August 20, 2018
By Arthur H. Gunther III
(also appears on Facebook)
A small room in Brooklyn, an old, cheap-to-rent apartment not far from the docks where a seaman could find work but today so expensive a neighborhood that one year’s pay in 1918 would not cover a week’s fancy dining; in that small room a child, a girl, was born to my Grandmother Mary Bonner Lyons. Patricia would live just months, the victim of the terrible worldwide Spanish flu epidemic.
The pandemic of 1918, the deadliest in history, infected an estimated 500 million people — about one-third of the planet’s population—and killed 20 million to 50 million, including about 675,000 Americans. There were no drugs or preventive vaccines. Public places, including schools, closed, people wore masks and funeral homes and cemeteries were overwhelmed.
This just as the world was nearing the end of the Great War with its own unbelievable loss of life. More than a few probably thought “apocalypse.” Then a decade of heady, greedy false “prosperity,” followed by the awful Great Depression, which ended only because another world war created defense jobs.
That the Aunt Patricia I never knew also did not live to see and interact with all that history, and some of what has come after is more than effect of circumstance. She may have helped discover a wonder drug. She may have raised children who were good people. Patricia might have made her younger sister, also named Patricia — my mother — smile.
Pandemics, war, economic depression and very poor, even evil leadership take away promise, and that is why those living must seize the day.
In a time when war, greed, challenges to the economy, unconquered disease and denial of human rights remain, actually a moment when there are strong forces determined to reverse progress, there is an imperative to do some good. Not as a do-gooder but as someone afforded air to breathe.
Societies must advance in decency, and the way to do that is in the enlightenment of being alive.
The writer is a retired newspaperman. firstname.lastname@example.org