Community Impact Meets Personal Impact Impact Insights

Contemporary History & Hope

Written by: Dwayne Groll, PE. LEED-AP

Our nation and the world are still in the midst of devastation by a global pandemic. While we face an uncertain future, we can reflect on the struggles our country has faced and be thankful for the advantages we have today, even in these unprecedented times. I encourage you to be hopeful, be excited about the future, and pay forward an act of kindness that you have received in your lifetime.


We are fortunate, despite the crisis, to enjoy technological advances, the ability to communicate with our loved ones without physical contact, and modern science. Through these luxuries of the times, we can be positive and hopeful of the future and thankful for the hard work and dedication of all our nation’s doctors, nurses, scientists, grocery clerks, delivery people and all other essential and non-essential workers.

We can admit to each other that these are frightening times. Family and friends may be unemployed, sick or even taken from us by the virus. As of May 18, The New York Times reported 89,504 deaths in the United States because of COVID-19, with 315,089 global deaths. The fortunate can work from home, but so many more must continue working with their lives at risk every day so that we can enjoy the essential necessities of life.

A reflection on contemporary history will reveal that many generations have also suffered from unprecedented events. We, our parents, grandparents and great-grandparents all underwent radical global challenges in the last 100 years.

We begin our historical journey in 1918: the H1N1 (Spanish Flu) pandemic. The world was still reeling from the Great War, ending the same year. The death toll from H1N1 reached 675,000 people in the United States and an estimated 50 million people globally. It is estimated that over 20 million lives were lost to the horrors of World War I.

The next ten years led to many things we enjoy today with technological advances permeating every aspect of American life. Many Americans enjoyed prosperity and things like the automobile, the radio, movie theaters, airplanes, electric appliances and telephones. Life was quickly becoming easier.

It all came crashing down with the stock market collapse of 1929 on Black Thursday—dark despair ensued for the next 16 years. The market crash catapulted the country into the Great Depression of the 1930s. 15 million people were unemployed, and more than 9,000 banks failed. A third of all American farmers lost their farms. The country experienced not only an economic collapse but physical catastrophes as well, including drought and the Dust Bowl that lasted much of the 1930s, causing agricultural devastation across our heartland.

Following the despair of the Depression, World War II had started on the European continent in 1939 and the United States was drawn into the conflict when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor in 1941. The second world war, the deadliest conflict in the history of mankind, led to between 70 and 85 million deaths.

The war, leaving death and devastation across the globe, ended in 1945. A brief time of peace and exuberance for the country followed and lasted a short 5 years until conflict broke out on the Korean peninsula, and once again the United States was in battle from 1950-1953. It is estimated that as many as 5 million people perished in the conflict, with over half being civilians.

A brief respite blossomed for two years until conflict arose on another peninsula, this time in Vietnam, beginning in 1955, until Saigon fell in 1975, claiming 3 million lives, with as many as 2 million civilians killed. Since 1975, the United States has been in conflict in Iraq, suffered the tragic events and economic impact of September 11, 2001, and experiences war in global areas of conflict still to this day. Most recently, the Great Recession of 2009 was ushered in with the housing and sub-prime mortgage crisis beginning in 2006 lasting through 2009, perhaps the most significant U.S. economic decline since the Great Depression, until now.

Through the lens of the 100 years, we can see how our ancestors and predecessors suffered in so many ways. Recent history is rife with war, genocide, terrorism, inequality, hate crimes, financial crashes, income inequalities and of course, pandemics. Our small heroic acts of staying home and social distancing seem easy when compared to tragedies that recent history reveals.

Let us take a moment to breathe! We have admitted it is a dark time and we have also remembered that dark times have struck before. That’s step one and two. We can take stock of what we have. Talk to your loved ones. Enjoy the blossoming trees and flowers and the warming of summer. We can be thankful for our modern amenities to make life easier and keep us entertained (Netflix, anyone?). But, if you have experienced loss, reach out and hands will grasp you. No one must go through this alone. In fact, our (social distanced) togetherness will be our saving grace. If we work together, to find safe and creative solutions, we can rise above the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.

So, what can we do? Through the lens of contemporary history, I leave you with these thoughts and actions that you can live every day:

  • BE HOPEFUL – Depressive thoughts come easily during times of stress. We can find strength in knowing that humanity has been tried and tested before, but our resilience and hope will push our minds and hearts forward.
  • BE EXCITED ABOUT THE FUTURE – We are living in historic times. We can look forward to once again hugging our friends and family and enjoying our favorite activities. One day, COVID-19 will be a memory: full of sorrow for some, boredom for others, creativity for some, but full of caution and warning for all. While we heal, we can look forward to a safer, healthier and more conscious world.
  • PAY IT FORWARD—Remember that your neighbor may be experiencing the pandemic in a much more visceral way, whether it be the virus itself, financial devastation or other traumatic impacts. Treat others with kindness, charity and compassion, like someone has treated you in your lifetime. Give someone an extra smile, mow your neighbor’s grass, save your weekly Starbucks bill and buy groceries for a struggling friend, spend it at a re-opened neighborhood shop, give your waiter or waitress a significant tip to make their day—or to put some food on their family table!

Let’s take a moment to reflect on where we have been, the sacrifice and service of those before us in history, and recognize how blessed we are, living in these United States of America – and act today on these three thoughts – Be Hopeful; Be Excited about the Future; Pay it Forward.