oNe iN thrEE

[4 min read] I decided to stay home for the Thanksgiving holiday. I posted on social media that it was out of respect for beyond-physically-and-mentally exhausted healthcare, first responder, frontline and mental health workers. Full disclosure: I had already decided not to travel because my husband and I both have a little asthma and our family is in Wisconsin, where COVID numbers were blowing up in October. No way could we resist bear-hugging our grand-niece, who’s been attending school. Then I heard a news report that the most recent spike in the pandemic wasn’t deterring folks from traveling and mingling over the holiday. I needed to do something to support the people who will suffer, arguably, as much as anyone who lives to regret mingling. Or knows someone who will die.

Periodically, I’ve checked articles about the Spanish Flu of 1918 to compare with COVID. It’s eerie – exceptionally eerie – how similar the circumstances are and how people’s actions then are mirrored now. Of the world population, one in three people contracted the Spanish Flu. Around 675,000 Americans died. As of November 30, the US is past a third of the way to that number of COVID deaths, and rapidly climbing.

In one article, Brittany Hutchinson, an Assistant Curator at the Chicago History Museum says that back in November, 1918, concerned citizens urged for “putting the smallness of the individual into perspective with the vastness of humanity.” One hundred years later, we haven’t changed. Concerned groups are still urging and less-concerned folks are less cautious.

It’s been forever since we saw our loved ones in-person. A good conversation with one finds me lying awake at night aware of a heart so full, it might burst – a feeling I might not have honored in the past. We’re lonely. I get the same adrenaline rush from a social interaction with a barista or Farmers Market vendor that racing down a mountain on skis or a bike would give me. We’re bored. We’re so over all the restrictions. While there is flickering light at the end of this long tunnel in the form of a vaccine, it’s elusive. It will still be a while before we get the sort of respite we needed, like, yesterday.

Missing out this year on a Thanksgiving with friends or family reminds me of the year after I had ACL reconstructive surgery. I missed out on a lot. I went on a short ski vacation with my husband and a couple of our nephews and their wives. I thought I would be okay, especially since one of the wives didn’t want to ski. It sucked so bad. Three mornings in a row, I did my PT routine alone in the fitness center staring out at the slopes, tears sliding down my cheeks. I was cranky the whole weekend. For over a season, I missed out on social group bike rides and post-ride libations. It was a lonely year. I learned to appreciate a slower pace and simpler thrills.

Eventually, I could dabble in a semblance of my previous active lifestyle. For the sake of a successful recovery, I didn’t push it. I wouldn’t risk re-injury for one day of fun, no matter how desperate I was. I had been through too much, worked so hard, been disciplined. I wanted to fully experience the reward of confidence in my strength when the time finally arrived to enjoy challenging activities again.

We’ve been through too much. We’ve sacrificed so much. But we aren’t hard-wired to opt for the long-term reward. If we haven’t had COVID or personally know someone who has died, we’re tempted to roll the dice for a little gratification sooner. It was the same in 1918. People celebrated the end of WWI and the winter holidays in group gatherings, often unmasked. The Spanish Flu ravaged the U.S. a third time in January.

What I appreciate most about COVID being a global pandemic is that it forces the consideration of individual action against the paradigm of “the vastness of humanity,” regardless of which country we live in. This human experience is universal.

Here is where the paths diverge: Around the summer of 1919, before a vaccine was developed, the Spanish Flu essentially had run its course.

If only we could be so lucky.

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