An Interview with Mary Edwards Wertsch

By Circe Olson Woessner

April is the Month of the Military Child, and who better for me to interview in April than brat author Mary Edwards Wertsch, author of Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress?

Best-selling author Pat Conroy (The Great Santini) was a major supporter of Mary’s research and writing. He wrote the introduction to her book, saying, 

“From Mary’s book I discover that I speak in the multi-tongued, deep-throated voice of my tribe. By writing this book, she handed me a visa to an invisible city where I am welcomed for the first time as a native son. Her book speaks in a language that is clear and stinging and instantly recognizable to me,  yet it’s a language I was not even aware I spoke. She isolates the military brats of America as a new indigenous subculture with our own customs, rites of passage, forms of communication, and folkways…”

Mary and I have known each other for over a decade. While most of us think of Mary as an author and subject matter expert in the topic of military brat cultural identity, few know she is a very talented artist. I recently interviewed Mary via email to talk about her book and also find out what she’s been up to since we last talked.

CW: I recently interviewed a military spouse artist who paints what she knows. Your book Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress certainly is a topic you know something about. But, before you researched and wrote a book about brats, what did you know about brats?

MEW: What a good question. No one has ever asked me that before.  If anyone had asked me, in my young adult years, what I knew about military brats, I’m sure I would have replied, ‘Well I am the daughter of a career Army officer, so I am a military brat myself.  It’s my lived experience.  So what do you want to know?’  In other words, I would have assumed that I already knew everything important to know about brats.  I would have been wrong.  

In retrospect, I think this is a perfect example of how we don’t know what we don’t know.  I didn’t realize there was a lot more to know until I saw the movie “The Great Santini,” made from Pat Conroy’s powerful novel, which I subsequently read.  I was dumbfounded.  How could that family be so like my own?  And that prompted a zillion questions in my mind.  What have other brats experienced?  Is it possible our families were shaped in similar ways by the military experience?  Is it possible WE were shaped similarly by it?  Would that shaping constitute a kind of “roots” that we had assumed, erroneously, we lacked?  To what extent do we continue to be affected by that life after we’ve grown up and made our way, as most of us do, in the civilian world?  To put it another way, was it possible that millions of military brats have been raised in an intense ethnic root culture that had been hiding in plain sight, unknown to others and even, shockingly, to ourselves?

 I did not know the answers to any of these broad questions, let alone to the many, many more specific questions prompted by them. But I knew what to do. I was a journalist; I knew how to research.  And I knew there is no better reason to write a nonfiction book than passionately wanting to read a book on that subject and discovering that none exists. 

When I began my interviews with other brats, I found epiphany in every single conversation.  Every conversation brought new light.  There was so very much that I—we—did not know, and it was going to be my great privilege to follow that compelling trail of questions.

CW: Before your book, were there other books, or work out there looking at military brats, the brat culture?

MEW: None.  I searched exhaustively in university libraries and bookstores, but there was no book or other research even remotely close to what I had hoped to find, which was a book explaining my culture of origin and how it shaped its children.  The only things I found were scholarly articles on a few pieces of our experience by researchers funded chiefly by the Department of Defense, and these were on the subjects of interest to DoD—namely, the effects on children of wartime father loss, and of frequent moves.  There were also articles on domestic violence in the military which included statistics on children. There were articles about military families, and I collected and read as many as I could track down. But in no case did a researcher take a few steps back and say, “Hey, there are powerful defining patterns here that compare to what is found in cultures around the world!  We are looking at a previously unidentified culture that is the defining cultural identity for every child raised within it!”   

There are, I think two main reasons why this did not happen.  

First, the research was guided by the rather narrow interests of the Department of Defense, which, in a nutshell, wanted to know how the presence of children affected the military mission.  The military is not a child-centric society, nor can it be.  Its sole purpose is to carry out its mission, and as an institution it seeks to understand its own moving parts in the context of how they affect all the other moving parts.  Therefore, any research on military families funded by DoD will have a very particular and limited perspective. 

Second, the culture of the “Fortress”, as I call it, is the ethnic root culture of the children, but not, for the most part, of the parents.  About three quarters of uniformed military personnel come from small town and rural America, which we can assume means, generally speaking, that they have civilian, localized roots.  The military culture in which they serve is therefore not a shaping root culture for them.  It is more of corporate culture, and one which they will one day leave to return to civilian life.  

