Thursday, October 9, 2014


My heart is heavy.

I have a hard time listening to the evening news segments about ebola and enterovirus and seeing the faces of those who have died in the last few days, an adult who was at the wrong place at the wrong time, a four year old child who went to sleep one evening, no symptoms, no indications of problems, but didn't wake up the next morning, two viruses, two individual stories among thousands.

This is the twenty first century, for goodness sake. I should not be writing about this. But I am.

Now I see with different eyes what I wrote in Lessons Learned: The Story of Pilot Mountain School.

Back then it was polio, infantile paralysis.

I was young when the epidemic came through, so I didn't know the fear of putting a child to bed, praying that she would waken in the morning. My mother no doubt did and I'm looking with astonishment at the prayer I recited every night that concludes with "If I should die before I wake, I pray the Lord my soul to take." It's more than rhetoric. It's real.

When I was listening to the former students and teachers talk about quarantines and fears, about inoculations on sugar cubes and reliefs, I hadn't grasped the concept of epidemic. I'm getting a bit clearer picture now.

Photo from Getty Images: This is the new face of epidemic
In the late 1940's and early 1950's the polio virus grew to epidemic proportions in the counties surrounding the South Mountains of North Carolina. During the summer of 1944 all activities that involved children came to a halt. Children under the age of sixteen were quarantined, required by law to remain at home and not associate with other children. The opening of school was delayed almost a month. Those were desperate times. Parents put their children to bed at night not knowing if they would waken in the morning, or if they did, if they would have lost the muscular ability to walk or to breathe. 

No men in hazmat suits came to their houses and sprayed chemicals. How frightening that would have been. Imagine the stories young children who survive the current ebola epidemic will tell sixty years from now. What do they think of these unearthly creatures knocking on their doors? Fear has many levels.

My heart goes out to the families of the victims, because as an interviewer, I know the distant future of their feelings. These epidemics, like polio so many years ago, will be engraved in their souls. They will whisper. They will tear up. They will cover their mouths with their hands to regain composure.

Someday a parent putting a child to bed at night will have no hidden fears about her waking up the next morning. The words in that prayer will be unnecessary. 

That day is not here yet.


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