Surviving misery and fear

Sam Smith – The virus crisis  periodically raised in my mind the question: have I ever been through something like this before? Three cases came to mind:

First, was my bout with prostate cancer three decades ago. One thing that sticks in my mind was driving by a fast food restaurant in my neighborhood and thinking that my life was over. And then, minutes later saying to myself: “This is my life now. I’ve still got to live it.” A moment to remember.

The other thing I recall is coming out of surgery and being told by the doctor that they had to give me extra anesthesia. Why, I asked.. “Because you were talking too much politics.” Even at the peak of this dismal experience, I had apparently found refuge elsewhere.

Then there was the time six decades ago, with the draft was in full swing,  that I applied for Coast Guard Officer Candidate School. At that time all CG officers had to have top secret clearances and my investigation  concluded that my father, who had been in the New Deal from beginning to end,  might be sympathetic to communism. It wasn’t true at all, but it was only six years after Joseph McCarthy had been finally censored and so it was still not strange to be asked, “How many Communist books have you read?”

I fought the charges successfully and went to OCS, graduating second in the class among reserves. I would serve as public information office for a CG district, aide to an admiral, operations officer of a cutter, and executive office of a reserve unit.  But none of this erased the horror as a 23 year old having to prove yourself not a traitor. It would so impact me that I even turned down jobs at the NY Times and the Washington Post in part because I was afraid that this issue would rise again. The irony was that I became an alternative or “underground” journalist, led to the left in part by the pain of what I had experienced.

Five years later I started a community newspaper on Capitol Hill in Washington, only  it was called the Capital East Gazette because it served not only those  close to the Capitol but a larger area that was in total 70% black. I was inspired by a former staffer of Saul Alinsky who was organizing our ‘hood and we even got a grant from a local Lutheran Church.

But  a year and a half later, Martin Luther King was assassinated  and our ‘hood became the target of two the city’s largest riot areas. I would later joke that too many of our readers wanted to burn down too many of our advertisers but it was for me, like the city as a whole, a total disaster.  Our living room had smoke from the fires four  blocks away and the store on the corner near my office was smashed. .

We had tried to make our community better but too late.

I tell these stories merely as my own examples of what we all live through: moments we had not anticipated or known how to handle. And I tell these stories to encourage you to think of your own and to remember that you did survive them and will again. Living through madness is part of the price of being human

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