Because I have developed an English teacher brain, I have been thinking about plague literature. When this was all starting, I thought of Hot Zone, a truly scary look at the modern pandemic threat through the lens of Ebola. If you haven’t read it, put it on your list for when this is over. It is too terrifying for this moment in time. I would make the same caveat for Camus’s The Plague and Porter’s Pale Horse Pale Rider. Instead, I’ve been thinking of earlier stuff—written during the time when wholesale death by disease was called plague. Yes, I realize that’s the name of a set of specific diseases, but it is also a concept, one of the four horsemen of apocalyptic fame.
I should mention I thought of the death of the first born, the last of the ten Exodus plagues. Talk about terror! The Egyptians stared down frogs and flies and boils and even a river of blood. The thing that broke them was the destruction of those first born—the future—the death of hope. That was the most profound glimpse of Hell.
What can WE (modern citizens) learn from that plague? Don’t mess with God or the Isrealites or own slaves or think you’re too tough to get your heart torn out of you. Of course, the Egyptians were too hardened to prejudice and hate to be permanently changed. They paid. A lack of humility can come back to bite a nation.
Lately I’ve heard talk that there are people out there suggesting that grandparents would gladly die to save the economy for their grandkids. I know. It sounds stupid. It is especially foolish when one can read Samuel Pepys diary, or Defoe’s Journal of the Plague Year, or Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales.
For those of you who slept since reading The Pardoner’s Tale, I will offer a faulty summary. Three friends who are as close as brothers and as drunk as lords decide they are going to kick Death’s ass. The short version of the plot involves the friends finding a cache of gold then betraying each other so that death takes them all. The moral: Radix malorum est Cupiditas. If you can’t figure it out, or don’t read Latin, look it up.
What interests me more at the moment is a minor character they meet (near line 660) in their search for Death. They are heading into a quarantined village, one where almost everyone has already died. They meet one survivor, an old man dressed in rags, who begs Mother Earth to swallow him, but She will not. His grief and doom are beyond bitter. He offers a different lesson. Plague doesn’t respect anyone’s wishes. The people who die leave a wake of sadness, loneliness, and guilt.
My father died in 1982, and that moment broke my life into two distinct parts—the happy and the rest. I don’t mean to imply I haven’t been happy since 1982. I mean his death left an unfillable hole in my family. I would not wish that grief on anyone. Yes, death waits for all of us, but a premature and smothering death should be fought for the sake of all of us. I can’t tell you how many times I saw both my mother and my grandmother cry in misery, full of grief and guilt. My mother once told me she would trade everything she had and live in a tent if she could just have my father back.
The reality is the pale horse and pale rider have come for too many already. No one should believe a grandchild does not grieve a grandparent. In fact, those who serve, in medicine, in law enforcement, in the military, would not only die for the sake of their parents or their children or their friends. They take up their burdens in order to fight for the lives of all those people and strangers as well. They fight for life, not intending to die, as we all should. Think of that!
How dear is the divine spark to us? It is more dear than money because money is only man’s messy metaphor to make the exchange of goods and services efficient. Life is God’s currency.