LETTER: Pandemic should remind us life is fragile

Listening to the debate about masks and the risks we all face with the current pandemic is just plain disheartening.

As I understand it, people who are developing Covid are initially asymptomatic for several days, during which they can happily transmit that plague to others. Masks, etc., are intended to help limit that  transmission.  Masks are also intended, with very good luck,  to help limit our own ability to catch the disease.

I see no reason – other than an absolute heartless disregard for others – not to try to limit spreading a disease that can be so debilitating, when it is not deadly.

But perhaps that awareness stems from my own family’s experience with the “1918 flu” pandemic, a history that was not unusual at the time (and during which failure to wear a mask was, in places, a criminal act for which one was sent to jail. Not a bad idea, either).

My great aunt Mary died of the flu in 1918 – she was about 20 and engaged to be married. Her older sister, Theresa,  my grandmother, also had the flu;  a very few years later, she developed cancer of the lungs and then died, very slowly and painfully. Their other sister – great  aunt Catherine  – lasted longer.

She died in 1940 after a lifetime of ill health, beginning with the 1918 flu. And my name is – for obvious reasons?  – Mary Catherine Theresa, given me just as Great Aunt Catherine was dying. I should add their two brothers, Michael and Alexander, were not spared in earlier epidemics.  One died of TB and the other of polio- both of which I apparently caught as a child in the 1940’s, – and which I very fortunately survived.

Their own, heartbroken, father outlived them all, and was the person who explained my name to me just before he died. Despite our experiences with SARS, etc., we in the West have come to view the world as a place where serious disease is just not taken that – seriously…most likely because we now have cures for so many of the traditional killers.

I can only hope that this pandemic – if nothing else – helps us re-learn what our ancestors knew in the core of their being:  just how fragile life can really be, and that our most basic human responsibility to each other is to help keep all of us as safe as we possibly can.   Sincerely,

Mary C. Lazier Corbett