#shelterathome · #shelteringinplace · Spirituality · World Health Organization · World War II

Social distance shaming

I’m in the angry stage.

I’ve gone through different feelings these past weeks, much like the stages of grief. I’m over the initial denial and panic phase. I’ve had times of sadness and depression but also peaceful times of acceptance enjoying the solitude. Like going through a time of trauma, the stages circle around and repeat themselves.

But now I’m getting mad and my anger is directed at the people I see going about life as usual. I don’t want to mention specifics here because I’m afraid someone I care about will read it and be offended. But you know who I’m talking about – those who are getting together with their extended families, having cook-outs and seeing friends while the rest of us are trying to follow the rules and stay home.

I may not be physically pointing a finger, but I’m pointing it in my mind. Why do they think they are more special than the rest of us who are not seeing those we love? Don’t they get it?

I’m reminded of a story my father told about being in France immediately after World War II. He was wounded as an infantryman pushing into Germany with Patton’s army and was convalescing in a French hospital. One day he was taking a walk and saw a group holding a woman down and shaving her head. She was accused of being friendly with the German soldiers who had occupied France for four long years. Having a shaved head was a mark that she had been a traitor and had given in to whatever comforts the Germans offered instead of suffering the deprivations like her neighbors. The anger of the mob was palpable.

Woman having head shaved, from Rare Historical Photos

While our situation is not as dire as what the French experienced, there are some parallels. We are fighting an enemy that is sneaky and illusive. Many people are risking their lives every day to fight this enemy, just as the Allied soldiers and the brave men and women in the Underground fought the Nazi’s. Most of us are quietly going about our days just trying to make it through, giving up freedoms we had taken for granted. Meanwhile others are either intentionally or unintentionally helping the enemy to stay strong through their actions.

Hopefully we will not come to a place of publicly shaming for those who have broken the rules of staying at home, but emotions are running high. Our Georgia governor’s call to open up some businesses has elicited strong responses both for and against. One person posted that if her family wanted to go out to a restaurant it was their right. Others feel that we will be putting our neighbors at risk if we start back to normalcy too soon.

I don’t like this judgmental side of myself. I don’t know the circumstances of those who are together. Maybe that grandmother is helping look after her granddaughter. Maybe those ten family members in the FaceBook picture at Easter are all holed up together in one house. Maybe that crowd I saw smoking cigarettes outside of Dollar General all live together in one big group home.

Jesus tells us not to judge or condemn but to forgive (Luke 6:37). The anger I feel at those I am judging for breaking the social distancing rules is no different than any other judgement I might make for someone’s behavior. I have to keep reminding myself that it’s not up to me to say how others live. As long as they are not breathing on me, I have no right to judge. By some people’s standards, I may be just as guilty by meeting friends to walk.

Perhaps the woman who had her head shaved that day did what she needed to do to keep her children alive. She had her reasons.

Each of us has to live with our own conscience. I wonder how many of the French people wished they had acted differently during the time of occupation. Some may have wished they had done more to fight the Germans while others certainly carried guilt for their actions.

In the same way, those that are potentially spreading the virus have to live with their decisions.

I am learning that I can’t control the actions of others. I can make the decision to stay home myself, wear a mask when I go to the store and wash my hands. I can pray for others, but they are free to make their own choices.

I like this image from the World Health Organization and need to take it to heart. This is not a time to be angry at others, but to realize we are all coping the best we can.

So today I will try to be kind. I want my conscience to be clear about how I treated others when this crisis is over.

Clemson University · Football · Uncategorized · World War II

GI’s and Gridirons

For many Americans, the end of summer means one thing – football! No one loved football more than my father, Jim Austell. But in August of 1945, he was stationed in post-war Germany and had just experienced the most defining months of his life. Football was not on his mind.

As a young lieutenant in the 71st Infantry Division in the winter of ‘45, he had fought through the frozen French countryside, sleeping in foxholes and battling the Germans with machine guns, mortar fire and rifles. Close friends died all around him from bullets and minefields. At one time his unit was so close on the heels of the Wehrmacht that they slept in the same hay-filled bunks that had nestled German soldiers the night before. Trudging behind tanks through the burned out villages, he saw first-hand the devastation and suffering of the French and German people.

On March 23rd, he was part of the historic crossing of the Rhine River with General Patton, napping in a truck as they went over the makeshift pontoon bridge. As the spring weather warmed, they pushed through Germany and crossed the famous Danube River, encountering heavy fire. Daddy was wounded and taken to a French army hospital. When the German surrender came through, soldiers outside the hospital fired off their rifles in celebration, and nurses rushed to place their patients under the beds, thinking they were being bombed.

After his wounds healed, Daddy reported back to his division. He was supposed to train troops headed out to the Pacific, but with the surrender of Japan on August 15, that was no longer needed. He was ready for his next assignment.

He was ordered to play football.

Back in high school in Blacksburg, South Carolina, Daddy had been the football captain and went on to play center at Clemson University, then an all-male military school. But with the onset of the war, the majority of his classmates entered Officer Training School and spent most of 1941-44 preparing to fight. Instead of strategizing on how to beat Duke, they were working on defeating Hitler.

But by that fall of 1945, the fighting was over and the soldiers were restless. A football league was formed among the divisions that had previously worked together to protect each other and kill Nazi’s. Now they would battle each other over yardage and touchdowns.

Daddy was chosen from several hundred men who tried out, but in his wartime memoirs he doesn’t brag or give any details about games or plays. He does proudly recount that his team, the Red Circlers (named for the 71st Division badge) won the championship for the European Theatre of Operations.

In the program for the championship game, the team members are listed. Many, like Daddy, played in college, and came from all over the United States – universities in Minnesota, Missouri, Texas, Iowa, Virginia, Ohio, and Nebraska. Others simply have “High School” listed after their name, boys who signed up for the army instead of college. They came together amidst the devastated and defeated countryside and played American football in a field that had once been the site of Nazi parades. In their leather headgear and cotton uniforms, they slammed into each other and fell together in the mud and ice, got up, shook hands and went on with their lives. I see them on that field, with no pom-pom swinging cheerleaders or drumming pep bands, just their fellow GI’s and paratroopers shouting for their teams, reveling in the normalcy of football on a Saturday afternoon in the fall.

In a grainy clipping from the Division newspaper, the victorious Red Circlers sit at the championship banquet, celebrating their win. Daddy, as co-captain, accepts the souvenir football, tall and regal in his dress uniform. He had just turned 23 years old.

He went on to finish his degree at Clemson on the GI bill and have a successful career in the textile field. He married and raised two daughters, and was influential in his church and community. He never played football again, but every Saturday in the fall the games were on at our house, the background music to my childhood.

I’ve often wondered, as I think about him cheering on his beloved Tigers – was his mind on those cold Saturdays in Germany, feeling the exhilaration of pitting his young, strong body against other players? Or did he think back to his innocent playing days at Clemson, before he faced bullets and bombings and death? We never discussed it and now he is gone. But I hold that vision of him and his fellow Red Circlers, rejoicing in having survived, and showing the world that America prevailed against the evil that was Nazi Germany by playing a game of football in the crisp autumn air.