Recently, a neighbour’s house got broken into at night. The burglars were not able to gain access to the main house through the conservatory, and so, she remained safe and oblivious in her bed. Upon finding signs of the break in the following morning, she immediately contacted the police. Through the grapevine, the news filtered down to us. As she is an eighty two year old woman, in indifferent health, living on her own, naturally we were concerned. I rang her. There was no response. My husband went around to see her. No response. He reckoned she was sleeping off the shock.
The next afternoon, there she was- on my doorstep, in her cashmere cardigan and pearls, hair beautifully coiffed, looking like she had not a care in the world.
“Susan”, I gasped, “Are you ok? I heard what happened! Have the police found out anymore? How are you feeling…?”
“My dear”, she answered with perfect equanimity, “I am fine. If I’d had a shotgun, the burglars wouldn’t have been though!!”
She had not been ‘sleeping off the shock’. She had been out till midnight, having a jolly old time with her friends.
I sat back, bemused at the turn of events. Was it that particular generation, I wondered, that were tougher, more resilient, and less likely to collapse at the first sign of trouble? After all, Susan had lived through World War 2, the death of three husbands and the Big C : Cancer.
My thoughts wandered to my grandmother. Orphaned at five, she was brought up by her uncle’s family who didn’t treat her particularly well. She was married young, and while my dad was still a babe in arms, she’d had to leave her hometown of Karachi, and make a treacherous crossing into India, during the horror that was the Partition. From a relatively wealthy background, she was reduced to living like a refugee in one of the many refugee colonies that had sprung up in Delhi at the time. She was then widowed at thirty, and with three boys to bring up and barely any education to speak of, she sewed clothes to make money, scrimped and saved to give her sons a decent living, and was a one woman Mother India of sorts.
She is eighty seven now. She can barely see, she can barely hear, but her hold on life is just as tenacious as ever.
Consider the Queen. Coming up to ninety, she still performs most of her state duties herself. Abdication in favour of her son is a thought she refuses to entertain, and her mantra remains one of duty and servitude to her people and her kingdom. No fluffy slippers and a cosy armchair to retire to for this great grandmother. She forges on, setting an example to her descendants.
Then there is our generation and the generations that have followed. Broadly speaking (for there are always exceptions), we are a soft bellied lot. We have seen neither war, nor deprivation. We haven’t lived through rationing or suffered the ignominy of poverty. Yet we moan and complain and whinge at the slightest provocation. Traffic snafus, a restaurant reservation going missing, the check out girl being rude, an acquaintance ignoring us on the street- our list of trifling woes drives us to that glass of wine every evening. Or to the psychiatrist’s couch to “unburden” ourselves and fatten his/her wallet. Or to the happy pills.
How, I wonder, would we react to a life changing event like war? To something as traumatic as the Holocaust? To something as wrenching and soul crushing as a Partition? Would we have the same reserves of strength, the same tenacity, the same endurance, the same fortitude? I hope we never have to find out.
Yet, it’s important to take a leaf out these ladies’ books. To learn to face life squarely, and with gumption. Let us not make the mistake of becoming too soft, too complacent, too chicken. History has a strange way of repeating itself, and we need to be prepared, for only the fittest will survive and only the strongest will endure.
Disclaimer: This post applies to those of us brought up or living in First World countries. It’s important to recognise that there are huge swathes of poverty stricken/ war ravaged lands where generations of men, women and children gird their loins daily, and set about the business of life with immense courage and fortitude.