The South Florida campus where I teach stretches over many acres. It is a lush, sub-tropical paradise of green spaces, palm trees, and variegated shrubs in an explosion of colors. Our easternmost border, affectionately dubbed the “Lower East Side” by several New York transplants, is located across the street from the Intracoastal Waterway.
Surrounded by such beauty, it is easy to be lulled into complacency about the reality of the harshness of life elsewhere. But since March 2020, elsewhere has been here and it has a name: Covid-19.
I sympathize with my students, most of them members of GenZ,1 arguably the most stressed-out generation. The last two years have been difficult for them. They were forced to wear masks for an entire year. Many faced quarantines with the resulting social isolation and, in some cases, weeks of attending lecture and laboratory classes through online, hybrid delivery.
What most herald as the best four years of a young adult’s life became a stressful and challenging test of endurance.
But every generation has had some idealistic experience taken away from them by the harsh realities of living in an imperfect world marred by sin and distorted from the perfection that its Creator had in mind at the outset.
My grandparents immigrated from Italy in the late nineteenth century when William McKinley was president. Like most immigrants, they came to America for a better life. It didn’t get off to a great start. McKinley was assassinated six months into his second term in 1901. Thirteen years later the First World War began, lasting until 1918. Immediately following, the Spanish Influenza pandemic 2 infected 500 million people worldwide, killing 10% of infected patients—3-5% of the world’s population. My grandparents also lived through the Great Depression,3 an economic crisis of unprecedented proportion, sparked by the 1929 stock market crash. Tough times persisted for a decade. My grandfather lost his job. They almost lost their home.
One of their four children was my dad. He was born in 1920, thus a member of the Greatest Generation.4 He too lived through the Great Depression and later, as an adult, the Japanese attack on Pearl Harbor and the subsequent Second World War.
My generation is the Baby Boomers. I grew up under the threat of nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Soviet Union and Cuba’s Fidel Castro. The Cuban Missile Crisis 5 in 1962 brought us to the brink of nuclear war. As a kindergartener, I remember the drills in our public school. A warning siren sounded followed by the announcement, “Take safest places. Take safest places,” and we went scurrying to our metal lockers away from the windows. Later in life, as a college freshman, the Vietnam War was winding down and five years later, Reagan’s presidency brought a calm to the world as the Berlin Wall crumbled and words such as glasnost and perestroika gave us hope that we would avoid mutually assured destruction.
Our two millennial sons were born into a time of relative calm until September 11 shattered our sense of security. We were living in New Jersey at the time, only 11 miles from the city. We could see the smoke rising from the rubble of the Twin Towers across the Hudson River. Then there was the anthrax scare shortly thereafter, a succession of wars in the Middle East, and the beheadings of innocent Americans by Islamic extremists.
In 2003, we traveled to China to adopt our first daughter at the same time the world was learning about SARS. By the time we got back to the States, panic was ensuing in China, the truth finally making its way past the communist media censors. The same crowded places that we had visited as tourists only four weeks earlier were now deserted.
Years later when our sons graduated from college, they were faced with a bleak job market as the Great Recession took the economy down in 2010.
We went back to China in 2005 to adopt another daughter. They are now both teenagers and members of GenZ. They along with most of my students have grown up in a world marred by gun violence. Their “Take safest places,” drills have been replaced by lockdowns.
The truth is that we do not live in a Garden of Eden. Each generation has faced its own challenges, some of them real existential threats.
The expression, “And it came to pass,” is one that is frequently repeated in the Bible, 463 times in the King James Version 6 beginning with Genesis 4:3 where “It came to pass that Cain brought the fruit of the ground an offering unto the Lord.” Stages in life, joyful or tragic, usually do not last forever. Even life itself “appears for a little while and then vanishes,” (James 4:14b).
It came to pass that my grandparents avoided the Spanish Influenza and survived the Great Depression. They didn’t lose their home and managed to raise four children (my two aunts, my uncle, and my dad) despite having humble means.
It came to pass that my dad wasn’t drafted to fight in World War II and went on to become a public-school teacher in New York City.
It came to pass that his son (me) avoided nuclear annihilation at the hands of the Soviet Union, both of our sons were spared terrorism’s reach and our girls have thankfully never encountered an active shooter.
As I look back through four generations I can “connect the dots,” so-to-speak. As Steve Jobs reminded his audience during a commencement address he delivered at Stanford University in 2005: “…[Y]ou can’t connect the dots looking forward; you can only connect them looking backward. So, you have to trust that the dots will somehow connect in your future.”7
Sadly, the rest of Job’s quote reads: “You have to trust in something — your gut, destiny, life, karma, whatever. This approach has never let me down, and it has made all the difference in my life.”
We can and must do better than whatever.
Covid-19 will come to pass in its time and life will resume a calmer rhythm. In the meantime, now is a good time to continue to remind ourselves and our students that although we cannot see the future, “connecting the dots forward,” if you will, God “has not given us a spirit of fear but of power and of love and of a sound mind,” (2 Timothy 1:7 NKJV).
- Bethune, Sophie, “Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns,” American Psychological Association, January 2019, Vol 50, No. 1 Gen Z more likely to report mental health concerns (apa.org)
- All About History, “Spanish flu: The deadliest pandemic in history,” March 12, 2020 Spanish flu: The deadliest pandemic in history | Live Science
- History.com Editors, “Great Depression History,” A&E Television Networks, Oct 29, 2009, Great Depression: Black Thursday, Facts & Effects – HISTORY
- Kagan, Julia, “The Greatest Generation,” Investopedia, April 26, 2021 The Greatest Generation Definition (investopedia.com)
- Department of State, Office of the Historian, “The Cuban Missile Crisis, October 1962” Milestones: 1961–1968 – Office of the Historian (state.gov)
- Bible Gateway https://www.biblegateway.com/quicksearch/?quicksearch=and+it+came+to+pass&qs_version=KJV
- Jobs, Steve, “’You’ve got to find what you love,’ Jobs says,” Stanford News, June 14, 2005 https://news.stanford.edu/2005/06/14/jobs-061505/