My husband was the inadvertent poster child for perseverance that night. He piloted us through three hours safely. Throughout the drive I could hear my granddaughter shouting at me, “Perseverance is not my best virtue!” During the summer I’d urged her to summon that excellence and keep swimming towards me across what to her seemed an impossibly long stretch of bay. She made it. A short swim. Like our short drive.
But now the real work of perseverance begins for so many. Starting from scratch. Rebuilding. Summoning reserves of resolve, diligence, and hope. Staying focused for the long haul as we work to restore homes, businesses, and lives. It’s hard to persevere when life has become a mucky slog, rather than a terrifying adventure.
For many, it’s about waiting an hour in their overheated cars in ninety degree weather as they queue up for food. Yesterday, in one part of Naples, Our Daily Bread, Al’s Pals, and the Salvation Army gave out more than 300 free meals, bags of food, and grocery store gift certificates for families ranging from two to ten people. Families who’d lost their homes, their livelihoods. Many of them had English as their second language. The lines stretched out the high school parking lot and moved at a snail’s pace. But people waited and received with gratitude and good grace.
I have had stellar examples of perseverance in my life. My mother was a prisoner of war during World War II, and for three years endured captivity, disease, cruelty, and starvation in a Japanese internment camp in Manila. She was full of stories about enduring and outwitting hunger (she kept a recipe book) and boredom (though study and shows), surviving diphtheria and beriberi, and occasionally outwitting their captors. She weighed ninety pounds when liberated and stood 5’4.
In 2015 I attended a seventieth anniversary event for the liberation of the camp, and a high school student asked one of the surviving internees (then in her late 80s) whether she or others had been tempted to suicide in the face of such a struggle. The girl admitted that she herself sometimes had suicidal thoughts and had endured no such tragedy. Mrs. Bennett looked surprised at the question. “No, no, we didn’t,” she said. “I don’t know anyone who thought of suicide. We had each other and we never lost hope. We knew, we just knew our boys would come and liberate us.” And they did.
Perseverance is not a flashy virtue. It's about putting one foot in front of the other again and again -- hour after hour, day after day, and sometimes year after year. But, as Joan Bennett reminded us, perseverance is closely related to hope. And friends along the way. Barry had the hope of finding his family and the companionship of Cruz. Internees had the hope of freedom and the unfailing support of each other. The Hispanic and Haitian-born Naples needy have the perennial hope of the American dream, a better life in this new country they’ve adopted, and they’ve got the help of each other, along with volunteers and organizations who roll up their sleeves and say “we’re all in this together.” So, to quote a sage, “let us persevere in running the race that lies before us.”
Mary Beth Klee
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