Empty Chairs At Empty Tables

In the Broadway musical Les Miserables based on Victor Hugo’s classic novel of 19th century France; there is a poignant musical number in the second act called Empty Chairs at Empty Tables. The scene is where a group of women lament about the students and friends who gathered at the café were all killed when the French army stormed the barricades during a protest against conditions in Paris during unrest in 1830.

Fast forward to 2020 and this song could be sung at many tables this holiday season as there are no doubt many empty chairs at empty tables. Since the United States recorded its first death attributed to the COVID 19 illness on February 29, at this writing more than 253,000 Americans have died from this disease. In addition, more than 12 million Americans have been infected by this virus.

No doubt that by the time most people will gather for Christmas, the total American deaths from COVID 19 will exceed the total battle deaths from the Second World War of 291,557 and no doubt by March 1,  one year after the first death from COVID, the deaths from COVID 19 will exceed all American deaths from the Second World War of 405,399. Put into perspective, the United States could have more deaths from this pandemic in one year than all the deaths from the Second World War which spanned almost four years.

During the Second World War, no doubt there were many empty chairs at empty tables during thanksgiving and Christmas as  young men were off fighting in that war. The Second World War ended three years before I was born, so what I know of that war has been through the stories I heard from my parents and their generation as well as from history lessons.

For many Americans who have grown up since then; it is inconceivable that on holidays many families would have empty chairs at their tables of a son, brother, husband or father who was off somewhere fighting in a bloody war. They didn’t really know where their loved one was or what he was facing during that war. At the same time, no one knew for sure when that war would end and whether their loved ones would be coming home. Many were buried in overseas graveyards or at sea.

But somehow, Americans kept their spirits up during that war. In fact, many of our most cherished Christmas songs are from that period from 1941 until 1945. The most popular song of all time, White Christmas was from a movie in 1942, Holiday Inn that expressed fond memories of Christmas back home. Another popular holiday song, Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas, is from another movie in 1944 titled Meet Me in Saint Louis, a nostalgic look back at an earlier time of peace and longing for another year when the family could be together. I’ll be Home for Christmas is another popular holiday song that goes back to the Second World War about a being away from home during the holiday saying that they will be home for Christmas, if only in their dreams.

There were many sacrifices that they had to make that I believe that few today would accept. Meat, butter and other foods were rationed. Gasoline was also rationed. There were no new tires made during the war as all rubber went into the war effort. In addition, the auto companies converted their factories to material needed to fight the war. No new civilian cars were made during the war. 

Families had to make do as long as possible with their old car and tires since they would not be able to buy new cars or tires. But, since gasoline was rationed, they had to be careful where they went and limit driving. Travelling to grandma’s house was out of the question unless grandma lived close by.

But that war came to an end, as this pandemic will come to an end. When that war ended, the entire world had changed. The nation after the war was radically different than the nation before the war. No doubt when the United States and the world emerges from this pandemic, the world will be much different than it was before the pandemic.

As the song in its original version, sung by Judy Garland goes, “Someday soon we all will be together, if the fates allow. Until then we’ll have to muddle through somehow. So, have Yourself a Merry little Christmas now”.

Lee Kamps

Lee has been working with Medicare, Medicaid and private health insurance since he began working at the Erie County Welfare Department in January 1973 where a major part of his job was determining eligibility for Medicaid. He went into the private insurance business in 1977 with Prudential Insurance Company and within a short time had become one of the company’s top sales agents. In 1982, he was promoted into management where he managed two field offices and as many as thirteen sales agents. After leaving Prudential in 1986, Lee decided to become more focused on health insurance and employee benefits. He has advised many local employers on how to have a more cost effective employee benefit program as well as conducted employee benefit meetings and enrollments for many area employers. The companies Lee has worked with ranged from small “mom and pop” businesses to local operations of large national companies. Lee received his B.S. degree from Kent State University where he has been active in the local alumni association. He has completed seven of the ten courses toward the Certified Employee Benefit Specialist designation. He has taught courses in employee benefits and insurance at Cleveland State University and local community colleges. In addition, Lee is an experienced and accomplished public speaker. He has been a member of Toastmasters International where he achieved the designation of “Able Toastmaster – Silver” in 1994. He has also served as a club president, Area Governor and District Public Relations Officer in Toastmasters as well as winning local speech contests. Lee has also been a member of the Greater Cleveland Growth Association’s Speaker’s Bureau where he was designated as one of the “official spokespeople for the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame” prior to the hall’s opening in 1995. He has given talks and presentations before many audiences including civic organizations, AARP chapters and many other community groups. With the implementation of the Medicare Modernization Act (Medicare drug bill) in 2006, Lee has shifted his focus to Medicare and helping Medicare beneficiaries navigate the often confusing array of choices and plans available. As an independent representative, Lee is not bound to any one specific company or plan, but he can offer a plan that suits an individual person’s needs and budget. In addition, Lee is well versed in the requirements and availability of various programs for assistance with Medicare part D as well as Medicaid. While he cannot make one eligible, he can assist in the process and steer one to where they may be able to receive assistance.

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Volume 12, Issue 12, Posted 11:19 AM, 12.01.2020