Back in World War II, when your boyfriend/husband went to war, I suppose you lived on letters that might take months to arrive. In between, you lived on constancy and faith. Surely there must have been the same sense of uncertainty that we feel now when subjected to an absence or a silence. Yet constancy was the norm. You waited. You did what had to be done and you sang one of the best wartime songs ever written, P.S. I love you, like it was written for you. What else were you going to do but live with it?
And then your man came home and he wasn’t the same. He had nightmares and silences and refused to about it. You didn’t understand it, there weren’t words for it. You just sort of made do. The social landscape hadn’t been made over with easy heuristics invented by pop psychology and disseminated by a yawning self-help section at your local bookstore. Stoicism and privacy were still good old fashioned American values. Dealing with it. Making do. We knew how to do that.
We make a lot out of the Greatest Generation, those that battled fascism and all of its offshoots in Europe. As we should. But there were those that stayed home, too. Rosie the Riveter that stepped up and took over the men’s work to keep the tanks coming, then stepped back so her husband could be the breadwinner. Rosie the Riveter that had the camaraderie of girls until her man came home and then managed his nightmares and hyper-vigilance (things that we now associate with PTSD) in isolation. It wasn’t perfect. They weren’t perfect parents and they didn’t have perfect marriages. But they managed constancy and uncertainty with a lot less whining than we’re capable of now. They called it gumption.
I’m sure we’ve got other virtues. Flexibility, transparency, challenging the ought-to’s and supposed-to’s . And maybe losing constancy and gumption isn’t such a terrible trade-off. I’m just not 100% convinced.