Wave Two–From 2020 To 1918: September 7

Camp Devens

Now and Today, September 7, 2020.

It’s our holiday, Labor Day. In a normal year we take time off from work and school, at least most of us. We say goodbye to Summer and hello to Fall. It feels like the trip to the lake or the beach is the last of the season, even when it’s not. And in the usual cycle of every fourth year, the political among us know that the presidential campaign revs up, ramps up, and kicks into high gear. You expect a little craziness for the next two months.

All of this is true in a typical year and none of it is true this year.

We’re already in Wave Two of the pandemic—it has destroyed the routines of everyone who touches the pre-K through college stream of school and education. Wave Two is here for each person, child or adult, involved in that world.

The September 7th we should have had will not happen. It will only come again next year. For now, in 2020, we’ll have to live a different sort of day.

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Then, September 7, 1918

The wooden fence ran in a rough circle. Along it was a line of weeds and unmown grass. Inside the circle was nothing but dirt dried to dust, hoofprints left on the hard-packed ground. In normal times the sick stood here; they were the mules and horses with contagious diseases, waiting to either get well or fall over dead. But today there are none inside the fenced-in circle. And so the corral, which looks like a patch of the Old West dropped next to the New England coast, is empty at Camp Devens near Boston, Massachusetts.

There’s a lot of activity elsewhere in Devens, though. 45,000 men and teenage boys cram within the boundaries of the camp meant to hold 36,000 soldiers. The numbers are large because a new US Army division is being formed, trained, and prepared for transport to England, France, the Western Front in Europe. Maybe they’ll make the difference in the World War with Germany and Austro-Hungary on one side and the British-French-American alliance on the other.

It’s a day of normal comings-and-goings. New soldiers arrive from Camp Lee in Virginia, back from special training. New officers arrive from Texas, Illinois, Maryland, and half-dozen other states. Soldiers who practice Judaism are ready to leave for tomorrow’s Jewish New Year celebrations. A full contingent of Devens men will be going to Harvard Stadium for an Olympics-style event with tug-of-war, trench relay fighting races and work, and other war-flavored competitions. It’ll be a fall-ish day among the brick halls of the Yard, with a rousing send-up of the college cheer. Only difference is the shirts—they’ll have “US” instead of “H.”

Then there’s a group of 127 soldiers and sailors who are returning from France today. Most of them are recovering from wounds and injuries received in combat. Several others have psychological trauma and mental health problems, also from combat. A third fraction is of the sick, suffering from some sort of illness. If any medic or nurse notices, and they’re very capable of doing so, they may compare it to the influenza that was unusually bad earlier in the spring of 1918. True enough, the grippe, as we call it, was really rough back then. Thank goodness, we’re past that. Let’s tend to these 127 young men.

Inside the third fraction, the sub-group of the sick, the coughing and fever and achiness comes from H1N1, a strain of influenza that flew onto the Midwest prairie before the tall grass was up. It had hit, it had spread across the ocean, it had declined, and it was never really altogether gone. But those sick men, perhaps 30 or so in number, don’t know that. Neither does anyone else among the 45,000 at Devens.

And the corral remains empty, waiting for the wheezing of mules and horses.

Now and Today, September 7, 2020

What do you remember feeling back in March and April? I wonder if you felt that something wildly new and different was about to engulf us. Likely, you did, it was the pandemic in its earliest form and it was our responses in their first attempts. The speed of spread and shut-down were overpowering. Tragedy burst upon us, but so did a sense of support carried over prayers, well-wishes, Facetimes, and Zooms. It was hang-on, hold-on, and pitch-in.

Some of what I just listed is now gone. I wonder if, like Labor Day, it will have to wait until another time.

Tomorrow isn’t next year’s Labor Day. Tomorrow is the day after today, reachable, touchable, shapeable from today. In truth, it’s only hours from now. With a hand on this moment, you can see what might be done tomorrow, differently and for the better. You can promise that, with both hands grasping tight the new day, something will improve which results from what you do or say or think.

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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 Americans experience 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. You can steady your foothold and handhold on today through a clearer sense of the past, this past. 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, or text at 317-407-3687.