One of the best things to come out of this nightmare is seeing my favorite public figures broadcasting from their homes, getting to know another side of them. I, personally, am writing to you from my warm bungalow in Los Angeles. I live with my mother and while both of us are high risk due to underlying conditions, I feel grateful to have a roof over my head, provisions in the pantry and a delicious, gigantic mug of hot coffee to sip.
As the coronavirus sweeps my state of California and beyond like a silent tsunami, I keep thinking about M. Night Shyamalan’s film, “Signs.” Quarantine feels like the scene where (SPOILER ALERT) the family (played by Mel Gibson, Rory Culkin, Abigail Breslin and Joaquin Phoenix) are sequestered in their lonely farm house, windows and doors boarded shut and unseen but audible aliens are attempting to penetrate their home. It’s a perfect metaphor – we all wait in our homes frightened, confused, frustrated. Will this largely invisible force breach our walls and claim our fragile bodies? Maybe the aliens aren’t above us. Maybe they’ve been right beside us all along (Click for a scene from Signs, one of my favorite films)
We watch the daily news in horror, noting how no one is spared – royalty, world leaders, famous musicians, writers, the rich, the poor, the fat and the fit.
I’m a lover of history and have been reading about ancient pandemics while in seclusion. The course of history has been radically altered many, many times by pandemics. Let’s take a look at some of the major ones;
The Antonine Plague
– during Roman times, up to 10 million people died over a 15 year period of what is believed to have been a smallpox outbreak. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Antonine_Plague
The Justinian Plague
– raged for nearly 200 years as a result of fleas infected with bubonic plague. The pandemic coursed throughout the Byzantine empire from 542 AD through til 750. Believed to be one of the world’s worst pandemics, estimates of those killed range from approximately 25 million to 100 million people. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Plague_of_Justinian
Japanese Smallpox Epidemic
– Existed from the years 735 to 737 and claimed the lives of 2 million people. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/735%E2%80%93737_Japanese_smallpox_epidemic
The Black Death
– Still considered the worst pandemic in world history, exact numbers of the dead don’t exist, but it’s widely acknowledged that a minimum of 125 MILLION people died, beginning in 1347. Like the Justinian plague, it too was caused by infected fleas, only this time arriving from travelers along the Silk Road. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Black_Death
1520 Smallpox Epidemic
– In Mexico, approximately 40% of the population was annihilated, between 5-8 million people. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/History_of_smallpox_in_Mexico
The Persian Plague
– From 1772 to 1773, 2 million lives around the Persian Gulf region were lost to bubonic plague. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/1772%E2%80%931773_Persian_Plague
…and soooo many more.
I list these ancient pandemics not to scare you but to give you perspective. Pandemics are not uncommon. They are part of the cycle of life on Earth.
So if we consider the course of past pandemics, we will probably go through boom and bust cycles indefinitely with our present coronavirus, until a cure or vaccine is discovered. When the number of deaths start to ebb, people will try to resume normal life, then the number of cases will start to rise again and we will all have to go back on lockdown. Rinse, lather, repeat. History has shown that certain factors may mean a worse outcome for a region – a large, dense population; poor hygiene practices; poverty; age; frailty; lack of access to potable water or nutritious food; poor air quality, etc. The good news is…that we know this and therefore can take actions to mitigate a pandemic’s effects.
We also have a leg up on our current pandemic over ancient ones in that we have sophisticated technology and the ability to communicate with one another around the globe in real time, to work as one in finding a vaccine or a cure.
Andrà tutto bene!