Peaks, Valleys, and Life in Between

These are truly historic times. The United States – along with the rest of the world – is in the grips of a pandemic that most of us could never imagine, even in our worst nightmares. At the time of this writing, the deaths within our borders alone are running into tens of thousands, and the global number of cases is now being counted in millions. Most of the country is under some sort of stay-at-home mandate, our economy has basically sputtered to a crawl, and our stock markets appear to be in a continual free-fall. These are desperate times, when everyday Americans are fearful for their lives, and for the safety and well-being of their loved ones. Beyond those immediate concerns, folks are worried about their jobs and the sudden declines in the values of their retirement accounts. How can we presume that donors will think about planned gifts – or charitable gifts of any kind – at a time like this?

I won’t resort to sugar-coating the ugly realities that engulf us at the moment. I won’t pretend to have special knowledge of how this global health crisis is going to reach its peak and then subside, nor will I presume to know exactly how the stock market and our economy in general will recover. I will simply try to put things into perspective and to stick to the facts – to a few things that I know – trying to remind readers of some truisms that have always endured, through the best and worst of times.

First, everything under the sun is temporary. Nothing is forever. OK, maybe that’s a little too broad, but we have been through horrific times before, and we – as a country and as a modern-day society – have endured. Not only have we endured, but eventually, we have bounced back, and we have even thrived again. The so-called “Spanish Flu” of 1918 – 1920 swept through the United States and Western Europe like a fireball. It caused tens of millions of deaths worldwide, and in the US, the estimates are around 675,000. Our population was much smaller then, so the number represented a much greater proportion of the population than it would now. Moreover, our tracking abilities were much less capable at that time, which means the impact was likely much greater than it appears at first blush. By all accounts, that pandemic led to conditions that were far worse than what we are dealing with now. I won’t go into any of the details, but they are well known. And yet, we endured it all somehow, and then we transitioned into the “Roaring Twenties.” Lo, the indefatigable human spirit!

We keep hearing reports about the COVID-19 outbreak reaching a peak in one country, and then in another; in one or two states, and then in others. It’s really oversimplified, because there are many peaks within the scope of the crisis. There are numbers of new cases, numbers of hospitalizations, numbers of persons in ICU wards, numbers of persons on ventilators, and of course, the heartbreaking numbers of deaths. They all mean something serious, and my head starts spinning when I think too much about all of them. But this is not to trivialize them – every aspect of the reporting represents another piece of the of the tragedy that is plowing over populations and taking innocent lives on its way. There will be many, many more lives lost before this is over, and we will be affected for generations to come.

People frequently refer to this pandemic as a tsunami or tidal wave, but I disagree; those move much too quickly. The coronavirus pandemic is more like a steamroller run amok. It is slow and plodding and all-too-painful to witness. But however one wishes to characterize it, this crisis will be over in the near future. Life is bouncing back in Wuhan, China, the apex has been reached in parts of Europe, and in the U.S., we see the gradual path of the pandemic moving from earlier states to later states. There are arguments now between federal and state elected officials over when the “early” states can re-open for business, i.e. return to normal business and social activities. The immediate crisis will be over in a matter of months, no matter how many years the complete recovery will take.

Yes, these are extraordinary times indeed, with devastating and monumental consequences, but they represent the extremes in our lives. Time changes everything, and we will soon return to the more normal habits and ways. People will start traveling again, and restaurants will be over-flowing with customers. There will be ball games and shopping expeditions and all of the usual human stuff. We’ll all become so busy again that we’ll almost wish for the quiet and slower pace of these strange weeks and months. Donors will express interest in making charitable gifts again, and some of them will even be interested in planned gifts. This too shall pass, and the future will be much like the past – it always happens that way. There are peaks and valleys in the collective human experience, to be sure, but most of our lives are spent in the stretches between them.

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