This week begins the last month of the year 2020. Our memories of this year marked by the COVID-19 pandemic speak for themselves. Little more needs to be said.
Monday, though, will be Pearl Harbor Day, recalling another time when our nation underwent trauma. The experiences that came out of that day were both alike and different from those of 2020. They are alike in the underlying nationwide anxiety but different in the number of lives lost.
Dec. 7, 1941, began as an ordinary, leisurely Sunday. All changed when Japanese attack planes bombed the U.S. naval base at Pearl Harbor, plunging our nation into World War II. More than 2,400 servicemen and civilians died in the carnage. By comparison, nearly 270,000 Americans have died of COVID-19 so far — more than the U.S. military’s death toll in World War I and the Vietnam War combined.
President Franklin Roosevelt famously called the surprise attack in Hawaii “a date which will live in infamy.” Indeed, Dec. 7 still firmly holds its tragic place among dates linked to a long list of devastating national and world events, including 9/11, the 1929 stock market crash, the Spanish flu pandemic of 1918, and the Revolutionary and Civil wars.
With the end of 2020 drawing near, we are faced with advancing into the unknown of 2021.
With the pandemic still raging, we can again turn to the words of FDR and find inspiration. America’s only commander in chief to be elected four times provided reassurance throughout years of anxiety.
In the first of his four inaugural addresses, FDR expressed one of the most quoted lines from all his addresses to Congress and the nation:
“So, first of all, let me assert my firm belief that the only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”
Roosevelt uttered those words as he took office in January 1933 in the midst of the Great Depression, a years-long calamity that grew out of the 1929 stock market crash — considered by many to be worst economic disaster in history.
The nation’s 32nd president knew where to turn his focus during that first year in office. He targeted fear and anxiety while reminding Americans of their intrinsic character and drive.
He urged “a recognition of the old and permanently important … American spirit of the pioneer” and said, “It is the way to recovery.”
Economic and social conditions had improved by 1937 when, in his second inaugural address, FDR reminded the nation that we no longer were “single-minded in anxiety” but “were writing a new chapter” of progress.
On April 12, 1945, three months after his fourth inauguration, Roosevelt died of a cerebral stroke at age 63. His impact as a national leader is still felt.
Two community leaders in Dallas have their own opinions about how to block fear as we leave 2020 behind.
Dr. Sheron Patterson, a journalist and senior pastor at Hamilton Park United Methodist Church, urged that we be “cautiously optimistic” and follow coronavirus safety guidelines. She cited two favorite Scriptures: “The Lord is my light — whom shall I fear? The Lord is the stronghold of my life — of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1) and “For God hath not given us the spirit of fear, but of power, and of love, and of a sound mind.” (II Timothy 1:7).
Dr. Brenda Wall, a clinical psychologist and pastor of counseling and Christian education at Friendship West Baptist Church, said this: “Accept … that there are many frightening experiences … not in our control.” We should control what we can, “meet fear with faith, hope, and even love … learn the lessons and move forward with greater compassion.”
Ever forward to 2021.