Wednesday, April 1, 2020

Musings in a Time of Crisis X

I realized for the first time, and forever
that we were not safe, we were not beyond harm.
~ William Maxwell

William Maxwell's poignant statement above, which he referenced in the context of the effects on him of his mother's death, concludes Secret History | Killer Flu, a remarkable documentary about the influenza pandemic of 1918-1919. Originally broadcast in June 1998, and featuring historical footage and interviews with virologists, historians, and survivors, the film focuses primarily on the pandemic's effects on the United States. What is striking is not only the global devastation of the pandemic but also the parallels to our "once-in-a-lifetime" coronavirus crisis and the many lessons — about planning and emergency preparedness; government coordination, cooperation, and collaboration; mitigation measures such as isolation and quarantine to protect the public health; disease surveillance; protocols for care and treatment; support of scientific and medical research; and resource stockpiling, among others — that went unlearned and were not institutionalized. What people resorted to use to try  to "cure" the ill-effects they experienced are eye-opening. If you watch the film, which is on YouTube, think about how those lessons could be helping us today as we try to overcome the coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis. Then ask: What do we need to learn from this current crisis to prevent deadly mistakes in the future. (Note: At the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, you will find "The Deadliest Flue: The Complete Story of the Discovery and Reconstruction of the 1918 Pandemic Virus". Also see the Influenza section, which includes historical images, a timeline, and an infographic. In addition, see "The Deadly Virus: The Influenza Epidemic of 1918" at the National Archives' Website. Those pages include documents and photos.)


Between the dark sky and the dark earth
we hang a light in a dark tree
and sing of our wonder together.*
~ Pir Elias Amidon


I understand why so many businesses are filling my in-box with scores of sales ads for every conceivable thing, from books and bras to emergency guidelines. They are trying to stay in business, of course. My FaceBook stream similarly fills but while I can delete my email, I can't do anything about the ads on social media. Although I acknowledge those, too, help FaceBook to continue to deliver the platform to us, at a time when human connection is so important, I also think some of those ads (I try to avoid looking at most of them) border on the obscene. One that recently caught my attention was an ad from a funeral home, and it appeared over and over in my stream. Others were from senior care/assisted living homes and cruise lines, which, unfortunately because of the coronavirus/COVID-19 crisis, connote the highly negative. Advertising is one of those areas where technology needs to get creative, fast, so that in an emergency such as we face now ads can be handled differently, with sensitivity and concern. Algorithms need to be made smarter and relinquishment of privacy to users, if only temporarily, should be considered.


There are many, many things that seem so unfair. I scan the obituaries and learn that a survivor of the Holocaust has died from COVID-19. Think about that: to survive a concentration camp and then die from a virus for which we have no cure. Our health/medical care professionals are wearing plastic garbage bags in place of sterile gowns or have to rely on home-made cloth masks they must wear for days on end, no matter how dirtied they've become, because replacements are unavailable. Who stands up to take responsibility for lack of supplies? We certainly can't look to the president, who interrupts reporters at a daily briefing to give them his thoughts about some television show's ratings, hint that health care professionals are stealing masks to sell them on a black market, or complain about how many billions he's lost in the crisis. Let him sit upon his gold throne and have to look at pictures of the beloveds we've lost. Italy, a country whose people I love, has been devastated. Six-feet-apart chalk outlines are drawn on outdoor parking lots to give men and women and children experiencing homelessness the proper physical distance from each other's concrete beds. Rules about bringing migrants in to harvest our fields have been relaxed; they are given nothing in the way of personal protective equipment or a fair wage. And innocent people and American soldiers are still dying in wars our country can't seem to end. Unfair? These are obscene and immoral and profoundly tragic.


* Quoted from "Coronavirus" at A Network for Grateful Living Blog, March 30, 2020. The page lists a variety of helpful resources. Pir Elias Amidon is the spiritual director (Pir) of Sufi Way International.

1 comment:

Kathleen said...

What difficult times. Thank you for gathering words and thoughts for us. William Maxwell is dear to my heart, and his poignant personal story, incorporated into his fiction, hits home. I taught for a few years in his home town, Lincoln, Illinois. His mother took the train to Bloomington (twin city to where I live now) when pregnant, to have her baby with a good doctor there. The irony was that she caught the flu on the close quarters of the train and died of it after the baby was born, who lived.