time he was absolutely despondent, but he persevered.
Others who played key roles in the same struggle, such as Frederick Douglass, spent practically their entire lives fighting against slavery with no knowledge they would live to see its abolition.
Douglass, like Lincoln, couldn’t have known history before its time, but both men made the best decisions they could day after day under difficult circumstances hoping for the best.
The same could be said of women such as Alice Paul, who agitated her way into prison while fighting for the righteous cause of women’s voting rights.
More recently, during World War II, Gen. Dwight D. Eisenhower, on the eve of the successful Allied invasion of Normandy, wrote a statement taking responsibility for the attack’s failure in case that’s what happened.
When President John F. Kennedy addressed the nation on October 22, 1962, during the Cuban Missile Crisis, he could not have known for sure that Americans would wake up safe for even one more day.
All of these now historical moments were once happening in real time with outcomes that were anything but certain. History helps me remember that the journey through hardship is rarely a straight line and that the road is often poorly marked.
Just as important, studying the past brings me the much needed knowledge that others who have come before us have managed through difficulties every bit as scary as what we are facing today.
So once again, in this time of crisis, I’ve turned to Lincoln, a go-to for me when I feel uncertain. I’ve picked up a new book titled The Fiery Trial, a Pulitzer Prize winner by Eric Foner, from which I’ll likely learn more about Lincoln’s formative years and his decision-making during our nation’s greatest crisis.
I plan to read it mostly from the comfort of my favorite chair, the one next to my bedroom window overlooking a serene, rolling piece of Jackson County’s countryside.
From there, I’ll become a student of Lincoln once again, paying particular attention to his humility, grit and grace and trying my best to make a little bit of it rub off on me.