As we wear masks and shelter at home from the 2020 pandemic, it is helpful to read about an earlier pandemic. Science journalist Laura Spinney has written an acclaimed history, Pale Rider: the Spanish Flu of 1918 and How it Changed the World (published in 2017). I read it to understand how that worldwide pandemic Impacted this country and others.
More than anything it amazed me to read how medical professionals hope future leaders would respond to a recurrence. First, in the future, the author hoped that health authorities would introduce containment measures such as quarantine, school closures and prohibitions on mass .“These will be for our collective benefit, so how do we ensure that everyone complies?” She notes that experience has shown that people have a low tolerance for mandatory health measure and that they aremost effective when voluntary – and why she felt it was important to tell the story of the Spanish flu.
Additionally, Spinney argued that the media clearly have a critical role to play in any pandemic, and1918 taught us a valuable lesson in this too: censorship and playing down the danger don’t work. Relaying accurate information in an objective and timely fashion does. As we struggle with our current pandemic, I highly recommend this book – for everyone, including our leaders.
I was living in Brooklyn when a lawyer named Ruth Bader Ginsburg from the Bronx was named to the Supreme Court, only the second woman to serve on the court, following Sandra Day O’Connor. Over the years, the feisty 5’1” Jewish warrior developed the nickname “the Notorious RBG” – a riff on a famous rapper, the Notorious BIG — and a nickname she readily embraced.
Ginsburg in fact was bringing her strong voice and perspective on women’s rights to the court. In her years as a lawyer, Ginsburg had already argued six cases before the Supreme Court, winning five, and also earning a reputation as “the Thurgood Marshall of gender equality law.” She was also close friends with the late Justice Antonin Scalia, despite their opposing views.
“Justice Ginsburg inspired the generations who followed her, from the tiniest trick-or-treaters to law students burning the midnight oil to the most powerful leaders in the land,” former President Barack Obama said. “We’re profoundly thankful for the legacy she left.”
I may have left New York years ago, but I will always treasure the memory of celebrating the selection of Ginsburg. On her deathbed, her request was to leave her Supreme Court seat unfilled until after the Presidential election. It remains to be seen if her wish will be fulfilled. But one thing is certain – RBG will not be forgotten!
Black Lives Matter protesters continued to march in Detroit and other cities across the country this month, as they also paid tribute to Black Panther actor Chadwick Boseman, only 43 when he died of last week of complications of colon cancer. I had seen Boseman’s performance of Jackie Robinson, but not his other portrayals, which included James Brown and Thurgood Marshall – and decided to watch lack Panther to understand further his legacy as an actor and film producer.
The film is a long one and complex, but it celebrates a King respectful of his people whose reign is usurped by an evil rival and he is thrown off a cliff to drown in the water below. Miraculously he is revived again by dedicated followers and eventually recaptures his throne.
Black Panther earned three Academy awards and a nomination for best picture, while the actors from the film took home the Screen Actors Guild Award for ensemble cast. It remains the fifth top-grossing movie in the Marvel Cinematic Universe and the highest grossing solo superhero film ever. An amazing legacy for a courageous actor off the screen in his stoic battle against cancer, as well as in his heroic roles.
This last week was a harrowing one for thousands in California. I managed to contact two of my west coast friends to make sure they were safe from the fires. The wine country and San Francisco area were heavily affected. My late husband also has family in northern California.
I remember the fires from my years in California, but it also keeps getting worse. There were photos of heavily scarred sequoia trees this year, with reassurances from scientists that the noble trees, many over 2000 years old, will ultimately survive.
Walking in one of the sequoia forests north of San Francisco always made me feel it was sacred ground and reminded me of the arc of history and our small role in terms of years. A part of my heart will always be out west and my prayers go out daily here – as well as south to those affected by the category 4 Hurricane Laura and the resulting flooding and winds that devastated St. Charles, Louisiana last Thursday. A week of fire and rain.
John Lewis, who became a civil rights icon and a longtime Georgia congressman, died July 17 at the age of 80. As I watched the many tributes this last week, I was amazed that Lewis was born in Troy, Alabama and only moved to Georgia later in his career. I remember Lewis because I joined my late husband Tim Robinson, who was born and raised near Birmingham, Al in crossing the Edmund Pettus Bridge on the 30th Anniversary of Bloody Sunday in 1995. That day commemorated the original March when Lewis, the one-time “Freedom Rider” was among civil rights demonstrators, including Martin Luther King, attacked and beaten by state troopers in 1965. Tim had covered “Bloody Sunday” as a teenage reporter for the Birmingham Post Herald and photographed the beatings. Lewis was at the commemoration.
More recently, I became aware that Lewis was a respected Georgia congressman in Washington DC and watched a documentary completed shortly before his death. I found it heroic that Lewis pledged to honor his friend Martin Luther King’s devotion to non-violence – resulting in many beatings and concussions, but no regrets. In fact, he continued to be known as “The Boy from Troy” the nickname King gave Lewis at their first meeting in 1958 in Montgomery. The celebrations for Lewis have continued for several days, and will end with his funeral on Thursday, July 30th. I will always remember the hymn “Amazing Grace” echoing in the U.S Congress Building at a special televised memorial ceremony this week. It summed up his grace and courage.
For more on the life of John Lewis, you can read a tribute in the Detroit Free Press – https://www.freep.com/story/news/nation/2020/07/26/civil-rights-icon-john-lewis-remembered-his-passion-leadership/5477561002/
I am sadly trying to accept that my Alabama friend Rick Watson is truly gone. I learned about his passing in a facebook announcement from his wife Jilda – also a dear friend. Among many other hats, Rick was a columnist and reporter for the Daily Mountain Eagle, a newspaper in Jasper, Al. Rick and Jilda also had a 12 acre farm that through his writings became “the Walden of Walker County.” Rick and Jilda were also talented musical entertainers and recorded albums together, strumming their guitars and singing glorious harmonies.
I will never forget this couple’s devotion to each other and to my late husband, Tim Robinson. Rick and Tim went to the same high school and while different ages, they became great friends. It lasted a lifetime. After Tim’s sudden death in 2003, my bondage with Rick and Jilda only grew tighter. They supported me and Tim’s family in starting a yearly Forum for Tim at Samford University and Rick always covered the event. I hope you will read some of Rick’s columns and stories, which are archived and can be searched at mountaineagle.com. I had called Tim’s sister Terah Sherer to find out if his obituary had appeared yet – I was able to read it online on July 16. His obit can be searched at mountaineagle.com/obituaries. And finally Rick’s blog is at http://www.rickwatson-writer.com.
I will miss you, dear friend!