How are you?
I’ve been mildly obsessed with infectious disease for a couple of decades. Primarily the Plague, but the 1918 flu has also held a fascination. However, it’s not the diseases themselves that I find interesting. Rather, it’s people’s response to disease and its aftermath that holds my interest. During the Black Death, civil societies managed to keep going, despite mortality rates of upwards of 60% of the population. Weddings were held, wills were executed, laws were enforced. Societies did not devolve into a late medieval dystopian past. They just plodded along with the banality of life during a flood of death. How do you face that as a person? And then afterwards, when half of the people you knew had died within a few short months, how do you go on? But they did. Society changed obviously, and in profound ways. I’ve always wondered what that must have been like to live through. When your world is turned upside down, how do you adjust to the new reality?
Of course, I never really imagined I would live through a pandemic of any consequence. And frankly, despite the increasing deaths and economic troubles we’re now facing, our current COVID year, if it had happened 200 years ago, would have been just another year in which there was a bad fever. Yet our reality is that this is the most serious pandemic in over 100 years, so it has to be taken seriously. When I first read about the 1918 flu, and all of the public space closures and social distancing that was used to combat the epidemic, I thought it must have been impossible to keep a bar or restaurant from failing. How could you stay in business with months of no revenue? Well, now I get to find out. I’m lucky, because I own a brewery, and beer is considered “essential.” So we haven’t really seen revenue go to zero. But I get to experience the disaster first hand nonetheless.
But it says something about our current state of humanity that I’m a 50 year old man who has never experienced a pestilence. This is of course, a good thing – a result of technological advancements over the last 100 years. But I think it’s important to realize that when the Plague hit Europe in 1347, it returned every 10 – 20 years somewhere on the continent until 1666. That’s 200 years in which a far deadlier disease than we now face could appear at any time. Throw famine and war on top of that, and humanity’s ability to persevere through incredible adversity becomes gobsmacking. Look at us now though. It’s as if technology has divorced us from our previous humanity that was able to endure so much. Can modern societies even endure a once in a lifetime, lightweight version of something that used to happen once a decade?
So how am I? Torn. Fascinated. Confused. Saddened. Unsure of our ability to weather any kind of storm. Yet I’m hopeful that like our ancestors, we’ll eventually put this all behind us somehow, and continue on in a perhaps new and better way.