Constancy & Uncertainty

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.

Constancy & Uncertainty

7 thoughts on “Constancy & Uncertainty

  1. I think honestly that generation was very, very damaged by the war and probably a great number of problems are traceable to the fact of nearly the entire young, male population being traumatized. Yes, they did have gumption, but I suspect a lot of them also beat their children and drank themselves to death. It’s just a hunch.


  2. I have an uncle that never did figure out something constructive to do with his rage post WWII. There wasn’t a happy outcome for him or my Aunt… or at least not the kind of happy that we define as constructive and conducive to the well being of all. But I don’t remember my aunt ever complaining or acting like she was owed something different. It wasn’t pretty, and I don’t advocate for it at all. I’m not saying that the abuse and insanity she suffered was a good thing. However, she knew how to carry on with a little dignity and not much whining. And *that* is the part that seems like a lost art… making the best of it and doing things that need doing, even when they’re hard. In truth, everything costs something and that generation paid a high price. The generation after it had rough childhoods and the next generation (we’re probably at the Millennials) suffers from their parent’s over-reaction to *their* parents.


  3. I do think that’s a good thing, but not complaining is sometimes also about not expecting other choices. And that’s probably not a good thing.

    My grandmother was still complaining about the Japanese taking her husband away from her (quite temporarily–he returned completely unharmed and had a non-combat position) fully 50 years later, so I don’t think that stiff upper lip is a universal trait of that generation. Probably a bit of a tendency, but also something special about your family. That particular grandmother, although quite able to roll her sleeves up and pitch in to make things work, was quite a whiner. One of her favorite Sunday afternoon activities was to invite her elderly friends over for lunch, and they would sit in the livingroom afterwards leisurely and quite pleasantly complain loudly about all of their physical ailments. They seemed to enjoy this much like a competition. She seemed quite able to both complain and make the best of things.


  4. night owl says:

    Trauma doesn’t depend on war. The susceptibility to PTSD and trauma-related anxiety and depression has a large genetic component, just as emotional resilience is as much nature as nurture. Working at a mental health practice, I am continually fascinated how the seemingly most insignificant of childhood traumas derail some people, while others survive and thrive under horrors unimaginable to most sane minds.
    I come from one of those families that bred violent abusers. The cycle of anger and depression is visible back to the 19th century. Perhaps my Scots-Irish and German ancestors brought it with them while packed in the steerage section of creaky ocean liners. My particular strategy to deal with this sad history is to say, “the abuse stops here, with me.”


  5. I’ve got parts of my family that have similar issues – same genetic heritage too, excepting the Irish…. In my case, my grandfather was the one that made the stand.

    Resilience is a funny thing. You never know if you’ve got enough of it hanging around until you’re in desperate need of it.


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