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Success and the Pandemic

Last updated: February 2022

“Success is not final; failure is not fatal: it is the courage to continue that counts.” -- Winston Churchill

I am ready to put away the virus and face the new best thing. Yet, here we are, stranded, awaiting the end of something. Omicron has darkened the door of our country and our community. Those who have been safe are once again at risk, and those who were previously infected, seem to be susceptible all over.

I am fully vaccinated, I am boosted, and I am careful. But will it be enough? I do not know, and no one else does either. We are once again tossed into a vortex of doubt and shocking news. I am tired of worrying about it, tired of friends who become ill, and I am tired of hearing about infections, deaths, tests, and the lack of assurance that we feel safe.

In regular times I enjoy restaurants, movie theaters, and travel. Since COVID happened, I have not enjoyed a movie or taken a trip. We have dined out sparingly, and our days have stretched into months and years. Just when I thought it might be over, Omicron got its start, and once again, people are getting sick and dying.

But is success final?

Then I thought of the quote often attributed to Winston Churchill. Success is not final. I know this to be true; success in anything has never been absolute. I must remember that in fighting COVID-19, success is ongoing. We must ask ourselves what we can do to combat it today? We must ask our immune system, vaccinations, and methods to evade the virus; what have you done for me today? If the answer is based on yesterday, then it is time to find new success.

The second part of that oft-quoted phrase is that failure is not fatal. It is often said that this statement was made amid the Dunkirk evacuation. The British people rescued around 200,000 troops from the beaches of Dunkirk. It was a massive success. Yet almost 80,000 troops (40,000 British and 40,000 French) were left behind on the beaches. So yes, failure was not fatal, but many soldiers were left behind. Many died, and many were taken prisoner. In other words, success was achieved, but failure also occurred. Success for most was also fatal for many.

Courage makes the difference

Finally, the speaker of these words tells us that courage is the will to keep going. I admit I am often ready to give up. But I must have the courage to keep going. I am upset with the unvaccinated. I am angry with those who refuse to acknowledge that my friends and I are immune-compromised. I am angry when I hear people speak of their right to remain unvaccinated. Your right can be my death, and I regard the failure to vaccinate yourself much like yelling fire in a crowded theater. Yet as an individual, what can I do? Not much. Just keep going. It has happened that my only defense is to keep going.

It is the courage to keep going to be effective. But that does not mean we can live stupidly. We must be steady. We must acknowledge we cannot control others. We can only control ourselves.

Remember the 80,000 troops left behind. They suffered in numerous ways, including death. Remember the pain of those families who had to watch sons, brothers, and husbands die while the nation celebrated others being saved. Churchill had it right; the courage to keep going makes the difference.

How are you showing courage in the face of the resurgence of COVID-19 and the Omicron variant?

The quote

Now back to the famous quote. As I said, it is often attributed to Winston Churchill. In fact, according to one of the most authoritative websites about quotes, there is no record that Churchill ever said it. The lineage of the passage is amazing. Starting in a literary criticism in 1905 which published a version that read as follows:

“Comedy amuses, corrects, and heartens. It shows that the vanities of life are not final, and the failures not always fatal.”

Then O’Toole (a pseudonym) weaves a path through history with beer commercials and others close to but not the exact quote. That is until Joe Paterno uses the quote and attributes it to Churchill.

After that, the quote takes off, and history is made. Or rather, people are fooled. When I started using this quote, I was certain Churchill first uttered this. John Wooden, Mike Ditka, and George Tilton also said similar things. Sometimes as if they have said it and others as if Sam Rayburn and Winston Churchill said it.

If all of that sounds like the most confusing history possible, then toss in a rebuke by the International Churchill Society to the Atlanta Constitution that they misquoted and misidentified the speaker as Churchill. This brings an end of this twisted road. According to the Churchill Society, Winston Churchill did say the following:

“No one can guarantee success in war but only deserve it.”

Much like solving the puzzle of treating Coronavirus, knowing who said these words is a quest down a slippery slope. So yes, when I hear the prophecy of success in battling COVID-19, I will remember what Winston Churchill said, might have said, or never said. Still, it is a pretty darn effective way of thinking about how we deal with COVID-19, 20, 21, or 22; I have lost count.

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