Safe at home during coronavirus pandemic, remember blessings don’t always roar
by Phil Burgess, Unabridged from the Life section of the Annapolis Capital, Sunday April 5, 2020
A recurring bonus years’ theme is the idea that with age comes perspective and balance, virtues born of knowledge and experience.
Sometimes we flaunt it. Think of the comment, “I’ve seen this movie before” – as a know-it-all flashes his or her familiarity with what’s going on and how it’s going to end.
More often, I would hope, we use our perspective to build trust or confidence. Think of the TV ad where the handsome, aging and still engaging actor Tom Selleck, now the spokesman for AAG says “This isn’t my first rodeo…” This line opens AAG’s “reverse your thinking” series of messages to make older Americans more comfortable with the idea of using a reverse mortgage.
I’ve had this second kind of experience around the current coronavirus crisis. It happens as I connect with the authority, knowledge and self-confidence exuded daily by the nation’s coronavirus quarterback, Dr. Anthony Fauci, 79, and his protégé, Dr. Deborah Birx, 63, both of whom stick to the facts, shun the razzle-dazzle so common among today’s leaders and commentators and, so , seem to have persuaded our elected decisionmakers to do the right thing.
Except for America’s 80,000 or so centenarians, none of us living today has ever experienced a pandemic, since the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 is our nation’s most recent. Still, I can add some color to our current woes because I, too, have seen this movie before. Sort of.
I can trace a direct link to the 1918 Spanish flu pandemic because my maternal grandmother, living in Chestertown, Maryland, was one of the 650,000 or so Americans who died in the flu pandemic.
I didn’t know about my connection to Maryland and the 1918 flu pandemic until 1993, shortly after our move from Denver, Colorado to Annapolis. My mother, age 76 at the time, was on her first visit to Annapolis, telling us the story of how she was born across the Bay in Chestertown and how, a year after her 1917 birth, her 23-year-old mother died from the Spanish flu.
I knew my grandmother had passed as a young woman; I didn’t know it was from the Spanish flu; and I didn’t know my mother had been born in Maryland.
So, the next day we jumped in the car and drove over to Chestertown to see if we could find my grandmother’s grave marker. We drove into town on Highway 213. After stopping at a few church cemeteries, we found her gravestone at the Chester Cemetery on High Street.
As we walked the line of grave markers, I found a gravestone with the words, “Mary A. wife of W.C. Copper, 1895 – 1918”.
“Here it is,” I called to the others. I knew it because I worked summers in my grandfather’s home appliances store in Indiana, and he always signed my check “Walter C. Copper”. Otherwise, he was “Pampa”.
That experience led to several days of learning more about the 1918 pandemic, gaining knowledge and insights that have helped me better understand why “social distancing” and other directives are being handed down in the current situation.
I recently shared these thoughts with my good friend, Annapolitan and Bay Woods resident Parker Williamson, a retired pastor and once editor of the Presbyterian’s national magazine, “The Layman”. Williamson reminded me of an essay by C.S. Lewis after WWII, when so many people around the world were (rightly) fearful of dying from a nuclear holocaust.
In his 1948 essay “On Living in the Atomic Age,” Lewis wrote:
“In one way we think a great deal too much of the atomic bomb. How are we to live in an atomic age?” I am tempted to reply: ‘Why, as you would have lived in the sixteenth century when the plague visited London almost every year, or as you would have lived in a Viking age when raiders from Scandinavia might land and cut your throat any night; or indeed, as you are already living in an age of cancer, an age of syphilis, an age of paralysis, an age of air raids, an age of railway accidents, an age of motor accidents.’
“In other words, do not let us begin by exaggerating the novelty of our situation. Believe me…you and all whom you love were already sentenced to death before the atomic bomb was invented: and quite a high percentage of us are going to die in unpleasant ways [with] one very great advantage over our ancestors – anesthetics.
“It is perfectly ridiculous to go about…drawing long faces because the scientists have added one more chance of painful and premature death to a world which already bristled with such chances and in which death itself is not a chance at all, but a certainty.”
Lewis concludes by saying it’s important for us to continue to do “sensible and human things – praying, working, teaching, reading, listening to music, bathing the children…”
Lewis included some activities such as “chatting to our friends over a pint and a game of darts” which I’m sure he would not recommend in the face of a coronavirus, but he probably would recommend calling relatives on the phone and chatting with friends on the Internet while honoring social distancing and other directives applied to the current pandemic.
So, difficult as it is, let’s not, as Lewis suggests, exaggerate the novelty of our situation nor our hardships. Let’s not, for example, consider we are “stuck at home”. Instead, we are “safe at home” – always remembering that some among us don’t have a home.
Along those lines, another has noted, “When you have a place to go at the end of the day, that’s home. When you have people to love, that’s family. When you have both, that’s a blessing – and one for which we should be grateful.”
To paraphrase Lewis’s close friend J.R.R. Tolkien, author of “The Lord of the Rings” and “The Hobbit”, “Blessings don’t always roar.”