I’ve been trying to read more during this whole thing. I mean, what else do we have to do, right? So, I’ve picked up Erik Larson’s new book on World War II, England, and the Blitz, The Splendid and the Vile. In his usual quick and punchy prose, Larson talks about how the Nazi terror bombing of London had the almost singular purpose of breaking British morale. But, surprisingly, it had the opposite effect.
I was thinking about this time in history, hold up here in my little Adams Morgan condo for one. Sure, we don’t have bombs screeching down on us or anything. But we also don’t have the booming voice of a Churchill-like leader coming through the airwaves to reassure us, either.
If the Blitz was a test of British resolve, how is this virus testing us? Granted, we’ve established a pretty good blueprint for how community can coalesce and even grow in hard times. So there’s that. And like then, one of the most striking ways our community is coming together is the forging of healthier connections to friends. I think we’ve always been a bit more sensitive to this than most, assembling our ‘chosen families’ among fellow misfits in the cities we pick out from a map of queer locales.
But now, with social media and technology to assist us, we have everything from virtual happy hours, bookclubs, even show tune nights courtesy of 17th Street’s JR’s Bar. But it’s not just the recreation of social events that I find reassuring, it’s the checking in on each other. It’s the friends turning to each other with the sincere asking of how you are doing. That social distance doesn’t have to mean an emotional distance between people. That is, even though I can’t see you, I still very much care about you.
Beyond the one-on-one connections, there’s also just a greater sense of community. All in good fun and a lighthearted sense of laugh-or-else-you’d-cry resolve, I’m reminded again of the Blitz and how one bombed out West End restaurant hung a sign out front reading, ‘We are WIDE open.’ I live in Adams Morgan, and my neighborhood bars and eateries are responding similarly. One of my favorite haunts, the Duplex Diner, had local drag queen Goldie Grigio serving up signature squeezes and her usual sass from the window. The line was down the street. All six feet apart, of course. The Duplex was even advertising in the window something called ‘DC Restaurant Bonds’ featuring a picture of World War II icon Rosie the Riveter.
Beyond the personal touch and the connections to our neighborhoods, this could lend itself to a greater appreciation for our city. If we are really yet to peak here in D.C., and as we begin the summer beach trips and such, we might just remember how beautiful this city can be. A solo bike ride through Rock Creek Park on Sunday reminded me how fortunate we truly are to have the green spaces we do. And though we’d all like to feel sand under our toes sooner rather than later, we can get sun on our faces in the city in a variety of ways and in a variety of places. All while practicing social distancing, of course.
Having lived in England for a few years, I can tell you that the Blitz and that “keep calm and carry on” attitude are a real source of pride for them, even 80 years later. Maybe how gay D.C. deals with these trying times will prove to be a source of future pride for our community? One can hope. And all signs currently point to yes.
So, what else do we have to do during this time? Well, turns out, quite a lot. So, let’s laugh, let’s check in on each other, check in on our city, and make ourselves proud.
Brock Thompson is a D.C.-based writer. He contributes regularly to the Blade.