Wave Two–From 2020 To 1918: September 22

From July 1918, a few weeks before Dr. Welch arrives, and departs

Now And Today, September 22, 2020

The pandemic has pervaded and invaded at the same time. It’s in bodies, in places, in customs and habits. It’s changed so much of what we typically know to do and how to be. Strangely, the same could be said of the upcoming election. By themselves the pandemic and election are hard enough to withstand. Together, feeding off each other, they wipe away much of the day. When you step back from the activity you’re doing, they follow you or they’re there ahead of you. Either way, they take up space and take up time. A moment’s peace requires a stroke of luck or a stroke of genius. A part of you waits for the inevitable. You’re learning to do so and wishing you didn’t know.

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Then, September 22, 1918

In her beautiful two-story brick home in Salem, Massachusetts, 36-year old Edith Mahoney sits at her desk and begins another entry in her diary. She’s been doing this ritual for the past twelve years. Pen in hand and mind in thought, she thinks about what she’ll write. For the first time ever in her journaling mode, she scratches down the word “influenza”. Her decision reflects the presence of 1500 people in Salem sick from the illness. The act of writing makes it uniquely her.

In the beautiful mountain country of western North Carolina, Dr. William Welch finishes packing his luggage at the Mountain Meadows Inn. Clothes, toiletries, sundry items. Case closed and sealed, his hand grips the handle as he takes in a final breath of crisp mountain air. He is heeding orders to visit Fort Devens near Boston, Massachusetts and report on conditions there. Approximately one of every five soldiers is sick at Devens—that’s 10,000 out of 46,000, with 2500 of the ill crammed into every square foot of the camp’s hospital. Welch is a respected, skilled, and knowledgeable medical expert and a founding member of Johns Hopkins Hospital. He’ll lift his suitcase onto a train. But his vast experience is the only thing he’ll have with him for the sight that is ahead.

In Cleveland, Ohio Dr. Harry Rockwood reads reports and recommendations from US Army Surgeon General William Gorgas in Washington DC. Rockwood begins warning the residents of Cleveland about the coming storm of influenza. Starting today, Rockwood takes every opportunity to spread information about preventing the illness, including a list of twelve steps distributed by Gorgas. The twelve-item list is Rockwood’s first line of defense.

In Baltimore, Maryland citizens spend today in the eye of the influenza hurricane. They read reports in today’s newspapers of influenza all around them. None yet, so far as anyone call tell, have appeared here. But it seems to be only a matter of time. Maybe their best hope is to follow the advice of the American government—embodied by the Surgeon General of the US Army and his twelve-item list—or to adopt the attitude of a major media outlet, the New York Times, which likens influenza to a normal seasonal illness called “the grippe” and urges commonsense habits of generations. Whichever is true, the rules or the routines, the people of Baltimore live their day with a wary eye cast on each other. They wait as whispers of prayers hover above the city.

Their preparation and their prayers don’t include one very vital thing.

If the eye blinks and the wall opens, influenza will make something dreadfully clear: it will co-mingle with everything already true in Baltimore. And no one will have spent any time preparing for that fact or praying for that mercy.

The World War is there, with factories, the families of soldiers and sailors, various laws and regulations on speech and expression, and a bewildering array of ethnic groups whose homelands cross all sorts of global alliances and boundaries. Just as importantly, a jagged racial cut runs through Baltimore, kept raw by laws and tender by customs. Black residents in Baltimore live a life of greater struggle and obstruction than do the rest of the city’s inhabitants, a condition heightened, deepened, and strangely bent by the World War. The weaknesses of life as it is lived will be made weaker, the cut made swollen, and the time lost will be lamented.

Edith Mahoney’s journal. William Welch’s suitcase. Harry Rockwood’s warning. The people of Baltimore waiting. These are the tools for today.

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Looking Ahead From Today, September 22, 2020

You start with what you have. At your side, in your hands, from your mind, you will form the day with what you have. The biggest question will be how well you connect what you have with what you need to do. The biggest unknown isn’t simply the result but whether part of the result will help you deflect the frenzy around you.

While you’re doing, while you’re coping, make a shift toward preparing. Prepare for the potential of a time when an unthinkable happens and a worse turn arrives. Prepare in the way that the people of Baltimore in late September 1918 didn’t do—look at where life’s weaknesses are clearest and, despite the furor of the pandemic and its blending with elections and everything else (Warcorona, see below), envision a small, personal step toward the better. Prepare all of yourself to take that step. Use today to see it. Use tomorrow to do it. The storm will storm. Make it damage one thing less.

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For Those Wanting To Bridge 2020 And 1918, A Reminder…

Warfluenza and Warcorona.

Warfluenza is what Americans experienced in 1918 when influenza interacted with their dominant issue and concern of the day, World War One. The illness comes to them through their handling of and coping with World War One. That’s why I want you to think of it as Warfluenza. The pandemic and the issue affect each other.

Warcorona is what Amercians are experienced in 2020 when coronavirus interacts with our dominant issue and concern of the day, World War Trump. Regardless of whether you love or hate Trump, Trumpism, and the Trump Presidency, it blends with the illness and thus we handle and cope with both together, inseparable. It’s Warfluenza updated to our world—Warcorona.

I want to reintroduce you to the world of Warfluenza’s Wave Two because we’re in Warcorona’s Wave Two right now with preschool-to-grad school education. If you have someone somewhere in that track, you’re in Wave Two. And so we’re following Warfluenza and Warcorona on exactly the same days across 102 years. Mark Twain is supposed to have said that history doesn’t repeat but it sure does rhyme. Count me as a “yes” to that statement.

As always, I invite you to reach out to me. Leave a comment here, email at , or text at 317-407-3687.

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