Sunday, March 22, 2020

A "New York Times" Opinion Article on the 1918 Pandemic and Nuns



Friday evening, in the midst of the daily corona-virus updates on confirmed cases, deaths, and recoveries, I felt a reluctance to watch the national news and PBS Newshour. Yet a sense of urgency accompanied that reluctance—a real need to find out how I can help others (beyond staying here in my home). 

Daily, I find myself thinking of all the refugees in the world, especially those in the camps in Syria and those traveling north from Central America, hoping to find a new life in the United States.


In every city, the homeless are especially vulnerable. I fear that when the virus settles in among the refugees and the homeless the numbers for those dying from this pandemic will dramatically increase.








Daily I read the digital New York Times to keep abreast of what is happening, and Saturday I found an inspiring story that took me back to my convent days. In the memoir I wrote about those eight-and-a-half years, I fortunately didn’t need to write about a pandemic, but I hope I showed in some way the generosity of so many of the nuns.

In the 1970s and ‘80s, long after I left, a number of those in the Benedictine convent where I made my vows traveled to El Salvador and Nicaragua to help the farmers who were being threatened on all sides. 

The nuns from that Benedictine convent and from many nunneries here and in other countries have always reached out to help others through their teaching, nursing, social work, response to the AIDS epidemic, food pantries, counseling, visiting prisons, setting up food kitchens.

They live the recognition that “everywhere there is one, and never two” as the German poet Gertrude von Le Fort wrote during World War II. 

In the midst of that war, she knew that we are one. We may fight against that truth. Resist it. Deny it. Ridicule it. Go to war over it.

All in vain, because always and ever, we are One. 

This Oneness is never more apparent than today as together, around the globe, we all face a crisis that unites us no matter who we are or where we live or what spiritual tradition we follow or what the color of our skin is or our sexual or gender preference or our social status or our economic comfort or discomfort or . . . our political philosophy and party. 

No matter what we’ve thought divided us, we can today embrace the realization that we are one family, sprung from the hope for survival and the need to clasp the person we thought of as the “other” or “them.” We are, as so many are saying, "in this together."

Within the labyrinth of our mind and the chambers of our heart, we can embrace those who have seemed "other" and proclaim —for all the globe to hear—“I am One with this person. We are One, never Two.”

I encourage you to read the article published in the opinion section of Saturday’s (3/21/20) "New York Times" about how the nuns of Philadelphia responded to the 1918 influenza. As this opinion piece, written by Kiley Bense, shows so clearly, Philadelphia was hard hit, but its citizens, including those nuns, stepped forward to heal the sick, visit those who lived in fear in their homes, and comfort the grieving. 

Called by their mayor to help, they responded. Each of us needs to find our way to respond. For many of us that way is to stay at home; to practice social distancing. But for some, the clarion call is to put their own lives at risk. They are the heroes of today. Or, as the Roman Catholic Church might say—the saints. 

Here is the URL for the article. I hope you have the time and the inclination to read it. It brings with it a deep belief in the basic goodness of humanity and the compassion that this crisis calls forth from the deep center of our being. Peace.

All the photographs are from Wikipedia. 
I'm grateful for their free service to us.

30 comments:

  1. Thanks for the links to what will surely be interesting reading. During the Flu Epidemic of 1918 my grandmother was cared for by French nuns. She didn't make and was buried in a mass grave. So many sad stories come along with the inspirational and selfless stories. We need them both at a time like this.

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    1. Dear Jean, it is an interesting article. Thank you for sharing the story of your grandmother. That makes 1918 truly come in focus. I don't remember my grandmother ever talking about it. But my mother did. She was 8 at the time; Dad was 13. They both lived through it and also the Great Depression and so had learned how to live with adversity. They were part of that generation that fought World War II. Peace.

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  2. I love the thought, We are One, never Two. I will keep the link to read later. Right now I am getting ready to attend my church, streaming live, a new thing for us. I attended online last Sunday and it was a warm happy experience.