Researchers studying the military have had no institutional or scholarly impetus to focus on the difference between the corporate/institutional military culture and the ethnic, shaping, root culture of the children.  Nor have anthropologists generally, because this Fortress culture is so unlike anything else they study that it has been below the radar, so to speak. We brats do not have any race,  religion, or geographic center common to us all.  In our far-flung diversity, we constitute an ethnicity that does not look like any previously known ethnicity. But we are one, I assert, because we share a common culture and are shaped by that culture in similar ways.  

In cultural anthropology, a culture is defined as a particular group of people with shared values, ideas, traditions, and rules of behavior.  I ask you, does the military have common values, ideas, traditions, and rules of behavior?   Both parents and kids experience this inside the Fortress.  The crucial difference between the military as experienced by parents and the military experienced by children is the powerful shaping effect of roots.

CW: Why did you decide to write the book and who did you write it for?

MEW: I answered the ‘why did I write it’ question in my response to your first question, but as for ‘who did I write it for’, I can say this:  I wrote it for all of us who grew up in the military but thought we had no roots.  Everybody needs to know where they are from.  We thought that precious knowledge, which is a major key to self understanding, was forever beyond our reach.  My book is a rebuttal to that misbegotten idea.  We DO come from someplace, although it is not a place in the conventional sense.  Our “from” is as powerful a force in our lives as that of any geographically rooted person. We carry our “from” within us our entire lives, and it continues to affect the way we live that entire time

CW: Why the title Military Brats: Legacies of Childhood Inside the Fortress?

MEW: I wanted Military Brats as the main title, because I felt so strongly that this tells both the subject of the book and who it is for.  I also wanted to promote the use of the term ‘military brat’, because at the time I wrote the book, no one used it.  Brats would either say ‘brat’, or ‘Army brat’ regardless of the service branch in which they were raised.  That’s uncomfortable and inaccurate.  We needed a more inclusive term.  The Navy, of course, had tried to promulgate the term ‘Navy junior,’ which did not take very well and which I personally can’t stand.  We are not little clones of our parents.  We are our own spunky, self-reliant, independent selves, thank you very much, and if we successfully navigate our very demanding childhoods, it is because we had to develop, without much help from anybody else, the strengths and the abilities to get us through.       

The subtitle I chose because, first of all, I wanted to convey that what is instilled in us inside the Fortress not only shapes us at the time, but, in the for of psychological legacies, continues to resonate in us our lives through.  Fortress is my term for military culture.  To me it connotes military purpose and lifestyle.  It also suggests an apartness from civilian culture, which is so very different.  Additionally, it suggests a powerful entity that looks sternly at those within, and defiantly at those without

CW: How did you do your research for your book? What was your process?

MEW: As I’ve mentioned, I started in university libraries and in bookstores, first looking for what I assumed would be there but wasn’t, and then looking for related topics that shed light on military families.  After that, I compiled a long list of questions, and set about finding interviewees.  I only interviewed adults who grew up in career military families in the Army, Air Force, Navy, and Marine Corps.  I did not interview Coast Guard brats, because at the time the Coast Guard was part of the Department of Transportation, not the Department of Defense.  I had to draw the line somewhere! 

I soon realized I did not want more than one interviewee from any family, because I needed to cast as wide a net as possible and hear about as many families as I could.  I also strenuously avoided going to places where I knew I would find military brats but which I feared would skew my results.  For example, I did not go to meetings of Adult Children of Alcoholics looking for people to interview.  I tried to have as many referring sources for military brats as interviewees, in order to avoid the bias inherent in one individual’s group of friends.

My list of questions kept growing and changing, but some things I always asked and tracked across interviewees.  I got myself a stack of very wide graph paper, and used it to tally answers, looking always for patterns.

CW: Did you learn something new, once all the data was in, or did you validate something you had already expected?

MEW: Both.  I tried to phrase my questions in as unbiased a way as possible, and to prompt my interviewee to take the conversation in new directions as well.  In this way, I learned about patterns I myself did not experience, but many others did. For example, I found an adulthood pattern shared by a number of interviewees of ending friendships and love relationships on a two-year cycle, without good reason and without fulling understanding why.  I did not have this myself, but it was clearly a pattern shared by many brats. And of course, I also found many things I had experienced mirrored in the lives of others.

 “I talk some about the importance of myth in military families and the military in general. The military is like a Greek drama. You have archetypes walking around all over the place. As Pat Conroy once told me, it is not easy being the child of an archetype.”*

CW: What message do you want people to take away from the book?

