I’ve got you beat! Have you ever been vaccinated for rabies?
Years ago, my young family was traveling back from Frederick, Maryland after the 4th of July when I asked my wife to pull over because I saw an injured baby raccoon by the side of the road.
I love all living things and most humans.
The little raccoon was so small it fit into the palm of my hand. I took it home that night, named her Thomas Jefferson — because it was the 4th of July after all — and started to feed her with an eye dropper.
I researched diet and organized my schedule to ensure regular feedings, but it was too late. Three days later, she started to die. Despite my efforts, somewhere around 3 o’clock in the morning she stopped breathing.
When I told my wife the next day, she was understandably horrified. She informed me that it was possible that I could have gotten rabies and I must get vaccinated.
I voluntarily got the shots and became the hero and laughingstock of my little neighborhood. They would turn to each other and point at me approvingly and say, “if you see a rabid animal call Bob because he can bite back.”
So why did I voluntarily get those shots back then?
I didn’t really volunteer to be the game warden for my neighborhood but I did not want to get rabies and I certainly didn’t want to involuntarily bite somebody.
I also wondered if rabies shots were mandatory. I was surprised to find that with the exception of Kansas, Missouri, and Ohio, every state in the union has mandatory rabies vaccination laws for domestic pets but apparently not for their owners. The success that public health officials have had in controlling rabies is due to vaccinating domestic pets.
But what does this say about my parents? I got vaccinated for everything! Did they treat me like a pet?
As a child, I had been vaccinated for typhus, measles, mumps, and polio, and our reservoir water had been treated with fluoride to save our teeth. All this in order to protect the living generation from the transmissions of death and worse, tooth decay. I remember there were protests against all of these vaccinations at the time.
Recently, it occurred to me: Why not smallpox?
Why didn’t our pets and I get vaccinated for smallpox? It must have been mandatory! Because of this oversight could I have accidentally passed on smallpox and kill somebody?
So, I did the research.
In Europe smallpox vaccination began in the early 1800s, after Edward Jenner did cowpox experiments, in which he showed that he could protect a child from smallpox if he infected him or her with cowpox blisters. Jenner’s ideas were met with immediate public criticism. The rationale for this criticism varied, and included sanitary, religious, scientific, and political objections.
What a wonderful surprise!
Almost two centuries after Jenner hoped that vaccination could annihilate smallpox, the 33rd World Health Assembly declared the world free of this disease on May 8, 1980. Many people consider smallpox eradication to be the biggest achievement in international public health.
I felt even better when I concluded that it was patriotic to be vaccinated.
René F. Najera, DrPH, the editor of the History of Vaccines, an online project by the College of Physicians of Philadelphia, reported that there is good evidence that the United States won the War of Independence because of vaccine’s precursor: inoculation.
Among the Continental regulars in the American Revolution, 90 percent of deaths were caused by disease, and Variola — the small pox virus — was the most vicious of them all.
On the 6th of January 1777, George Washington wrote to Dr. William Shippen Jr., ordering him to inoculate all of the forces that came through Philadelphia. As he explained:
“Finding the Small pox to be spreading much and fearing that no precaution can prevent it from running through the whole of our Army, I have determined that the troops shall be inoculated… Necessity not only authorizes but seems to require the measure, for should the disorder infect the Army… we should have more to dread from it, than from the Sword of the Enemy.”
Apologies in advance. I am going to use the “N word.”
On August 16, 1845, 27-year-old Frederick Douglass, a runaway slave at the risk of recapture, left the United States for a speaking tour of Ireland and the British Isles to promote his antislavery mission. When he reached Dublin, Douglas first saw Daniel O’Connell the famous Irish patriot and, that afternoon, went to hear him speak on Catholic emancipation, self-government for Ireland and his hatred of slavery in America. After O’Connell spoke, he was introduced to Douglass. O’Connell had just turned 70 and was more than twice Douglass’ age. They shared their mutual hatred of slavery, and then unexpectedly, O’Connell introduced Douglass to the remaining crowd as “the Black O’Connell.”
Hats off to Robert Manson, who introduced me to this subject.
IN FREEDOM’S NAME
“…I was born in exile from my native land,
Schooled with whips, and shackled by my fellow man,
Raised as chattel, alone, a slave and bastard,
As the property of my mother’s master
But not until I was free to come and go
Did I find the family I didn’t know
And not until the courthouse in County Cork
Did I discover O’Connell in my heart:
The two of us, as one, exiled from our faith
Our people and safety, by a nation state
“…Before I landed, after my weeks at sea,
(Free in a white country would be new for me)
The kind captain of our ship, the Cambria,
Asked that I speak upon my wild idea:
The granting of my country’s slaves their freedom.
The Americans on board came undone ‘n
Violent: ‘Down with the nigger! He shall not speak!’
Captain Judkins confronted them when they reached
Out to throw ‘the god damn nigger overboard’ —
Were there no boundaries to bondage and discord?…
“…Not until, in Dublin, near Sackville Street Bridge
When I saw him down by Trinity College
And heard him speak at Conciliation Hall:
Hating slavery, but nonviolence for all,
The temperance pledge, the failing potato crop
And the Irish servitude he’d try to stop:
Freed now, this Catholic beneath the English heel,
Of Peel, the P.M. he’d called ‘that Orange Peel’:
Freed now, fresh from prison for his English sins
I heard O’Connell turn Irish words to hymns…
“…Not ‘til County Cork, with the crowd before me,
When I said his name, they, as one, rose for me,
And from within, I heard my master curse him
And wondered what if O’Connell were my twin?
