In 541 AD, rats from Africa came on ships to Constantinople controlled by Emperor Justinian. The rats were sick with a plague. The city dwellers did not pay much attention at first to what they called the Plague of Justinian until it ravaged the city and moved on to others. Actually it raged on until 750 AD and killed a total of 25 million people. Death does not give up easily. The Black Death began on ships returning from the Far East to Venice in 1347. Italians recognized the sickliness of the first sailors that came into the city and established a law to keep the ships and their men outside the harbor for Quaranta Giorni or 40 days. This is how we came to use the word quarantine. Even with the quarantine, the men and the fleas and rats in their baggage, generated a pestilence that killed 60 million people and lasted six years.
Pestilence of one kind or another carried on. From 1665 to 1666 in London 75,000 died of “The Pestilence.” In 1795 mosquitos came out of the swamps surrounding the US Capitol of Philadelphia and killed one in every 10 people in the city. In 1855 in the Chinese city of Yunan, infected fleas infected rats and rats infected people. This plague reached 6 continents and was called the Third Plague Pandemic by European scientists. 15 million people around the world died.
In 1983, a very angry gay man named Larry Kramer wrote an article for a NYC gay journal that some called a screed and some called a mandate. Kramer harshly pounded out on his keyboard the warning about an epidemic from a virus captured from African chimpanzees that was already in New York. He had heard that serum from monkeys used as an inoculation against polio was about to explode the gay community. Kramer was an outrageous fellow who never spoke when he could shout and never used gentile vocabulary when obscenities were called for. For a long time Kramer was hearkening in the dark. But his essays, his plays, his speeches reached the ear of a young, quiet but extremely observant epidemiologist who was listening. And that man’s name was Dr. Anthony Fauci. In the course of their parallel work together Kramer and Fauci witnessed and tried to waylay the deaths of 32 million people killed by the disease that we know as AIDS.
Why share all this history? For two reasons: COVID-19 is part of a long and terrible history that is not the past but the present. And the way we are being alternately frightened and reassured and frightened again is splitting us into shaken masses.
There is no time to waste listening to the false words and the despicable pretenses of the White House leadership. Protect yourself. Protect those who you love and those you know. Do all you can to quell this horrible slice of catastrophic history unfolding before your eyes. Donald Trump’s lies and counter lies are a plague of their own, confusing us with one statement one day and the next day another. He specializes in denigrating our better leaders, slicing holes into our Constitution and getting his craven followers to nod when he comes up with more and more ideas to destroy the remnants of our Democracy.
The second reason is because the more you listen to the lies and watch the foul actions of fascism arising from Washington, the more you will be undercut and despairing in your thinking and your life. In every way you can protest this tyranny. Contact your representatives. Tell them to ACT! Remind them of the desecration of the people’s rights – your rights, the rights of people the same as you and different from you. Contact your representatives on every level. Take care and be a watchdog for the protection of children – keeping them out of harm’s way, whether it’s resisting pressure to send them to massive school rooms, or being urged to let visit friends and families they miss and love. Be safe. Be careful. Very careful.
Change your life – eat well, sleep well, stay home, don’t drive your car, work from your kitchen table. Yes, the wait is long and tedious. But death is forever. And we need you healthy and fighting strong and sharing your voice in every way you can. Don’t be cowed or waylaid. Vote. Insist on your place in the election. Insist on a fair and honest election.
It’s not just fleas, and rats, and the blood of sick animals that endanger us. It is the narcissism of leaders eager to make of our lives a meaningless game.
Don’t get played.