MEW: We brats must understand where we are from, and how it affects us.  It is incumbent on us to do so, for if we do not, we live our lives blindly and lose an important part of our own agency. Understanding our ‘from’ within the Fortress empowers us to make conscious use of our many strengths—some of which are rare and much needed in in the civilian communities in which we live–and to break patterns in our lives that are unhealthy or unhelpful.  

I would like to particularly point out, for those brats who still suffer the hurt of family dysfunction, that understanding ourselves and our families of origin inside the Fortress is the only road to reaching compassion, and compassion for those who have hurt us (wittingly or unwittingly), is the only way to be liberated. There are many such hurting brats, unfortunately, because of the high rates of alcoholism and domestic violence in the armed forces.  That was the case with my own family of origin, and I can tell you that the work I did through writing my book was my path to freedom.  That came as a surprise to me, actually, a kind of emotional payoff I had not known was in store.  

But, after studying the pressures and stresses on military families, clearly seeing how those factors exacerbate human frailties, and then understanding how there is little help available for families—especially officer families, where seeking help is too often regarded as a sign of unacceptable weakness—I found myself feeling empathy for all military parents, including, most definitely, my own.  And I almost physically felt my hurt and anger dissolve in tears of compassion for the pain they suffered, and for all they tragically missed in life as a result. Consciously and as fully as possible feeling the pain of others sets aside our own woundedness and lifts us above it.  It’s like it creates an opening for healing love to pour in.

I love this quote from Buddhist monk Thich Nhat Hanh, which I ran across years after writing my book: “Compassion is always born of understanding, and understanding is the result of looking deeply.”

I would add only that I have come to believe that living compassionately, a daily challenge for any human being, is the purpose of life, and it is available to all, wherever we are.  It is not an end point.  It is right now, in the moment, moment after moment.

CW: I remember when I was just starting the museum, and was meeting with some potential collaborators in Albuquerque, you came out to Albuquerque, to help me define and pitch the concept. You were the one that helped me explain that the museum isn’t primarily a history museum, but rather, a cultural museum. At the moment that you said that to the group sitting around the table, it was a lightbulb moment for all of us…Why do you think it’s important to have a museum looking at reserving and curating military family artifacts and stories?

MEW: A museum about the American military family validates our lived experience.  It is a testament to our culture of origin, where children of the Fortress are concerned, and a testament to the corporate culture in which our parents were immersed.  It is the culture which gave meaning and purpose to all our lives.  

A museum gives voice to a culture that had previously not even known the importance of having its own voice. It inspires expression about what we have lived, and what those before us lived. It is a living testimony to the human story in a very particular, mission-driven way of life.   It inspires reflection and urges expression.

A museum is a center of evolving knowledge.  Through the research archived there, and the research the museum inspires and encourages going forward, it  helps us understand who we are, where we’ve been, how we’ve grown, what we’ve sacrificed.  

These are all absolutely essential things if we are to understand ourselves, our families, and our military, and if we are to learn how to qualitatively improve life inside the Fortress for generations to come.  We need our military.  We need our military to be healthy.  We need military parents to be understood and supported.  We need military children to be shaped by a healthy and supportive root culture.

Circe, what you have accomplished in founding and directing the Museum of the American Military Family cannot be overstated.  It is a great gift to all of us and all who follow us.  It was always needed, but it took you and your passion and energy to make it happen.  There is enormous value in what it is now, and immeasurable value in what it will be in the future, as its effects ripple outward.  Thank you!

“The single most important thing teachers should do for brats is also the single most important thing parents should do for them: and that is to validate the military child’s experience and his or her feelings about that experience.”**

CW: You donated several boxes of books to the museum– most of which you used as references when you wrote your book. I like leafing through them and seeing your notes in the margins or highlighted areas. Why did you give them up?

MEW: It’s hard to give away old friends like those, but I wanted those books and papers to be useful to others.  Some of them are very hard to obtain, and others will be eventually.  It is important to future research to see the efforts and the limitations of prior research.  I want MAMF to be a research center for people who want to understand military families of the past and the present, and help those of the future.

CW: At one point, I heard you were working on a second book about belonging. Are you still working on that?

MEW: Some years ago, I set it aside, just because I needed a complete break from it for an indefinite period, in order to approach it with a refreshed mind.  I still think about it, though.  If I come to think the writing process could yield something truly useful and meaningful to others, I will give it another go.

CW: Besides being a meticulous writer, you’re a talented artist. I’ve seen some of your work on your Etsy Store. It’s very meticulous as well—and beautiful. Have you always painted?

