"Stores and theaters closed because people feared to venture out. Churches canceled services, and some Sunday School classes were held over the radio. Kids, the elderly and infirm were told to stay indoors for fear of getting sick. . . . Wytheville officials were clueless about where the crippling virus came from or how it spread. There was no pattern to the outbreak. A few suggested it was the wrath of God because of the town’s one liquor store. Some claimed it was in the water, others insisted it traveled in the mail. . . .Residents tried everything to try to stem the infection, from bathing in Clorox and isopropyl alcohol to wearing bags around their necks filled with mountain remedies, such as garlic and onions. Many chose strict self-quarantine and simply cowered inside their homes, burning Sterno cans and formaldehyde candles in an attempt to cleanse the air. . . .Funeral home director D.L. Barnett prepared for the worst by going to a casket company and buying every child’s coffin in stock." Read the whole startling account here.
Except for a few revealing words, such as radio, infirm, Sterno cans and formaldehyde candles, the account sounds eerily similar to what has happened in the world since March of this year. The difference is that the "crippling virus" mentioned above was localized for a few months to one particular town, but it did indeed prove to be crippling to its victims.
Polio struck the town of Wytheville, Virginia with a fierce vengeance in the summer of 1950, and, unlike COVID-19, its primary victims were children. Two hundred cases were recorded in a population of only 5500. Yes, the disease progressed much further than Wytheville, but for one horrifying summer that small town received the blunt force of the attack.
Another account found here provides even more graphic descriptions.
"People living around Wytheville were 100 times more likely to catch polio than people anywhere else. If they caught it, they were twice as likely to die. Ambulances headed out to hospitals in Roanoke or Richmond two or three times a day.
In Wythe County, 1950 became known as “the summer without children,” as frightened parents kept their offspring indoors. Swings hung listlessly in empty playgrounds as children entertained themselves with board games, reading and listening to radio stories."
I heard about this occurrence for the very first time last week while I was visiting the Thomas J. Boyd Museum in Wytheville. What we have been enduring in 2020 is terrible, no disputing that fact, but try to imagine if YOUR TOWN was the epicenter.
What if signs were put up on the outskirts warning people to stay away? Imagine people rolling up the windows of their unairconditioned cars while driving on the highway outside of town in order to avoid even breathing the same air as the people of Wytheville.
We have complained about being thrust into the role of homeschool teachers and missing out on so many things we've gotten used to enjoying. But, seriously, what about staying inside unairconditioned houses with no television, Netflix, internet? What about living in fear that your child would be the next victim without anyone telling you how to prevent it?
With COVID-19, the whole world has been exposed, and the elderly are the most vulnerable. With polio, the likeliest victims were children. A child in an iron lung seems almost too cruel to fathom.
Jonas Salk's vaccine wasn't approved for public use until 1955. The next year was 1956, and I remember getting a polio shot before I could attend first grade. How glad I was when an oral vaccine was perfected. We are still a number of months away from worldwide availability of a vaccine against coronavirus.
So, you may be asking -- Well, what about the perspective mentioned in the title of this post?
For me, after visiting the thriving, attractive town of Wytheville NOW, I'm struck by what great survivors they are. They pulled together then, and they're still a strong, resilient, creative, committed group of citizens.
In 1950, innocent people contracted a disease and died or were permanently disabled. Former U.S. President Franklin D. Roosevelt was a victim of polio in 1921 and was paralyzed from the waist down as a result.
In 2020, innocent people have contracted a disease and died. Our current President Donald Trump was hospitalized with COVID-19 but appears to have recovered.
In 1950, many families lost loved ones unexpectedly.
In 2020, many families have lost loved ones due to a disease that no one had even heard of before this year.
It's been unsettling to watch. News stories have spread wild rumors amid the scientific reports. Fear is rampant, and so is depression and a sense of disorientation.
Did anything of this massive scale happen in the Bible?
Read chapters 7-11 in Exodus. Pharoah refused to let the Israelites go, so his own Egyptian people suffered the consequences. Their water turned to blood. The land was covered by frogs, then gnats, then insects. Their livestock died, and boils developed on their skin. A hailstorm destroyed their crops, and what was left standing was devoured by a swarm of locusts. Thick darkness covered the land, then the unthinkable happened. Their firstborn sons died. The Egyptians were innocent, yet they suffered because of their leader's hardened heart.
Exodus 12:29-30 - "Now it came about at midnight that the Lord struck all the firstborn in the land of Egypt, from the firstborn of Pharaoh who sat on his throne to the firstborn of the captive who was in the dungeon, and all the firstborn of cattle. And Pharoah arose in the night, he and all his servants and all the Egyptians; and there was a great cry in Egypt, for there was no home where there was not someone dead."
Listen closely. I am not saying that this pandemic has come upon the world because of any one person's sin, but what if God wants to bring good out of it in order to get our attention, to bring us back to Him, and to cause us to fall on our knees in repentance and recommitment?
I have a number of friends who have been diagnosed with breast cancer in recent years, and one young lady (a former student) with 7 young children is fighting a fierce battle against advanced ovarian cancer right this minute. In each case, the disease and its disruption to their lives have revealed God to them more deeply than ever before. Their testimonies are powerful and indisputable.
How is COVID-19 enriching our own testimonies? What is God revealing to you in these days? Let's don't waste this experience. Let's find the lessons, the truths, and the promises. The Bible assures us they are there.
John 16:33 -- "I (Jesus) have told you these things, so that in Me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.”
2 Corinthians 1:3-4 -- "Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort,4 who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves receive from God."
Psalm 121 -- "1 I lift up my eyes to the mountains— where does my help come from?
2 My help comes from the LORD, the Maker of heaven and earth.
3 He will not let your foot slip— he who watches over you will not slumber;
4 indeed, he who watches over Israel will neither slumber nor sleep.
5 The LORD watches over you— the LORD is your shade at your right hand;
6 the sun will not harm you by day, nor the moon by night.
7 The LORD will keep you from all harm— he will watch over your life;
8 the LORD will watch over your coming and going both now and forevermore."