When I read the phrase that we are currently living in unprecedented times, I notice how I hold my breath and have a myriad of racing anxious thoughts. Recently I have been looking into family history and finding out more about my great grandmother’s husband. His name was Mr. Clark, and they spent most of their married life in Milwaukee, Wisconsin. In 1919, Mr. Clark had a bit of a run-in with the law, according to the 12 page FBI report I discovered. Transfixed, I read a typed out report of how the investigative officers were, it appears, quite determined to find as many infringements as possible on Mr. Clark, who was the owner of a bar in downtown Milwaukee. In one section they report him to be “in an intoxicated condition and defiant mood as regards the wartime Prohibition Act.”
Knowing very little about this time and place in history, I started searching the Internet to learn more about what it was like back then in 1918–1919. As a bar owner, many factors were stacked up against him. Mr. Clark had been required to complete a conscription form in 1918 just as World War I was coming to an end. He faced the possibility of having to fight in a war overseas. In my search, I found a poster that illustrated the perspective that patriotic Americans should cut booze as a part of the war effort. Lady Liberty stands over an un-American saloon owner and declares alcohol a “non-essential” luxury.
In December 1917, President Woodrow Wilson signed a proclamation forbidding brewers from brewing beverages with more than 2.75% alcohol by volume. Mr. Clark was found guilty of selling whiskey much stronger than that! On top of WWI and the prohibition laws, it was the time of the Spanish flu epidemic. In Milwaukee, they kept the bars open but the Health Commissioner’s solution to managing the spread of the virus was to drink quickly and leave.
I felt a wave of light wash over me as I appreciated just how challenging it must have been to live during this time, particularly being a bar owner like Mr. Clark. My perspective of the challenges that I am living through shifted and my self-pity sloughing off a little, leaving more room for gratitude. I remembered that we have no control over some of the events that happened to us, but we do have a choice in how we respond.
I wondered how my Great Grandmother and Mr. Clark navigated living through a World War, legislation that was limiting their livelihood, and a global pandemic. The realization that we are not living in unprecedented times was a helpful shift in viewpoint for me, lowering my anxiety.
With this new perspective and the zeal of a new year beginning I decided to write down a list of the tools that I have at my disposal to use in response to the challenges of living through a pandemic:
- Take a long inhale and exhale to bring myself into the present moment and ask myself, “Am I safe at this moment?”
- There have been worse times than this to live through, remember Mr. Clark!
- I am in command of my thoughts. This situation has as much power over me as I allow.
- Write my list of what I am grateful for every night before I go to sleep.
- Make sure I create time to be with my friends for hikes, Zoom calls, and my writing group.
- Ground myself throughout the day by listening to my daily meditation
- Each day I ask myself, “How can I be of service today?”
I have them pinned up on my office board as a constant reminder. I am acutely aware that my teenage children are watching my responses carefully. All living together 24/7 for 9 months makes for many hours of observation. They too are learning how to navigate the challenges of being a teenager during this pandemic. These are skills that will serve them for the rest of their lives, hopefully, they will not have to live through a time like Mr. Clarks’. Modeling ways to respond to these high anxiety times is a big responsibility and a motivator for me to be the best person possible each day.