MEW: Well, you are very kind.  The truth is, I am learning as I go, which is one of the most rewarding things about it. My mother was an artist and an art teacher, so I naturally picked up the appreciation of art and the desire to paint.  I always admired my mother’s ability to keep up her painting through all those moves.  She moved 50 times as a military wife.  Each time, after getting the household in order, she would find a corner somewhere—such as next to the clothes washer or down in the musty basement—and set up her easel.  It was something she could do for herself, and she always made it happen.

I painted a little in college, but after that, I would not allow myself to paint.  I now see that as very tied to my military bratness; I thought my primary duty was to serve my mission, whatever that happened to be at the time, and painting was something I could never justify, next to the importance of mission.  I always had a mission to serve—either as a journalist, or as an activist for a cause.  That mission-mindedness even extended to reading matter; I allowed myself to read only nonfiction.  What rigidity!  Then about a dozen or so years ago, I just decided to quit thinking and start doing.  I bought a large canvas, painted a scene of cranes in a marsh, and then never stopped.  It was a huge relief to finally allow myself to paint.  That painting still hangs in my living room.

CW: Your recent work is a series of playing cards decorated with animals. What draws you to that subject, and again, who is your audience?

MEW: I’ve always liked the design of playing cards, and I love painting animals.  One day I just decided to experiment with making large (24” x 36”) paintings of face cards with animals dressed in clothing to reflect their imagined personalities.  Very whimsical.  I enjoyed it so much that I decided to do the whole deck and then get it printed as an actual card deck.  It’s been fun and as well as a soothing pandemic project.  The Animal Royalty Deck, as I call it, features all mammals on the face cards.  But then I thought how much fun it would be to paint reptiles, which I’ve always liked.  So now I am more than halfway through completing the paintings for a Reptile Royalty Deck, which is even more whimsical. Each reptile (mostly lizards) is portrayed doing some kind of sport.  Right now, I’m working on a paddle-boarding collared lizard.

Who is my audience for these paintings, and for the card decks?  I have no idea! I actually didn’t paint them for any audience, but just to have fun myself.  (That for me is liberating, because my bratness always worked against letting myself have fun.) My guess is that folks who like my paintings and cards are people who simply enjoy whimsical humor, and who have retained an appreciation for old-fashioned analog games like playing cards.

CW: What is your favorite animal to draw or paint? Why?

MEW: I really couldn’t say, simply because I have loved painting each of them.  I suppose I particularly enjoyed painting the Bengal tiger Queen of Diamonds, and the Greater Kudu King of Spades, because in each case the painting came together quickly. Sometimes I’ve had to paint an animal card several times to get close to what I wanted, but not with those two.

CW: If you were to be dropped off somewhere, anywhere in the world, for a week and told to just paint to your hearts content – – no one would bother you—money is not an object— Food would be brought in—where would you go and why?

MEW: Oh, what a lovely thing to daydream about!  I would want to go somewhere very different and very stimulating, so I could wander about and take it in during the day, and then, with my visual senses well stimulated,  paint at night.  Maybe Tunisia, or Corsica (recently I watched a police procedural set in Corsica, and was blown away by the beauty).  I’ve never been to either, but that would have to be a prerequisite, for maximum stimulation.    

 CW: Any new projects in the works? 

MEW: I have a ways to go on the Reptile Deck paintings, and after that I have some other paintings in mind.  But I am still thinking about that subject of belonging.  It may be time to revisit it.

* Southern Changes managing editor Ellen Spears interviewed Wertsch in June, 1992.

** Samuel L. Britten, Army Brat, TCK interview

Who Are Military People?

The museum will be focusing on a series of topics over the next year as part of our E Pluribus Unum-GRAICE Under Pressure project. Our Writers in Residence will examine and reflect on numerous topics pertaining to gender, religion, race, identity, culture and ethnicity. In addition to essays, our podcasts and YouTube videos will also examine what makes us-well, us. Please be thinking of ways you can lend your experiences to the wider conversation.

In July 1971 in Paris, France, Jim Morrison, frontman for the band, The Doors, died a rock star death. He was 27. Despite my many young-1960s hours spent listening to The Doors while sitting on the linoleum of my barracks cubicle and leaning against my bunk — I had no car — I don’t have any “I remember where I was” instant with Morrison’s death.

