It occurs to me that I have cruised through a significant minefield of calamities during my 7-plus decades of “going to and fro in the earth, and from walking up and down in it.” Why and how I’ve remained relatively unscathed I’ll leave a higher power to determine, but once I’d compiled it, I was startled to find what an impressive list it is.
I was a war baby, born four days after Pearl Harbor and the day we last declared war on Germany (or any other country, I think). One evening as an infant in the crib in Pittsburg, California, an explosion shook the house. Or so I’m told. A chandelier above my bed fell on my, but no injuries.
My parents thought the Japanese must be invading. It turned out to be the rather famous explosion in the nearby munitions storage facility. Men were loading big shells on to a ship. Something went wrong and scores were killed. It turned into a horrible military fiasco. The surviving men refused to go back to work. They were court-martialed and convicted. All were black, doing the gritty dangerous work black men did (do). A few old men were recently pardoned, but that didn’t do much for the dead and deformed. That was the closest I came to battle.
My father was too old to be drafted, so I lost no relatives to that conflict which scarred so many, including my wife, whose own father was yanked from the family and left several children missing their father during their young years. He returned alive, but that gap in their childhood lives is still a gap after all this time.
Korea came a bit closer to home. I was in my early teens, but had a cousin in combat. He lived as well.
Then there was Vietnam. This iconic photo tells all you need to know about how that one was fought. (The pistol in the photo is actually firing and blowing the combatant’s brains out as the shutter snaps.)
As for me, I turned out to be 4-F (medically unfit for drafting) because of allergies, so the closest I got to the military was the two years of ROTC classes required of male students at the University of California and all other “land grant colleges.” Those courses were a joke, but the war, even here on the home front, was a horror. If you had family or friends (that’s everyone in case you didn’t notice), you knew someone who was called up, killed, injured, or whacked with PTSD. People were bitter and afraid and outraged not only at the so-called enemy but at one another.
As for me, I marched, sang, chanted. What became known as the Civil Rights Movement happened simultaneously, so society was fractured over racism and sexism as well as over the war, and I was in the midst of it all, but I was never clubbed, fire-hosed, tear-gassed, or dog-bit.
As I worked up this list, I realized my America, the harbinger of peace and prosperity, has been almost continually at war my whole life. In addition to the three biggies mentioned above, there have been all the middle-eastern conflicts (Afghanistan has lasted longer than Vietnam, which seemed impossible not so long ago. Like yesterday.) as well as the undeclared CIA “skirmishes” such as–but not limited to–the Chilean Allende assassination and the installation of the Shah of Iran.
If it isn’t armies, I guess, it is nature. Of recent note is the Loma Prieta earthquake of 1989. Nothing compared to 1906, of course, but not insignificant either. 63 dead, a bridge knocked down, several freeways destroyed (some we never liked anyhow and never rebuilt, but still…)
And our now-famous California wildfires: There was the Oakland Hills Fire of 1991. 3000 homes erased in 12 hours. 23 dead. Our house barely escaped from the flames which came to within four blocks, but escape we did. None of our people were on the death list, but quite a number did lose the roofs over their heads and cars in their garages. Note the “Sold” sign in the photo on the left. We walked our neighborhood afterward and couldn’t tell where we were. With all the landmarks gone, the place was incomprehensible.
And now we find ourselves in the midst of what you might call a “Vector War.” Vector as a term outside Euclidean Geometry is a new term for me. Turns out it is a medical label for an asymptomatic carrier of disease who runs around infecting people without the people or even the carrier knowing what is happening. The most famous was a woman nicknamed “Typhoid Mary,” an Irishwoman whose actual name was Mary Mallon. She immigrated into the U.S. in the late 19th Century and somehow picked up Typhoid Fever without showing symptoms, or at least any that were recognized as connected to typhus. She worked as a cook and thus was in a position to spread the disease far and wide. Since she was not visibly sick, it took some detective work to identify her as a typhoid “vector” and, sadly, forcibly quarantine her for decades.
A never-identified vector brought us what became known as the Spanish Flu, the number one killer virus of the 20th Century. About 1/3 of the world’s population was infected, maybe 50 million died, including my wife’s grandfather,, father of three. Age 26 at the time.
But that was their pandemic, I guess it was time for one of my (our) own. And here it came, and so far I’ve slipped by this one just as I have all the other adversities. I’m lucky enough to live in a time and a place where science mostly prevails over ignorance and (California) where people and officials recognize what to do to minimize the harm. Still, we’re at over 20,000 Co-vid dead nationwide and counting, and I’m statistically in one of the most vulnerable parts of the population, so it’s far from over (the disease threat, not the life) for me yet. And this lockdown is no fun even for us healthy organisms.
So, we are doing all we can to avoid becoming either sick or becoming vectors, which is probably the hardest thing of all to circumvent. How do you even know if you are spreading microorganisms everywhere you go if you feel fine? Answer–don’t depend on that feeling fine feeling. Go for masks, gloves, distance, and staying home. Those seem to be the best answers we have to keep from either getting or giving.
In the meantime, I keep writing to keep heart and soul moving forward and keep walking (masked, gloved, and separated, of course) to encourage the body to stay safe and whole.
In the meantime, such words as these from the sage/poet Rumi feed the soul:
Never lose hope, my heart,
miracles dwell in the invisible
this moment is all there is.