Corona and Me

My family has went through quite a few pandemics in history. If you had come across the heading “Corona and Me” a few months ago, you might have thought I was referring to the relationship between me and my wife, or some other lady, or possibly my favorite beer, or a certain car model.

However, times have changed.

I imagine if my wife were named Corona, she also would have changed her name by now.

Even our vocabulary has changed. Who, besides some professionals, would ever have used words like lockdown, facemask, quarantine, isolation, social-distancing, and the likes with any frequency?

It feels like our world is changing rapidly, and many of us wonder if these might be the “end times”. Maybe there is truth to that, but could our lack of awareness of history play a considerable part here? Could it be that the end-times have been among us for quite some time longer than we were aware?

When I visited China in the aftermath of the SARS epidemic, I was struck how everyone there was wearing a facemask. In my naivety, I thought those masks were probably a recent invention by the Chinese specifically for coping with the disease outbreak.

However, only recently, I saw some pictures from nearly 100 years ago that seem to have been taken today, were it not for the lack of color in them.

A history of pandemic, a team of doctors and nurses in 1919 pose with quarantine masks on outside Parramatta.
A history of pandemic, a team of doctors and nurses in 1919 pose with quarantine masks on outside Parramatta.

My Grandfather’s History With Pandemic

My grandfather happened to have exactly the same name as I have. He was, however, born 63 years before I was. When he was 25 years old, a similar thing happened in the world as what we are experiencing now, only on a much bigger scale.

Who of us had ever heard much about the so-called Spanish Flu? It started when WWI came to an end in 1918, and it continued well into 1920.

“Avoid crowded gatherings in closed places. Avoid contact with others as much as possible. Don’t even shake hands when saying hello.”

This was the ninth directive in a list of guidelines published in the February 1920 edition of the Hebrew newspaper, “Do’ar Hayom”, when the pandemic known today as the Spanish Flu raged all over the world – including in the land of Israel (source: Jerusalem Post).

This flu infected approximately half a billion people — almost a third of the world’s population — and killed tens of millions.

My grandfather’s first wife, and their only child, died in 1921, and although it might not have been from the flu, it could well have been. My grandfather married again, and his eldest son from that marriage was my father.

My Great-Great-Grandfather’s History With Pandemic

There are records of my ancestors a number of generations before that. During the Spanish occupation of the Southern Netherlands (present-day Belgium), one of my ancestors fled around 1575 to the city of Leiden in the Northern Netherlands to escape the Spanish persecution of Protestants.

In 1603, three of his four children, and his wife, died in the bubonic plague pandemic, leaving only him and one son alive. This son was my great-great-grandfather.

The Black Death, also known as the Pestilence and the Plague, was the most fatal pandemic recorded in human history, resulting in the death of 75-200 million people in Eurasia and North Africa. The Black Death is estimated to have killed 30% to 60% of Europe’s population between the years of 1361 and 1815.

One last gem that I discovered in my genealogical research is about an ancestor of mine that made pilgrimages to the Holy Land. The sources are not clear, but it appears that after her third journey to Jerusalem, she died on September 26, 1176 and was buried here.

Is it mere coincidence that centuries later I find myself in the same city?

God Works Good

Now, why do I write all this?

We have to learn from the past to understand the present and the future.

This will help us to put present situations into perspective instead of rushing to speculations of apocalyptic scenarios. It will also help us to see God’s hand throughout world history as well as in our own personal history.

It is no accident that I am who I am.

Had God let my ancestor perish in the 1603 plague together with his siblings, I would not be here today. Also, what if my grandfather’s first wife had not died in 1921?

Thinking of the possibilities reminds me of Romans 8:28,

“And we know that God causes all things to work together for good to those who love God, to those who are called according to His purpose.” – Romans 8:28

So, has everything changed or, rather,

“…what has been will be again, what has been done will be done again; there is nothing new under the sun…” – Ecclesiastes 1:9

Is this the case?

Pandemics have always been with us in history. So why should we have any fear in this present pandemic, since we can trust God will use it for good in our lives?