We Won’t Be Home By Christmas

DavidChrisinger.com
By David Chrisinger
30 Sep 20

I thought I was going to have terrific news to share with you all this week. I thought I was going to be able to finagle my way into France later this fall, either at the beginning of November or maybe by the middle of December.

I thought I was finally going to be able to walk the beaches of Normandy, where the ocean meets the sand, just like Ernie did when he followed the “long thin line of personal anguish“ the day after the Allies invaded Fortress Europa on June 6, 1944.

I thought I was finally going to be able to hike through the hedgerow country, where Ernie noted the “confused excitement and a grim anxiety“ on the faces of America’s young fighting men.

I thought I was finally going to order a cocktail from the hotel lounge in Paris where Ernie he had had enough of war for a while and that he was heading home.

“Are U.S. citizens allowed to travel to France?” I asked Google late last week?

No.

According to the U.S. Embassy in Paris and the Consulate General in Marseille, “Broad restrictions on non-essential travel from many countries outside the European Union, including the United States, remain in place.”

Moreover, I learned, “The United States Embassy has no standing to intervene or advocate for the private travel of United States citizens to France.”

Retracing Ernie’s steps, I was told, does not constitute “essential travel.”

The only word I think describes what I’m feeling as I write these words is “grief.” The world is and will forever be changed by this moment, by this pandemic, but not yet knowing what picking up the pieces will look like—or when my life will get back to some semblance of normal—is what weighs most heavily on me.

Perhaps COVID-19 will create another “Lost Generation”? Only this new Lost Generation won’t be able to flock to post-war Paris to process our new reality through smoky cafes and literature.

Who will emerge as this generation’s Gertrude Stein and Ernest Hemingway and F. Scott Fitzgerald?

In our near future, we will see the spaces left empty by those whose lives ended too soon. We will see the spaces left empty by passions not pursued. We will, I’m sure, need to find a way to fill those empty spaces. But with what?

For now I’m going to try to find comfort in a story I heard not long ago about Commander James Stockdale, whose plane was shot down in Vietnam during his third tour of duty there. For nearly eight years he was held captive as a prisoner of war in the Hanoi Hilton.

To help himself withstand the never-ending torture he was subjected to, Stockdale found a way to embrace both the harshness of his situation with a balance of healthy optimism.

“You must never confuse faith that you will prevail in the end – which you can never afford to lose – with the discipline to confront the most brutal facts of your current reality,” Stockdale once explained.

Hope for the best. Prepare for the worst.

“Who didn’t make it out?” Stockdale was once asked about his fellow prisoners of war.

“Oh, that’s easy,” he said. “The optimists.”

“The optimists? I don’t understand,” the interviewer replied.

“The optimists. Oh, they were the ones who said, ‘We’re going to be out by Christmas.’ And Christmas would come, and Christmas would go. Then they’d say, ‘We’re going to be out by Easter.’ And Easter would come, and Easter would go. And then Thanksgiving, and then it would be Christmas again. And they died of a broken heart.”

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