Written for Allegro magazine, official journal of AFM Local 802 NYC.
Greetings, musicians, from a safe social distance! Even though we are many months into the pandemic, it is not even close to being over. We are still being swamped by the first wave of Covid-19 cases which we are told will be followed by a second wave. That will bring continued uncertainty and more unwelcome changes. It is no longer a quick sprint to take care of immediate emergencies and end new disruptions. The pandemic has become more like a marathon with a long way to go. It is time to focus on resilience, perseverance, and endurance. We will make it through to the other side of the tragedy no matter what it takes.
Endurance is the ability to sustain prolonged physical and mental effort in adverse circumstances. It requires enough stamina to exert a high amount of energy and mental strength over extended periods of time. It takes a tremendous amount of willpower to resist the temptation to give up and quit the fight. You need to constantly bounce back and recover after setbacks with the likelihood of even more unfortunate events in the future.
Unfortunately, due to the tragic events over the past months, you are probably not starting this marathon feeling fresh or well-rested. You may already be feeling physically and mentally exhausted. The future might not look very bright in your mind, and it is likely to get worse before it starts to get better. However, that may actually help your approach to the situation and your ability to resolve it successfully.
None of us have ever been through anything like this before. The best I can offer is one of the hard- learned discoveries from my military training. It is not the same as what musicians are dealing with during this protracted struggle, but I learned that endurance is what keeps us moving when we feel completely depleted.
In the first week of Army Ranger school, we started every day at O-dark-thirty before first light. As soon as we were assembled outside, we began the infamous Darby Queen obstacle course. It was a grueling series of challenging obstacles through woods and rolling terrain with cadre members shouting “encouragement” all along the way.
The course started with a 200 meter run, then scaling a 6 foot high wall, followed by a 20 foot rope climb. Then came the “worm pit”, a shallow, muddy pool of water 25 meters long covered by knee high barbed wire. The Rangers needed to crawl through the pit twice, once on their stomachs and the next on their backs. Then came 25 meters of horizontal ladders, and climbing up and over vertical logs and cargo netting. Finally, there were a series of very high obstacles to negotiate, including the skyscraper which might have been 10 meters high. I thought the skyscraper was really scary, and I was a platform diver who had just completed five jumps during paratrooper training!
Each day as soon as we finished the course, still covered in mud and sweat, we picked up our M16 rifles and began a run while singing a cadence call, ”I wanna be an airborne ranger, I wanna live a life of danger…here we go, all the way, every day!” The first day’s run was one mile. I was never a good or fast runner. I was a diver. I hated to run, especially in wet and heavy combat boots while singing cadence. The second day after the Darby Queen, it was a 2 mile run. Then they added one more mile every day until Friday we had a 5 mile run. I didn’t know if I could do it, I just knew that I had to finish.
In Ranger School, if you drop out of any activity, like one of the runs, or the 12-mile forced march, or if you fail to negotiate any obstacle in the Darby Queen, you are out of the program immediately. There are no excuses and no second chances. For commissioned officers, it would mean the end of an upwardly mobile career. You would never rise above the rank of major, or ever become a colonel or general.
On the final 5 mile run, every one of us was just hoping we could make it. When we got about a mile from the finish, we could see the barracks and sense light at the end of the tunnel. For the first time in my life, I felt myself getting a second wind. I had my sights set on the finish line, and I believed that I would actually make it there.
When we made it, a new cadre came out to replace those who ran with us. They started shouting, “Are you guys really tough?” We yelled, “Yeah, we’re tough!” They told us to put our rifles over our heads and start running in place. “You’re not tough, you’re a bunch of wimps. You’re not Ranger tough.” We screamed, “Yeah, we’re Ranger tough!” They shouted, “You think that you Rangers are tough enough to do it again?” We said, “Yeah, we’re Ranger tough, let’s go again!! Wait…No! Are you kidding?” They were not kidding.
With no time to recover, we headed down the road for another five mile run. Within minutes, guys started dropping like flies. By the end of the first mile, even more troops were falling to the side of the road, never to be seen again. I’m not sure what happened after that. I can’t remember anything besides the final mile of that run. That was when I found something inside of me I’d never known was ever there. I discovered strength within to persevere to the end and to triumph over any external situation, no matter what the circumstances.
Since then, I fortunately have not had to tap into that amazing resource, at least until recently. This pandemic is an awful trial, but it offers us an ideal time to get in touch with our willpower and resilience. I know that the power to endure, persevere, and triumph over adversity is within each of us. You need to successfully ride this wave out and then power through the next one. Stay positive, but anticipate potential future setbacks with contingency plans. Pace yourself for the long haul. Stay in touch with your good friends and loved ones. Get plenty of sleep and rest. Hydrate to the max. Get plenty of sunshine and fresh air. Strive for excellence daily, I know that you can do that. Stay safe and be well.