Wave Two–From 2020 To 1918: November 25

Wilson Tout, later in life, birding

Now And Today, November 25, 2020

Three clumps of life today. One is the numbers counted. One is the people known. One is the stuff in between. Life shakes out into three clumps on the day before Thanksgiving.

The numbers counted are everywhere. Of cases. Of tests. Of the hospitalized. Of the dead. Of hospitals under stress. And also of potential vaccines, of recovered, of the treated, of days and weeks and months since the beginning.

The people known are yours. They are family, neighbors, friends, coworkers. They are near or far. They either have suffered, have been part of caring for others, have been swept up in whatever immediate or downstream effects flow from the beginning.

The stuff between is everything else. A big blob of mass swallows it up. Much of this won’t be recognizable as a physical form. It will be decisions, opportunities, costs, choices, losses, plans, the surrendered, and likely even some gains. Change is in there, too—a perfect word of mass. So are a set of relationships along with judgments, opinions, and priorities. Lots of emotions swirl in the space. A sense of time weaves around the emotions and together they fill the mass. The mass is always moving, sloshing and spilling over either end and all the sides.

Life runs like a river and tomorrow has three currents of water.

* * * *

Then, November 25, 1918

The day started cold, stayed cold by noon, and turned colder at night.

44-year old Wilson Tout had a warm coat with him no matter the hour. Born, raised, and still living in Nebraska, Tout knew all too well the reality of life just before Thanksgiving in Lincoln County, Nebraska.

Wilson Tout is the school superintendent in the town of North Platte. He’s a lifelong educator. Learning is his gift, his passion, his purpose on earth. He’s earned promotions, taught other teachers, done well.

Tout’s voice is loud in a small town. He’s at the top of the community’s school organization. The school is an important employer in addition to educating the youth, affecting every family. It’s a place where people come together for culture, sports, fun. Everyone knows where it is. The school looms large on the prairie and large in the life of Wilson Tout.

Tout never figured on influenza. The pandemic forced Tout to stretch far beyond his reach. He’s been doing so with no preparation for how to do it. It’s day to day.

He’s had challenges before. Years ago, he discovered his love of birding. True to himself, he blended birding with learning. He coached youngsters on how to capture and catalogue birds; the problem was that he coached them too well, they came to know too much, and the local bird population fell dangerously low so Tout stopped his coaching. Earlier this year, he had faced a shortage of housing for new teachers and he rallied townsfolk to offer spare rooms. These experiences were part of his resources for now and for the days nearing Thanksgiving. He used them as he could.

As of late last week, Tout’s school had finished its 42nd day closed by order of Nebraska’s public health director. Then, the order was lifted and Tout called his students back into session, back to the world of who he was, is, and always will be. Strangely, state officials dictated that local movie theaters remained closed for another two days. Perhaps it was a gesture or nod toward some sort of control against the pandemic. The policy seemed a thing of two misfit parts.

But within just two or three more days, cases and deaths from influenza shot up in North Platte and the rest of Nebraska. The state’s public health director reversed direction, reclosing the schools. All public dances closed as well. Theaters shut down.

Today, Tout reacts. He’d seen more students falling ill during the brief period after reopening. Young children are constant targets for the pandemic; their bodies have often been among the dead in Wave Two. Nevertheless, Tout decides now to keep his school open—with restrictions. He bars children whose families have influenza from coming to school. The trick will be to know who’s who. Tout will have to trust them if they say there is no influenza in their homes. In his own way, Tout splits his decision much like the public health director the week before.

Tout will come to school tomorrow ready to scrutinize the students. He’ll continue to be open to changes while holding to a core belief of maintaining school in session. He’ll be willing to retreat another step, another sawing of a measure in half, if necessary.

He’ll make that call after he sees what’s in front of him. He’ll see what Thanksgiving brings.

* * * * *

Looking Ahead From Today, November 25, 2020

Tout lived like many of us live. He’s staring at that gray mass in the middle, between those numbers and your people. He had responsibilities. He had the duty and obligation to make decisions. He had people depending on him. He had dependencies on other people. He had things imposed on him. He acted in ways that affected people around him, imposing himself on them. He didn’t bargain for any of what faced him before he sat down to offer thanks. What must he have said in those words of thankfulness? Maybe you can suggest something to him.

As much as all this, perhaps Tout’s greatest offering to us is that he knew he’d have to do everything again and again, day after day, applying himself without succumbing to the impulse to stop the splitting and just give it over hammers and sledges and throw away the fine-slicing knives and delicate blades, to all-or-nothing, to zero-or-one hundred rather than accept the difficult chore of determining to land on twenty or sixty-two or eight-nine in his actions and decisions.

How much easier it is to just flip the switch. See nothing but black or white. Pretend that the moment in front of you must be empty or full.

Where the two rivers converge, the North Platte and the South Platte, is the story of Wilson Tout and the meaning of the mass in between. Ice will soon form along the river banks, each tree with branches and each branch with twigs and water frozen on the tips. But before the ice comes, the homes in town will glow on Thanksgiving Day and words will be spoken by people who love one another.

* * * * *

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 dan@historicalsolutions.com , or text at 317-407-3687.