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    1. Dear Terra, that thought has seen me through so much. It is like a mantra for me. It's wonderful that churches are providing support, encouragement, comfort to so many. I'm glad that you had a "warm happy experience" last Sunday. I hope this Sunday will be the same! You are truly being One with others. Peace.

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  3. When I was young, my mother told me about the 1918 flu that killed her sister. The stories she told seemed impossible to comprehend and what reading I did about it astounded me by the shear volumes of those affected. Now we are facing a similar fate. Hopefully we have better tools to fight. I totally admire those who willingly go to the front lines to fight this disease. Thanks for the links.

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    1. Dear Patti, like you, I heard about the 1918 pandemic from my mom and from a history class in high school. The fact that historians say that between 50 million and 100 million people died is something I wasn't then and even now can't get my mind around. More than 675,000 died here in the United States (according to the NYTimes).

      Like you, I'm hoping we have better tools today--one of which is almost instant communication. The Chinese doctors are sending the results of their work and their autopsies to doctors all around the world and that is helping all of us.

      It was just one link, but I gave it three times so that readers could quit my posting at several spots and go to the really important writing in the NYTimes!

      Take care. Peace, pressed down and overflowing in this time of crisis.

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  4. Huge thanks.
    The virus has effortlessly crossed the borders of country, age, gender, religion.
    How I hope that kindness can continue to do the same hugely important thing.
    Hugs.

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    1. Dear Sue, you have such a way with words. So succinct and right to the point. You get to the essence always. Like you said so beautifully, I hope, too, that kindness can continue to cross all borders in this midst of this crisis. Peace.

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  5. Dee, if anything ever was a wake-up call, this is it. We are all human, we are all vulnerable, we are all one.

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    1. Dear Rian, yes, a wake-up call. I hope we all answer--the best way we can--the alarm! Take care. Stay safe. Peace.

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  6. So many are worried over things they have no control over I am concerned but not that worried. I take life one day at a time

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    1. Dear Jo-Anne, I've been trying for most of my life to "take life one day at a time" as you are doing. I so hope that one of the good outcomes from this crisis will be that many of us learn how to do that. Peace.

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  7. My family lived in EU at the time and they only spoke about the war of that time. Out current situation is really grave as the impact when it is over will be tough. It will redefine all of the lifestyles we once thought safe and secure. As we entre the 5G WiFi network age and make social network sharing bigger we shall face tougher health issues. While we are asked to help we are also asked to obey. Perhaps that will be a poisitive outcome?

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    1. Dear Heidrun, thank you so much for stopping by. Like you, I'm thinking that there will be positive outcomes that help us realize we are a community and that requires helping as well as following rules--sort of like the convent experience! Peace.

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  8. Yes, we are all in this together, and the way through is to behave sensibly, and look out for one another. My mother lost her grandmother to that 1918 pandemic, and it was a story often repeated.

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    1. Dear Joanne, I suspect there will be stories "often repeated" about this pandemic also by the time it last death has been recorded. Peace.

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  9. Until just a few days ago it was impossible to imagine the entire world locked down at once. I had a dream many years ago that I was in the future. I could not return to the USA from abroad because it was unsafe or not allowed. I wondered how that could be. It didn't make sense at the time. Weird!

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    1. Dear Sandi, that dream must have somewhat scared you at the time. Maybe it woke you up that night. And now we see it being lived all around the world. I hope you are taking care of yourself. Stay safe. Peace.

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  10. I will read that article, and I thank you for the link. It's a very trying time for all of us, worldwide, but it has also made me very aware of how interconnected we all are. We are definitely One.

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    1. Dear DJan, yes, Oneness is, I think, one of the lessons we may all learn from this pandemic. I certainly am learning about the generosity and thoughtfulness of my neighbors. We truly are all in this together. Peace.

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  11. this is powerful and heartwarming sharing dear Dee

    your faith in oneness and harmony fills my soul with peace !

    i truly hope wish and pray that may this world bear many souls as beautiful and blessed as your's
    stay well and safe my dear friend!
    you are in my thoughts and prayer !

