Dear Young Adults,
“The flu is coming was the word, in every ear these words were heard.
Into your mouth it flies with haste, and multiplies without a moment’s waste.
A typical victim was Miss Myrna F., to flu warnings she was totally deaf.”
The above is an excerpt from a poem I wrote in 1958 as a cub reporter for my college newspaper at Rutgers University. The editor had assigned me to write a story on the Asian Flu pandemic which was raging throughout Earth, and which ultimately decimated well over 1,000,000 people worldwide. Known as H2N2 it had originated in China and even without the easier modes of travel we know today which make transmission all the easier, this flu was big news. It’s somewhat perplexing that even those of us who were young adults in those days, barely remember this major assault. We certainly did nothing to avoid its high degree of contagion. And today we are dealing with a similar and more monumental tragedy. And yet, you young adults are not taking the current pandemic seriously. Not nearly seriously enough. And you are largely responsible for the current enormous mode of transmission. In those days I also found it to be more humorous than scary, as the clever little poem illustrates. I wasn’t frightened at all. And Miss Myrna F. was actually a close friend who truly did not take the threat to heart either. Just like you.
The poem ended with my climactic final line: “Ah yes, the flu has gotten me.” I remember being miserably sick but that was decades ago and the aches, pains and fever quickly faded from my mind. There were no long term consequences. There were no self recriminations. I didn’t think to say to myself that I should have been more careful. I recovered. As did Myrna F. It never even dawned on me that I could have brought it home to my aging grandfather who lived with us, and my other, even older, grandfather who lived downstairs in another apartment. I was sick. I got better. Period!
I do not dedicate this piece to you young people who are scrupulously and fastidiously careful! You are helping the world to avoid even greater tragedy with little gain for yourselves. And you are paying a high price with postponement or scaling down of major life events such as weddings, college attendance and travel abroad. From the bottom of my heart I say thank you to all of you!
But how judgmental can I be when I hear about a party this weekend here in New Jersey with over 700 attendees crowded together with no time or place for avoidance of the deadly virus? While I was never one for huge, beer swilling events, I knew plenty of my cohort who were. The pandemic in the 50’s didn’t deter them, and the pandemic today doesn’t deter the current crop of party goers, bar hoppers and sun bathers at our beautiful beaches. They feel invincible, and mostly they pretty much are. Very little point in trying to make them feel guilty for bringing risk to the aged or immuno-compromised in their circle or family. They’re born to have fun and enjoy life. Soon enough they’ll be settling down with careers and even children of their own. The time to have fun is right now. Today.
And I do understand. I really really do.
But understanding doesn’t stop the virus and so the real question is how do we deal with today’s threat which is destined to share the history books with Asian and Spanish flus of bygone days? Historic because of huge numbers of innocents being taken to their graves. What painful words can we employ to beg them not to attend the party or bar or beach? How do we make those who flaunt the advice of epidemiologists and refuse to wear masks, socially distant themselves, and keep their hands rigorously clean, from bringing the pandemic home to us all? These days I am not a 19 year old college student, in robust good health. These days my husband and I are among the most threatened. Old age has gotten us. We are vulnerable.
Maybe you are not at risk, and maybe it’s too much to ask that you show concern and make sacrifices for me. I understand that as well. You don’t know me so why should you worry about my health? But I’m really begging! We can get rid of this curse if we all pitch in and do what’s required. Can’t I please count on you? My life, and the life of my husband, and all those others who share our vulnerability, depends on you. Give up your party going and let the goodness that is within you be a light to brighten the world. You can do it. And one day, when you are 80, and you understand the power that you have today, you will be proud. You will be a mensch!