63. Words Before Are Now

Wednesday July 22 2020

As we move through the headlines of 2020, two books come to mind that have stayed with me long after I closed the covers. In both, I’m surprised that they are not more well known. Maybe they are in other circles than mine.

Before the coronavirus, the topic of childhood immunizations was a polarizing conversation. The anti-vaxxers seemed to be driven by fear and misinformation, while at the other end of the spectrum, the medical community is Trust Us and Do All the Vaccines, because it’s good for you. Myself, I trusted the medical community with the exception of two vaccines.

When Derek was little, the chicken pox vaccination was introduced. He contracted chicken pox in Kindergarten before I could even consider the vax, but even so, the thing was too new for my comfort. I wasn’t aware of any long-term clinical studies to show what happened when reaching adulthood. Varicella is an uncomfortable mess, sure. But the death rate is so low in developed countries, the risk of a new vaccine’s uncertain future felt much higher.

The other is the HPV vaccine series, which quickly became an obvious case showing the need for more long-term clinical studies. Not even going there.

Nemesis (2010)

Those with a living history of how the polio epidemic affected our nation’s children is declining with every day that passes. To help the rest of us understand the impact is Nemesis (2010), the final book released by the always insightful author, Philip Roth.

Roth brings to life the communal fear, denial, and the crippling aftermath of a polio diagnosis of a young man, whose reputation, self-worth, and future was changed. IRL, we’re losing the last generation who as youth were faced with this invisible enemy of the period, which brought paralysis, life-long disability, and in too many cases, death. I suspect the anti-vaxxers don’t even consider poliomyelitis a real threat, because like mumps, measles, and smallpox, they haven’t seen first-hand the damage these diseases bring upon our youth and immune-suppressed individuals.

The Age of Miracles (2013)

On a wildly different subject, the second tome that keeps coming to the forefront of my mind lately is The Age of Miracles (2013) a debut novel by Karen Thompson Walker. This is a masterful piece of work sharing a coming-of-age story that just happens to take place within a dystopian future. Author Walker takes us through how we tenaciously cling to the normal and mundane when the world is falling around our feet.

Young girls still have a crush on that one boy. People still need gainful employment to keep up their chosen lifestyles. Dishes and laundry and dinner maintain never-ending status. Marriages begin and end.  

But the world is changing.

At the beginning, people stood on street corners and shouted about the end of the world. Counselors came to talk to us at school. I remember watching Mr. Valencia next door fill up his garage with stacks of canned food and bottled water, as if preparing, it now seems to me, for a disaster much more minor.

The grocery stores were soon empty, the shelves sucked clean like chicken bones.

The freeways clogged immediately. People heard the news and they wanted to move. Families piled into minivans and crossed state lines. They scurried in every direction like small animals caught suddenly under a light.

But, of course, there was nowhere on earth to go.

-Excerpt from The Age of Miracles by Karen Thompson Walker

Beautifully written, this work. Why is no one talking about this book in comparison to the 2020 wet fart situation?

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