In that same July and on that same continent, I was roughly four and a half hours due east of him, in third-floor walkup Army quarters in Pirmasens, West Germany, now a soldier’s wife instead of an Army personnel clerk. If the Armed Forces Radio and Television Service network in Europe broadcast news of Morrison’s death, I missed it. 

Eight changes of address after Pirmasens, my husband and I were back in West Germany. Now we were on the other side of the country. This time, Elvis had died. This news on the radio gave me the flashbulb moment I missed with Morrison. By then I was near Fulda, in my kitchen, 20 klicks from the East German border, giving my son breakfast. Quaker instant oatmeal. Apple.

So why should I consider Morrison’s death relevant to my experiences? Not that I knew it then but Jim and I had both been military kids. 

Jim Morrison’s father had been a career sailor and was a retired admiral when his son died. My dad had been a career soldier/airman and was a retired Air Force master sergeant when The Doors lost their lead singer in Paris. I doubt my dad noticed. During WW 2, Jim’s father had been a sailor, floating somewhere on the Pacific. My dad, during the same war, had been an aerial photographer, flying somewhere over the Pacific. The glaring difference between Jim and me is that he was famous. I was very much not famous. Jim was seven years older than I was, so he’d had a head start on fame but, seven years later, I still wasn’t famous. Still, as military kids, we shared the life. 

So, are there traceable events in the lives of military dependents, of brats, that make some of us rebel and become the Lizard King, and others to follow an opposite path and be the wife of a career soldier? Since, among my friends, the ways grown brats live their lives range from off the grid living in the wilds of Alaska to establishing post-service Beltway contractor businesses, I’m guessing statistics would show that our life paths are all individual. 

Many of us children of military parents serve in the military services: Francis Warren Pershing, John S. D. Eisenhower, John McCain, the three children of General James McConville, the current Chief of Staff of the Army, my brother, and my sister and me. Some brats become pacifists, such as the members of the mellow rock band, America. Other brats blend into civilian communities as teachers, nurses, middle-management corporate officials, or any of the host of jobs available in the country. Some military-affiliated kids, with less tragic stories than Jim Morrison, also rise to stardom: Jessica Alba, Bruce Willis, Ciara, Kris Kristofferson, Amy Adams, and Patton Oswalt. 

As for the parents of brats, despite continual volunteer work in communities and as government employees themselves, spouses of career service members usually don’t attract fame outside the various awards for “spouse of the year,” but fame is not necessary for valued contribution. Value itself resides in being part of the team supporting our country’s warriors.

Military children, drafted into the life often at birth, are a part of the overall population of Americans who take part in the mission of America’s military services. Some may say that spouses and kids are dependapotamuses, brats, straphangers. Of course, some family members are ‘less than supportive.’ Lake Woebegone notwithstanding, no population group is all above average. We’ve all heard, “If the [Service name] wanted you to have a spouse/family, they’d have issued you one!” 

Overall, spouses and brats provide service members with stability, with normal homes to settle in after a day, a week, a month, or a year of military duties. Spouses are sounding boards, absorbing stories from their partners, both of frustration and joy. Children ground the service members in the everyday. 

The support given to service members by their families has military value as attested to by so many promotion photos of family members pinning on the service member’s new rank. If the military services did not value spouses and brats, then Congress would not appropriate, and the DoD would not disburse, the funding necessary for hospitals, health care, and youth activities. The government would not spend money on family housing, transportation of dependents, or shipping mini-vans or other vehicles overseas. There would be no point to large commissaries, youth centers, and dependent schools. If our government did not recognize that families share the purpose of mission with servicemembers, far fewer soldiers, sailors, Marines, airmen, and Coast Guardsmen would have families. 

So who are military people? All of us ID-card holders make up the fabric of the American military structure, with service members as the tip of the spear. Given the money underpinning the DoD, rather than thinking, “if [Service] wanted you to have a spouse/family, …” one official outlook must be, “recruit an individual; retain a family.” No spear consists only of its tip.

Valerie Bonham Moon

Lemons or Pie?

By Circe Olson Woessner

It is day three of teleworking from home, and day bazillion in the pre-or apocalyptic reality we find ourselves in. “Social distancing” is a new word that everyone knows and practices – – unless you’ve taken a devil-may-care attitude about this whole “hoax disease.” As we stay at home, we shake our heads at the images of young people frolicking on the beaches or having parties. Nero plays the violin as Rome burns. Look at Italy! Look at Italy!

A lot of people are scared and acting out – – I have heard of fights right here in our local supermarket—Really? Come on, for Pete’s sake! People are hording supplies and stocking up on ammo in “case of wide-spread panic.”

