Friday, April 17, 2020

Love Letter to my life #22: Time of the seedling

by Joyce Wycoff 

(We know the day we were born, but most of us do not know the day we will die. This love letter to my life is written on the day I've designated as my death day, the 17th of every month, and reminds me to be grateful for my incredible life.) 

My daughter is an environmentalist. During her work-from-home days, she has been creating a “freedom garden” using all recycled materials: plastic bottles, soda cans, plastic containers of all sorts. 
She gave me a package of black cherry tomato seeds and I began my own mini-garden even though my history of gardening is not encouraging. After writing this love letter to my life, I was looking for an opening photo and decided this tiny sprout is how I feel these days: a fragile seedling in a new world.  
I am grateful to be a new seedling, sprouting in a strange world, but it makes me wonder: what will we do with the new information we are gaining on a daily basis?  
What seeds are we planting? 
What new directions will we choose? 
Will we come to value each other more than financial markers? 
Will we begin to honor our only home planet?
Our future is ours to choose.
In the past week, COVID-19 killed almost as many people as heart disease, the #1 killer in our society.

It is interesting to write a love-letter to my life when at least 35,000 of my fellow countrymen have died from a disease that we still don't understand fully. I am grateful that the virus has not touched me personally, but social media keeps me touched by the heartbreak of others, as we collectively experience grief, the frustration of dealing with the uncertainty of the future, and watch the stricken economy wreak havoc with the already precarious balance of so many working people.

As it became apparent that we were in the midst of a pandemic unlike anything we’ve experienced in my life-time, I began an almost-daily meditation in words and art, titling it Corona Curiosity because I wanted to know more about the disease and how we would react to it. 

Every disaster brings out the best and worst in people. This one is no different.

102 years ago, 500 MILLION people were infected by a new flu. Between 10% and 20% of them died a horrible death, often within hours of becoming sick. The virus was colorful … starting out with mahogany spots on the cheekbones and gradually turning the extremities blue then black and eventually darkening and hardening the abdomen and torso. Laura Spinney, author of Pale Rider: The Spanish Flu of 1918 and How It Changed the World states:
As long as you were conscious, therefore, you watched death enter at your fingertips and fill you up.

While most of what we see now, happened then, we are far luckier today because we understand contagion, have a much better healthcare system, and are apparently dealing with a less virulent virus. That flu (misnamed “Spanish” flu even though that was not where it originated), attacked the young and healthy as well as the elderly … and, perhaps most alarming, it came in three waves.
Most of the deaths came during thirteen weeks of the second wave. What we are seeing today doesn't begin to let us imagine the horror of those times, especially coming at the closing of four years of World War I.

In those days, there was no way to see the virus or understand how it works. Today we have electronic microscopes and a deep understanding of the genomes of viruses. We even have the genome of the 1918 virus thanks to a tiny village in Alaska and a curious Swedish microbiologist and Ph.D. student at the University of Iowa. It’s an interesting story.

Brevig Mission, the village, was populated by 80 mostly Inuit Natives. In five days, 72 of the villagers died of the flu and were buried in a mass grave site on a hill outside the village.

Johan Hultin, the 25-year-old student, obtained permission from the village elders to excavate the burial site in 1951. He succeeded in obtaining frozen tissue, but the limitations of technology at that time stymied his search for the virus. 46 years later, he joined forces with another researcher, made a trip back to the village, at his own expense, and discovered “Lucy” buried in 7 feet of permafrost and succeeded in recovering lung tissue which eventually led to the sequencing of the virus.

Years would be spent studying the virus and how it was different from normal, seasonal flu. The CDC article (referenced below) contains a worrisome conclusion:
No other human influenza viruses tested were as exceptionally virulent. In that way, the 1918 virus was special – a uniquely deadly product of nature, evolution and the intermingling of people and animals. It would serve as a portent of nature’s ability to produce future pandemics of varying public health concern and origin.
The article (written prior to 2019) goes on to talk about the possibility of future pandemics, the importance of WHO, the World Health Organization, and actions taken to prepare for a possible future pandemics. Unfortunately, a great deal of the preparations for future pandemics was dismantled by the current administration.

As interesting as the 1918-1919 pandemic was, this letter is intended to be a personal reflection, so I’m going to outline my gratitudes, disappointments, and hopes.

I am so grateful …
  • to be living in Reno near family and easy access to open spaces and natural beauty
  • for my good health and the creative impulse which gives me a thousand possibilities to fill my time
  • for having a livable Social Security income which buffers me from economic fluctuations
  • for the amazing health care system that is working tirelessly to get us through this crisis
  • for the Instacart shoppers and the rest of the food supply system that is still keeping most of us fed
  • for all the transportation workers who are keeping our supply chain moving, even if slowly
  • for all the mail carriers, trash collectors, and others who help us maintain a semblance of normality
  • for Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Zoom and all the social media, flawed though it may be, that keeps us in contact with friends and family
  • and for all the generous outpouring of love and caring coming from so many people all across the globe.
I am so disappointed that …
  • people have let their fear and greed turn into hoarding and profiteering
  • young people have this additional fear and anxiety added to their world view
  • politicians are more worried about the stock market than the health of our people
  • people are listening to conspiracy theorists and hucksters rather than seeking out real experts and scientists
  • some churches are resisting social distancing at the peril of their own people as well as the rest of us
  • 22 million people are newly jobless in the U.S.
  • the aid package designed by Congress favors the wealthy more than the needy 
  •  the current administration has waffled and delayed taking action causing more suffering and death.
I hope that ...
  •  we understand the remarkable healing ability of the planet, if we change our ways
  •  we begin to understand that we are all connected, all neighbors on one planet
  •  we recognize and prioritize family and friends over material goods and personal gain
  •  we choose leaders who serve the people rather than their own personal and financial interests
  •  companies will value their employees more than quarterly profits
  •  we will be able to trust and value each other and work for our common good rather than individual greed
  • and that we soon will be able to go to movies and concerts, eat dinners with friends and family, camp in our amazing parks, and just hang out and socialize with each other.
If you would like to see Corona Curiosity in it's developing, magazine format state, click here:

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