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A new norm?

As our country moves forward from the plan of flattening the curve, we all find ourselves in a new normal.
Perhaps new to us, but not to our ancestors. Just as we endured the Swine Flu as a nation a decade ago without any of the approaches, we have tried this time around, prior, we can reach back through the years to see our country and our ancestors pull through epidemics. The Hong Kong flu of 1968-1970 saw us not slow a step in our approach to life, doctors and families just did their best to care for those who contracted the disease.
Regionally and locally, our forefathers dealt with outbreaks of polio, measles, Spanish flu, and before that, smallpox, pneumonic plague, bubonic plague, yellow fever, cholera and other diseases.
Many of those outbreaks came when there was little medicine could do to aid in the situation. Just keep a person comfortable with hope people’s constitutions, wills and incessant prayers either brought them through an illness or not.
While I thus far I have not endured the latest disease thrust upon the world. In my past, I have endured the attack of a virus which brought about the doctors saying “There is nothing we can do, it’s up to him and God.”
That is a very scary place to be, both as the patient or a loved one. I feel deeply for the thousands of families who have faced those moments in recent months and pray deeply for those who are yet ahead facing this latest battle of survival.
These past few weeks, as we have all seen a time that we have not seen before, it makes me wonder what is yet ahead for all of us. Advances in medicine have possibly given us to high of an expectation that there is always something that can be done. I can remember a day in my own lifetime when we assumed a diagnosis of one type or another was essentially a death sentence.
Today, we take many of those diseases in stride, maintained by drugs, operations, treatments that allow people to live long lives, where just decades ago, it was not even a hope. Cancer is still one that scares us all individually, though even within certain types of cancer, survival rates are tremendously better.
I am sharing all of this to say, a few decades ago, any infection that could overwhelm our system, broken bones, heart failure, diabetes and so many other diseases meant our clock was now running on borrowed time. As a society, though it did not make the individual situations less painful or less important, we took the reality of what was possible in stride.
I am wondering now, are we are no longer capable of that strength within ourselves? Can we take in stride that medicine can’t always fix us? Can we take in stride that government is not there to save us and we must be self-reliant? Will we now feel the need that big brother government will have to tell us what we have to do to survive? If everyone does not do what is said to the letter, are we now going to be the watch guards trying to get someone arrested?
My parents and grandparents lived through many epidemics in their lives with no medicine to treat and little hope of survival. They cared for each other, they prayed, they kept working because the family had to survive no matter what came. Loved ones passed, the family mourned, remembered, and struggled through. That strengthened the importance of the survival of all who went on. I and my siblings lived through many epidemics as well, some saw friends fall to polio, we endured measles, and all types of influenzas. I survived some of those when the outlook was bleak myself as a child.
As a country, we will come through this pandemic. As families, we must learn from this experience and come to realize, we must rely upon our own abilities to remain safe and healthy. We cannot put outrageous expectations on medical professionals or government to save us from some new virus or even an old virus which could run rampant across the earth. Our government also should not come to think that the American people are going to allow the shutdown of civilization as they prescribe with each and every epidemic that comes in the future. What we are enduring, I pray is not what we allow to be a new norm.

The show must go on

Social media outlets these days are filled with living room concerts, musicians pickin’ away to empty performance halls, one-on-ones from their decks and every corner of performers’ spaces.
The current pandemic has resulted in performers’ slates of appearances being cleared for months to come. I am in that same boat. Many performers are now struggling like everyone else, founding themselves sheltering away from work.
People are often impressed by the glamour they think makes up such a large portion of stars’ lives, but like your hometown businesses, often performers are struggling to keep the doors open behind the scenes, and their employees paid. I encourage you, if you are able, and see these online concerts, and if they are asking for donations, or sharing merchandise that you can buy, please do. We are all in this together but even despite these cancellations, it reminds me of the old adage – the show must go on. Here is one of my stories of just that kind of fortitude.
As I drove into the McReynold’s farm outside Nashville, in my mind I was preparing for another weekend out on the road with Grand Ole Opry stars Jim and Jesse. Jesse and his late wife Darlene opened their home to me and I often stayed overnight in the two-story farmhouse where they raised their family. When the brothers joined the Opry, they bought a farm which they both continue to live on.
In many ways, I became an extended member of the family. When I drove into the driveway, I noticed the back of the bus opened up. Underneath the bus, I found Jesse tangled between what makes a diesel engine tick. Folks who are used to seeing stars with their hair slicked back in the sparkling stage attire would not have recognized this Bluegrass Hall of Famer as he climbed from beneath the bus in his ragged baseball cap and gray coveralls covered with grease. Jesse is a mechanical whiz.
Country Music Hall of Famer Charlie Louvin and I became acquainted while I was still in my teens. I remember one time he and I sat down and discussed the merits of a career in music. He told me then that he had spent most of his life working for a bus and a band. Keeping those two things on the road had taken most of what he made. He reflected on an early decision to select music over a job at the post office. At the time he said if he had taken that post office job, he would be retired and drawing a pension now. I have not had the chance to talk with him since he and his late brother Ira’s induction in the Hall of Fame. I know if he had made the other choice it would have been a great loss to the world but it goes to show that even stars sometimes wonder about their life choices.
Concert goers don’t often realize what is involved in putting on a stage show. The performers in many cases gather at their home base and load the bus or van with equipment, sales material, personal effects and enough snack food to tide them through the trip. It is not unusual to climb aboard and ride for 10-12 hours to the venue. After arriving, they figure out where things go and then unload sound equipment and sales material.  After setting everything up ready for the arrival of the audience, performers then go and throw a little water on their face, slick back their hair and put on their stage clothes.
We arrived somewhere in Ohio.  Bellevue, I think. Members of Jim and Jesse’s band, the Virginia Boys, and I had went through the set-up process with Georgia Music Hall of Famers, The Lewis Family, who were sharing the bill that night. Everything was set and we were all ready to go on. I was standing back stage waiting anxiously as Jim and Jesse went through their first set. They would usually bring me on about 10-15 minutes into the show. The Lewis Family’s sound equipment was on the stage. I don’t remember the exact conversation that led up to it, but Travis Lewis, who usually watched the controls, and I were joking backstage. “I said it is liable to blow when I go out there.”
As the audience laughed at my first punch line, I hit the first chord. The sound system blew. I was standing there with some of America’s most talented musicians ready to play and no way for the audience to hear us. Thanks to the fast work of Travis, Little Roy Lewis and a couple of others, they got the system up and running. Needless to say, for any entertainer, standing in front of audience, trying to keep them entertained as the sound system is being fixed is less than a glamorous situation.
When the show is over, after visiting with the folks in the audience, the groups have to tear down the equipment, load up and hit the road for the next gig and do it all over again.
What I have found through the years is that stars who tend to take care of things themselves have the longest and most productive careers.
I’d rather be more like Jesse, putting on the grease covered coveralls to keep things going than having everything served on a silver platter.
But I’ll never again joke about blowing out the sound system again. You don’t reckon it was my singing, do you?