My paternal grandmother, Frances Morris, died at a rather young age in the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1919. She left behind my grandfather, Joseph Morris, and three small children, the oldest of them the boy who would be my father.
An aside: Frances and Joseph (who died in 1947) were both deceased when I was born, and both of my maternal grandparents were still living when I came along. Accordingly, my parents once told me, they had decided to name me Joseph if I were a boy and Frances if I were a girl.
So, but for one chromosome, I might today be called by the name of a woman whose life was lost in the last pandemic. As it is, I am named after a man who lost the love of his life in that tragic time.
I suppose what we go through in the days and weeks to come will give us a little taste of what our ancestors, for generations, on every continent, must have known with great force and frequency: A fear of plagues (let alone wars and famines) and a very present sense of the fragility of life. I pray not only that we all survive, but that we are strengthened by this experience, and enriched with a surer knowledge of how fragile and thin, and therefore how precious, are the strands of life and the cords of civilization.
We see how powerful and terrifying nature and the unknown can be for us, today, notwithstanding all the vaunted science and technology we have at our disposal.
Imagine, then, what life and its perils must have been like for our ancestors in far off times and places, whether Africa, Asia, or Europe, as well as those nearer to us in the Americas. Think of what they must have gone through, far more frequently and perilously than we, just to survive, let alone to struggle to win for us, in various ways, our lives, our safety, our comforts, and our freedom.
How grateful we should be to them — and to the God who sustained them.