However, the similarities between these pandemics largely end there. In 1918, the world found itself amidst the first truly global war as the preeminent powers raged against each other. Millions of soldiers were dug into trenches in close-quarters with largely unhygienic conditions. Medical knowledge failed to adequately comprehend the virus or its spread. As we organize a global response to a similar Flu-like illness, it’s critically important to recognize that we are a changed society, and that the only common line between 1918 and today is the fear that is inherent to human nature. The question at hand is whether we will allow that fear to paralyze us.
During the Spanish Flu pandemic, individuals were largely forced to forego treatment as little could be done, medically, to better their condition. Nurses, instead had to simply attempt to ease suffering in patients. Today, private and public groups alike are quickly moving forward on all fronts to develop a vaccine for the long term, and countries around the world are developing more effective short term treatments as we speak.
Today, every news outlet, Twitter feed, Facebook post, and article seem to discuss one thing and one thing only: the virus. Voices repetitively echo stories that continue to provoke fear amongst the population. Our society is connected more than ever before, just as we seemed to be in 1918, yet now we have quicker access to news and updates from around the globe in an instant, for better or for worse.
Yet, if fear is our worst enemy, hope is its counter. As we continue to press deeper into this crisis, I have found that it is the moments that highlight our shared humanity which ring the loudest and serve as the brightest points of light in an otherwise dark world, whether it be a video of Italians collectively singing from their balconies or an individual taking time to sew masks from home.
Fortunately, we don’t find ourselves in the depths of a world war, as we did in 1918, but similar lessons stand true. While we fear this sickness, it is impossible to put on pause all the events of the world, and those who serve essential causes during this time prove to be inherent testaments to that fact.
While restaurants were beginning to close, people were panic-buying toilet paper at grocery stores, and employees were adjusting to working from home, my dad sent me an email. From the other side of the world he sent me a picture of a fighter jet landing on his aircraft carrier as a double rainbow shown in the distance. I was shaken by the picture. While so many stoked fear, he and his men were carrying on, going months on end without a port visit, to continue to defend critical shipping lanes and defend the American homeland.
Thousands of Americans continue to serve their communities in vital roles. While many work from home, our police officers, nurses, doctors, soldiers, and fire fighters continue to stand on the front lines, offering a semblance of order in a society that is being overwhelmed with chaos.
While nations currently don’t rage against each other, all are forced to fight against a common enemy. And, while not all of us stand on the front lines of this current crisis, each of us plays an important role in countering this invisible enemy. It is vital that we seek to minimize factors that could spread this virus, like unnecessary travel and group interactions. We can not trivialize our role, for the lives of our community members may well rest in the choices that each of us make, whether we are sick or not.
The question that is worth asking is how we can each be as a double rainbow, a small bit of light brightening somebody else’s day during this crisis. Each of us has capacity in our own ways, whether it be through prayer, the making of donations through money or blood drives, or the giving of our time to local causes.
We have come a long way since 1918. Today we respond to this pandemic with an enhanced capacity to analyze and ultimately counter it. True control over our future lies not just in the political leadership of a nation or on the researchers pursuing a cure, it lies with the everyday American. Our decisions over the coming weeks and perhaps months will decide the ultimate fate of this virus. We must not allow ourselves to become burdened or crippled by fear, for only in seeing hope and recalling each other’s shared humanity can we keep level heads and carry ourselves in a way that minimizes the spread of this virus and uplifts those who are currently suffering.
This is the second of a three-part series, Perspectives of a Pandemic.