False information and far-fetched conspiracy theory opinions are being shared on social media as the gospel truth. People are sending along chain messages, and offering advice on really weird ways to prevent getting sick.  Forwarded emails from unknown “experts” are adding to the chaos. Memes and weird jokes are byproducts of how some people react to stress—and some of them are really, really funny – – unless you have someone who is elderly in your family, or who is sick, or someone who has, God forbid, recently died from COVID-19.

What messages are we sending to our children, who look for us to be calm in a time of crisis? What are we telling the elderly or immune compromised? Are we modeling desired behavior?

If someone coughs, or sneezes, we glare at them – – why are you doing that– are you sick? At the supermarket, we scan other people, looking for signs of disease on them. Why are you coming up my aisle? Wait till I’m done here! Shoppers are furtive, dashing through the aisles grabbing things as if it’s the end of the world.

Maybe it is.

Life as we know it has changed over  the past few weeks. Our dog has taken to sleeping with us, something forbidden up until a few weeks ago when he decided he preferred our bed to his. We laughed nervously saying, “well if something happens to us, at least he can eat us from the comfort of the bed.” Not very funny, but humor has taken an extremely dark turn these days…

Our society is self-isolated (another new word that everyone knows) and our workdays are very different than they were even a week ago. My extended family is keeping running shopping lists, knowing that it will be very hard to find the items we want, and while we will not succumb to hoarding, we understand that food shopping has become a scavenger hunt.

I feel I’m living in one of those science fiction movies or a really bad dream I can’t wake up from. This is no way to live. However; think of the alternative! Several months ago, this was a rhetorical question, but now, the alternative is hitting closer to home. And it’s not so hypothetical.


… Just stop….breathe…Live in this particular moment. Take stock in your blessings right now.

In New Mexico the sun is shining, the trees are beginning to bud, and if you can slow your racing heartbeat, you can hear the birds sing. if you’re like me, and live near I-40, you can hear the hum of the interstate, of trucks bringing needed supplies to communities all across this country. The National Guard is setting up hospital tents; Airmen are stocking shelves at the Kirtland Air Force Base Commissary. Babies are being born; people are getting married. Life is still going on.

Over and over, I am drawn to the quote attributed to Mr. Rogers after 911.  “When I was a boy and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”

And it’s very true. The military is calling up retired healthcare workers to join the fight against Covid-19. Federal employees are teleworking, ensuring that the nation doesn’t grind to a halt. Emergency responders and military  are rotating personnel to ensure there are enough healthy team members to respond to a national emergency or health crisis.

Stores are trying to accommodate the massive amount of shoppers panic buying, and setting up designated shopping times for people who are vulnerable. Utility companies are suspending disconnections and overdue accounts. Workers are pulling longer shifts to accommodate the requirements needed to get us through this crisis.

Impromptu support groups are starting on Facebook. Younger people are offering to run errands for older people. People are passing along local resources and information on store inventories and discounted places.

Neighbors are checking in on their neighbors; recently unemployed people are offering childcare services so that frontline staff who have to work, can get to their jobs at hospitals, supermarkets, emergency response centers, etc.

Even while under lockdown, the human spirit is strong.  Individuals – – common, everyday people – – are lifting the spirits of their fellow human being by leading them exercise sessions as they watch from balconies.  A military spouse in Germany serenaded her fellow base dwellers with her own funny versions of Andrew Lloyd Webber hits. A friend is reading poetry selections on Skype. Symphonies and theater companies are performing concerts or plays and streaming them free to the public. Companies are offering free educational products to parents who suddenly find themselves homeschooling their kids. (I tried to homeschool my son when he was nine and it didn’t end well for either of us– so hats off to every homeschool parent out there now trying to figure it out!) I’ve joined an online writer’s group with complete strangers from all over the world, and we are enjoying the creative company.

Last night, I watched a short YouTube video called “Isolated St. Patrick’s Day Parade” where people around the world, through the miracle of technology, were able to play one song from their homes—in Spain , the US, Ireland,  the UK  and Australia– in harmony and in sync. It was lovely and appropriately wonderful for a very unusual St. Patrick’s Day.

When this is all said and done, I’m hoping we have learned lessons as a society and can make our world safer, friendlier and better.

I never signed up to be dealing with COVID-19, but since I must, I have choices: I can panic and be mean and small, or I can take this lemon that I was given and make a big, beautiful meringue pie.

I choose the pie.