As I began writing my final column for Investment Advisor, I flashed back to the year I was born: 1952. The U.S. was experiencing a rampant polio virus. Sixty thousand people including my brother and several eventual classmates were infected, many suffering permanent crippling damage.
Three thousand people died from the epidemic that year, including my mother who was just age 30. I was six months old. My brothers were three and five years old.
My father was left to raise us alone with the help of his immigrant parents and aunts, and a retired Catholic missionary. My dad was just a few years removed from the jungles of New Guinea where he was wounded in war and almost died from malaria.
While the loss was real and the damage was permanent, those who survived this time continued living their lives. Some remained scarred and wary, others used their grief as a catalyst to do better and help others.
I am in awe of how people in the financial services industry are performing during this current time of great stress and distress. I am also conscious of the great suffering that many are about to endure.
Most of us have no first-hand experience with war or pestilence or famine, or even the death of someone close to us under these circumstances. However, we may know someone who has had this experience.
Friends, relatives and colleagues will experience anguish as a result of the coronavirus pandemic and the attendant economic pain. Perhaps by remembering different periods of trauma in history, we can remind ourselves to look outward towards those who likely will suffer the most.
Times like this provide an opportunity to understand our reactions and to overcome our tendency to blame others. Being around the same people every hour of every day is both comforting and unsettling.
Having our larder stocked for a prolonged shelter-in-place order is both reassuring and frightening. Then factor in myriad other concerns such as the safety of elderly loved ones, anxiety over contracting the virus if you have pre-existing health conditions and worry about the availability of adequate doctors and treatments.
Deep breaths, meditation, music, laughter, a walk around the block, giving a hand to those truly in need: these actions help put everything into perspective.
No matter how shocking the pandemic feels to my wife and me as it expands in the two cities where we have homes, our attention has shifted to the dire impact on people who need jobs to feed their families, need access to healthcare to tend to survivors or need hope that a brighter day lies ahead.
The crisis calls us to consider what we can do to make the circumstances better now, and what we can change to improve how we respond to such threats in the future. Many among us will be scarred by fear or inspired by opportunity.
When I was active in the Seattle Rotary Club — at the time, the largest Rotary Club in the world — I was struck by the words of one incoming president, Phil Smart. “My life is divided in thirds: Learning, Earning and Returning,” he said.