At odd junctures of my life, I will find myself thinking of history, which as Mark Twain put it “never repeats itself, but it rhymes.” At this moment I think of the 1918-1919 Spanish Flu, Influenza, which claimed 675,000 people in the United States alone. It was a devastating, unpredictable disease, because the cure was never discovered. True, like today with COVID-19, people could wear masks. For all that there was tragedy and people abandoned those they loved to escape the disease, there were also heroes, particularly as doctors and nurses.
The book The Great Influenza by John Barry indicated that President Wilson–the disease struck during World War I–was one of the villains and victims of Influenza. He did little to stem the tide of the disease, so bent on winning the War that we were in. On the other hand, at Versailles he may have been suffering from the then mysterious ailment, and that might have been why he was unable to make good on the promises he made the United States and the World–for a world filled with peace, unlike how it had been under the Great Power system leading up to World War I. He died when he got back to Washington, D.C. and could not get the Versailles Treaty ratified in the United States–crippling the new “League of Nations” from its onset.
Barry also says that little is written about Influenza–but that is only half true. Katherine Anne Porter’s classic Pale Horse, Pale Rider is about suffering from the deadly disease. Porter and her fiancé at the time both caught the illness, and he died of it (she survived to tell the tale). I recall reading it a few years back. I have several other books–but I forget the names–of books referred to by Barrie of Influenza survivors. He said they said little about the illness itself in their books, though one of them lost parents to the epidemic. Though I read Pale Horse, Pale Rider before COVID-19 by several years, I may read it again just because of the absurd claim that illness is never treated well in books, that illness like Influenza can even dwarf man-made catastrophes.
At the beginning of COVID-19, I started writing a COVID-19 Journal to record day-to-day life during the epidemic. I write just under 500 words each day. Well, I forgot to today. Yet usually, I write each day. I believe I began around March 2020. I called it Hard Times in 2020, and am now working on Hard Times in 2021. Aunt Margaret says that when it is all over–and I am certain that it will be over soon–people will want to forget the illness and the tragedy that came with it. She told me, however–she is a librarian–that I should work on it for posterity’s sake. People will want first hand accounts sometime in the future.
For now I am relieved that I have all of my shots, including the third booster shot. One thing I am pleased about is that President Biden is sending extra medicine to 3rd World Countries, where it is hard to produce. I know we are supposed to do this for selfish reasons–creating herd immunity–but I believe that this is a challenge of the spirit that Americans must accept. I encourage anyone who has not gotten their shot to get it, and each person who has gotten it to write to President Biden to spread the medicine to all those who need it, at home and alive.
Maybe there will be an opportunity to gain back our credibility as a world power because of this devastating illness. Perhaps we can use this as an opportunity to create a Marshall Plan for the 3rd World, focusing not only on medicine for COVID-19 but also birth control and malaria. Perhaps we can find a new way of living, a way in harmony with both our fellow human beings and the earth. We should always see tragedy as a doorway to do good for others. Remember that after World War II, the United States rebuilt Europe and Japan. Now, surviving a terrible illness, we can burst forth like the Phoenix once more.