On living through a pandemic…
The little girl in the middle was named Wanda. She was born in 1912 to two Swiss immigrants. Her father was a blacksmith, and they lived outside Yakima, Washington.
There was a water pump in the backyard. She’s sitting on her mother’s lap in this photo:
The Chinese Empire had just ended, Russia was ruled by a czar, and the Ottoman empire was intact.
She was two when The Great War (WW I) began, and six before it ended.
That’s when the Spanish Flu hit, infecting 500 million people and causing 50 million deaths worldwide.
She was a teenager when Mussolini came to power.
It wasn’t until she was sixteen that Sir Alexander Fleming was experimenting with the influenza virus and discovered penicillin by accident.
A year later Wall Street crashed and ushered in the Great Depression.
When she was eighteen, the Star Spangled Banner was adopted as our National Anthem, and the Empire State Building was constructed.
When she turned 21 FDR was just putting the New Deal in place, and Adolf Hitler had just become chancellor of Germany. Later that year prohibition was repealed.
A couple years later Johnson and Goodpasture demonstrated that mumps is contagious.
She went to nursing school in Seattle, graduating just before her 24th birthday.
The next year Japan invaded China, the Hindenburg crashed, and Disney released Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs.
She was 29 when the Japanese attacked Pearl Harbor. The next year, at 30, she joined the Army (Women’s Army Corps). She was sent on a boat to India.
She met a chemist serving as a quartermaster, and in September, 1944, at the age of 32, she married him in Cuttack, India, in the middle of a war, far from home and family.
By the time she turned 34, she was home from the war and giving birth to her first daughter.
Her daughter faced a plethora of perilous childhood diseases: mumps, measles, polio, etc. Polio crippled 35,000 people a year. In the late 1940s polio outbreaks grew, and “parents were afraid to let their children go outside …travel and commerce between affected cities were sometimes restricted.” (Link)
It wasn’t until all her children had been born that a vaccine started to make a difference. And then at 45 this mother of four faced the 1957 Asian Flu, which killed 1–2 million people worldwide.
In 1962 Wanda and her husband took their daughters on a cross-country drive to visit the Seattle World’s Fair. They saved a copy of the Seattle Times, which had a prediction about “Talking Books” in the 21st century:
Thirty years later Wanda would play a part in making that prediction a reality.
Her daughters grew up in a scary world. In elementary school they practiced ‘Duck and Cover’ drills in the event of a nuclear attack; neighbors built bomb shelters and stockpiled toilet paper. Their father was recalled by the Army to serve in the Korean War. As teenagers they lived through the Cuban Missile Crisis, the assassinations of John F. Kennedy and Martin Luther King, Jr., and the chaos of the 60s. Their classmates were sent to Vietnam.
In the 1970s, the world was falling apart. The economy was a mess; the stock market lost 50% in less than two years. Passenger flights were frequently hijacked. The president of the United States was resigned. Oil prices soared, and gasoline was rationed. “Doctors only” read the sign in one gas station window: we needed to prioritize resources for healthcare workers.
At least polio was eliminated in the United States by 1979; none of Wanda’s six grandchildren had caught it before then.
In 1981 there was a recession; the 30-year mortgage rate hit 18.63%. But the recession ended, as all recessions do, and the decade boomed, and technology took off. The personal computer industry was in full swing.
In 1990–91 there was another recession, but Wanda, now widowed, was still able to loan one of her grandsons a little money to invest in her other grandson’s small business idea. Again, the recession ended and the economy boomed. The Internet was popularized and everything went digital.
She lived to see the dotcom crash and then the September 11th attacks, during yet another recession. In 2004 Facebook was created, and in 2007, Wanda died in the house her husband built, where she raised her daughters and lived for more than half a century — just a month before the iPhone was introduced.
Sometimes I worry.
I worry about catching COVID-19. I worry about being able to meet payroll if sales fall. I worry about letting down Faithlife’s employees, customers, and investors. I worry about disappointing my wife, going bankrupt, needing a job, losing the house, and being embarrassed by bad decisions or poor judgment or having ‘failed’ in business.
But I don’t worry for long. Because I’ve read a lot of history, and I know that scary unknowns aren’t unique to our present circumstances. We actually live with a lot more knowledge, understanding, and predictability than people have throughout history. (We don’t worry, for example, that the neighboring people group will invade and kill us all next week. Our cities don’t need walls.)
And when that historical perspective seems too remote to speak to my scary circumstances, I think about Wanda, who lived through pandemics and depressions and the fall of empires, who saw the rise of Hitler and the destruction of Europe and who went to a war on the other side of the world and then came home to bring children into a world of horrible diseases and the fear of nuclear annihilation.
And I think about how this woman who saw the world turned upside down more than once is the same woman I knew as “Mom-Mom”, who tended her flower garden every day and gave me chocolates and liked to put cheddar-cheese-spread on toasted English muffins, which I loved.
And who loaned some of the money that let me quit my job and work full time on Logos Bible Software, which helps scholars sitting in their homes study records stored in libraries in London and Rome.
Yes, the pandemic is a big event.
One more big event in what I expect will be a lifetime full of big events.
My grandmother, with my children.