On the day that my dad was born, the family sent for a priest to come and baptize him. By the fall of 1918, a pandemic flu virus was racing around the globe. Three weeks after my father’s birth, my grandmother, became seriously ill with the flu. Given her recent pregnancy and a greater vulnerability because of it, she was fortunate to survive. The deadly 1918 flu targeted healthy people between the ages of 20 and 40. Children under the age of five were also vulnerable as were those over 60. In the United States an estimated one third of the population became ill. Nationwide, there was somewhere became 675,000 and 800,000 deaths.
I think of my grandma today as cases of the novel coronavirus (COVID019) are spreading. For weeks I’ve been watching news from Taiwan where my daughter-in-law and two year old grandson have been visiting her parents. With cases in the US popping up in Washington State, California, Rhode Island and word today that it may have been spreading for weeks, the term pandemic is becoming real.
Back in 1918, when my grandma caught that deadly flu, there were few measures to help her. Because of World War I, even doctors were in short supply. In 1918 there were no antiviral drugs or antibiotics for secondary infections. Nor were there Intensive Care Units with life saving ventilators. Doctors were reduced to the use of alcohol as a disinfectant and Vick’s VapoRub. I think of how afraid people must have been in the face of a deadly disease, striking the strong and healthy. The joy of WWI’s ending, in November of 1918, was mixed with coffins of friends and fears for one’s children.
Fear can take over our lives. New crises arrive with uncertain outcomes. We struggle to make sense of our changing world. In the midst of this, God’s word is timeless. It speaks to our generation as it has spoken to generations before us. God continues to be our strength and our salvation. The ancient prophet Habakkuk speaks of this hope:
“Though the fig tree does not blossom,
and no fruit is on the vines;
though the produce of the olive fails,
and the fields yield no food;
though the flock is cut off from the fold,
and there is no herd in the stalls,
yet I will rejoice in the Lord;
I will exult in the God of my salvation.
God, the Lord, is my strength.”