…Not until my heart asked me: ‘Why hesitate?
Trust him, he’s Irish. He’s born to agitate.
Weren’t you both born with bondage your argument?
And both born to harmonize as dissidents?’
…Only then, I was surprised to discover
In freedom’s name, I’d found my Irish brother…”
Until we realize that our individual freedoms are dependent on each other, we will repeat this servitude without end.
Okay more spring stuff.
It is wonderful to remember the first recollection of spring in nature and as memory.
Thus another sonnet:
My First Spring
In my mind I can recreate the breeze
That gathered me and took me into Spring
While the snow melted after the last freeze
And my life as a boy was beginning.
Out the kitchen door, still eating something,
Late and half running as I pulled the books
On to my back and headed down hill, being
For the first time the product of my looks.
How could life have become so inviting?
How could the world warm with the thoughts of girls?
How could the clock of a planet spinning
Harmonize with these two so perfect worlds?
Odd how I can create that breeze today
And that boy comes alive in yesterday.
What is so great about Classical Christian art is it is like getting morality training delivered in a horror movie.
You have to see it to believe it.
He is in quarantine for life and starving and has to either starve with his family or take care of his own bad self and eat his children.
His quandary is the classic question which pits self-interest against the rights of others.
He ended up at the bottom of Dante’s Inferno.
We have no vaccine or reliable testing that will allow us to determine who can go back to work without putting others in harm’s way.
We don’t have the equipment to make the correct decisions without all the information and we running out of time.
This is a horror movie scenario.
Maybe we have been kidding ourselves all along that our humanity is our ability to reason and think.
Maybe there are sometimes when you have to think with your feelings.
You have to see it to believe it.
In Jean-Baptiste Carpeaux’s sculpture of Ugolino and his children, you can feel the pain of Ugolino at the moment he is the making that decision. His children trust him.
It is that same decision which confronts the caregivers in emergency rooms and elected representatives as they reopen the country, decision by decision and case by case.
Look at all the expressions in that sculpture.
Quarantine Journal Entry #*@!%😱!
On Friday, March 6th, I headed home on a mid-morning train from NYC. We had been busy. The day before, we had finished a third table reading of The Grace of God & The Man Machine. The atmosphere had been wonderful and the actors had greeted each other with hugs and kisses, celebrating the act of making theater.
Other than my wife, this was the last time I have been within six feet of anybody for almost two months. Everyone in the world I know is in quarantine.
I have tracked my friends in New York and elsewhere, as some of them have gotten the virus, gone dark, and returned to report they are better but have lost friends to the disease.
The realization that this will not end easily for anybody has been made clear every morning as I’ve watched a cold spring come to Maryland under iron gray skies. I have been waiting for good news or some sign of change. I want the everyday life that I will always remember but will not see again.
Today, I decided to gather the little things that I might have taken for granted before, and make them into an exciting life that must be coming.
My social media manager Katie Marinello has already posted the Hastings Race and Poverty Law Journal article written by Michael Millemann about the law school class that we taught with Eliot Rauh. We have been notified that it continues to be one of the most downloaded current articles. I read it, and instead of taking it for granted I celebrated it as part of a new beginning, a new opportunity.
A year ago this week, I recited my 7th annual Harvard Alumni Association poet laureate poem (a “serious” bit of frivolity which I dearly love). This year, because the alumni meetings will be held virtually, I was asked to write it and have it videoed for presentation tomorrow. Instead of being disappointed I will not see my friends and fellow alumni and present it to a live audience, I reviewed the video and found myself laughing.
Finally, the play I was afraid would die in New York City after that great reading, we have just been informed is a finalist for the New York Rave Theater Festival and is being considered for perforce in NYC in October.
A different world is evolving now, but at least personally it is starting to feel like we are starting to wake up from a sleepless night to a coming spring.
So, this is how I got tricked into my new unintended optimism:
With the coronavirus, we are confronted with a new “new normal” yet again. I am again surprised at how fast our world can suffer catastrophic change and how quickly we accept it and adapt and —yet again — take no notice that disaster recovery as a way of life may be in our DNA.
Yesterday, quite by accident, when I was deep in quarantine and grumpy, I discovered some old travel photos I had taken ten years ago and my mind played a trick on me.
I was thinking about how years ago, there were no security checks in our airports and how now they are an accepted part of our lives.
I noticed that each picture looked like it could have been taken today, but history makes that impossible.
Look at the picture of the sister bending to be photographed with her little brother and how instantly it was interrupted by two of their playmates who wanted to be part of the fun.
It was taken in Aleppo, a city which was totally destroyed several years ago during the war in Syria.
The second photograph is of a market in Luang Prabang at the edge of the Mekong River in Northern Laos. Since that picture was taken, Chinese civil engineers have changed the flow of the river and thus the life of that little waterfront Buddhist city.
But finally, the picture which is the cause of this my unexpected optimism:
It was taken by total accident in a street market in Chiang Mai, Thailand. I realized the surprise of an unexpected discovery:
“Everybody is looking for something-at the same time.”
All of a sudden, I was surprised by the present that I thought was the past.
The people are so alive despite their futures and their past. We put our best face forward. We are, by nature, resilient. It lives in the acceptance of people in these photographs, whether these people are now alive or dead.
It is who we are.