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    1. Dear Baili, thank you for your thoughts and prayers. I'm keeping really secluded because I have asthma, COPD, and a compromised inhuman system because of skin cancer in addition to being elderly--my birthday is coming in less than two weeks and I'll be 84!!!! I'm so grateful to be alive. And so grateful also for all of those around the world who are doing what they can to slow the spread of this virus. Take care; stay safe. And may all your family remain healthy. You must be deeply concerned about your son in Germany. At times like this, we want our family near. Peace.

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  12. A beautiful post - you find words to heal our frayed nerves and that is how you help others.

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    1. Dear Inger, thank you for your kind words. I did think of two ways to help while here in my home: 1) send checks to organizations that care for those who have little to fall back on financially: the homeless (who don't even have a home to hunker down in), those who live in the devastated coal areas of Appalachia, those living on Native American reservations, and those right here in my own town who go to the food banks regularly. All of them need help immediately. Also, I'm going to start baking bread for myself, my brother & sister-in-law, my niece, and my neighbor. (If I can find the ingredients in the grocery store: flour, honey, margarine, sugar, salt.) That way there will be more bread on the grocery shelves for others. I think we all need to do what we can for others--social distancing is an important part of that--and so I'm relieved that I came up with these two things. Peace.

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  13. Thank you for sharing the link. It was very moving.
    As soon as I saw your post I thought of Mother Theresa, one of my heroes, and those who served at her side the dying poor. Who will the heroes be of this pandemic when all is said and done? I am so grateful to the young people of the world who are staying in, even though the disease will not be serious if they get it, for the sake of the elderly and others at risk. They are all selfless heroes in my heart!

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    1. Dear Cynthia, I agree with you about the young people. When this crisis subsides, there will be many whom we will recognize as heroes. So many are keeping shelves stocked in grocery stores and delivering things we need to our doorstep. The list goes on. We truly depend on others to live our lives. Yes. Heroes in our hearts. Take care. Be gracious to yourself. Peace.

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  14. Thank you for following your heart. I followed mine and posted Richard Hendrick's poem on my FB page. I printed it for my husband and neighbors to read. I'm relatively sure that your blog friends want to hear about the rest of the psychic experience and I hope you will tell us at a later date but what you posted was indeed what we needed to read at this time. I read "Prayer Wasn't Enough" as part of a writing class assignment to read an autobiography or memoir of a favored author. By the date of the meeting (that was cancelled) I had read A Cat's Life, A Cat's Legacy, and The Gift of Nine Lives. We learned from another writing group (diy MFA) to take notes while reading. From the latter three, I reveled in the difference of Dulcy's persona from the cat who lives with me. He told me his story last year and as you experienced, I could hardly keep up. The first chapter is about his life before he was led to me and I had no idea what was coming next. I also learned many new words that are more relevant to various situations in chapter two which I defied not editing until complete. I felt it was worth the risk. Thank you for unknowingly helping an unpublished writer.

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  15. Thank you for stopping by and also for posting Richard Hendrick's poem. We so need the words spoken by those who see clearly the meaning of our existence.

    And thank you, too, for reading not only the convent memoir but the three cat books that all came about because of Dulcy. It's exciting that you have had the same experience with the cat with whom you live.

    Crown published "A Cat's Life" back in 1992, but no matter how hard I tried--for the next 25 years--I couldn't get an agent or an editor interested in my other writings.

    Ultimately, I decided that I'd self-publish and thus get the words/stories available to anyone who ultimately learns about them. Self-publishing does not bring you much success financially, but it's so rewarding to know that at least a few people have read the words Dulcy gave me and the stories that came from that. Good luck with all you write. Peace.

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  16. Hello Dee, there is so little people like me can do, I am on the at risk register anyway and cannot allow myself to be infected without direct danger to my life. You may say that I am being selfish, and you may be right.

    Yes, I too think of the people incarcerated in Southern Europe, but I very much doubt that they are looking for a new life in the USA. Rather, they say they want to be allowed to travel to Germany, a million of them have already settled in that country. There is little chance that they will ever be allowed to leave the camps, certainly not now when the whole of Europe is battling this new foe.

    We live in desperate times, I would love to think that prayer could help. Can it?

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