Tuesday, January 27, 2009

Ring around the rosy
A pocket full of posies
Ashes, Ashes
We all fall down.

Do you remember learning the meaning behind that nursery rhyme? As children we danced around in a circle, falling down, laughing with our friends because it was so silly. When we learned about the Plague, about the Black Death that hunted through Europe and Asia and Africa back in the old days, we wondered why on earth our mothers would have taught that to us. A rhyming game about death? It made us laugh and adults looked on and laughed with us while the dark hints of a dark time went unnoticed.

Pandemics like this strike a chord in me. Don't know why, don't really care. The Black Death, while an interesting topic, is nothing to me personally in comparison to the Spanish Flu. Now that's something to keep my attention. I've not heard any rhymes about the pandemic. Most areas don't even remember it; you'll find mention of it in history books sometimes, but the history books like to focus on the tail end of WW1 which was enough for most people to focus their energies on. The flu? That's not history. We get the flu all the time. Sometimes people die from it. Why make an effort to remember a particularly bad season of flu?

Oral traditions pass it down. Something that effects our psyches more than our rational thought processes. One generation to the next. Stories overlap. A grandmother was raised by her aunt and uncle because her own parents died. Families broken up and scattered because someone died... normal enough for the time.

Ring around the rosy, a pocket full of posies

In plague times there was no real cure. Sometimes, something would seem to work and the people latched on to any hope they had. Hope is necessary for survival. Stuff sweet smelling flowers and spices in their pockets, in their children's pockets, and pray that it keeps away the devil-sickness.

In pandemic times, we looked for the same thing. Results. Looking for results, for help, for hope. Wear a mask to keep the germs from spreading. Dose the patient with any miracle drug that may help. Pray, although the churches are closed. Yes, in places the churches were really closed- everything was closed. Towns ran out of coffins. They ran out of hope.

When the mind can't cope with something it starts to shut down and off. The horrid is bearable if you don't think about it. We will survive. We will endure. We'll pick up whatever pieces are left and never speak of it again.

I still don't know what fascinates me more, knowing that a single time frame could produce a varient of the flu that seemed customized for death, or knowing that a good deal of the survivors seemed to have made a pact never to speak of it again. Wipe it away, if you never discuss it you can pretend it never happened.

In a hundred years or so will this make it's way into a nursery rhyme? Will children laugh and play to commerate a terrible illness? When I was in school and learned what that rhyme really meant, several of my classmates were swearing they'd never teach their kids that sort of thing. And I didn't know what I felt about it.

I ended up teaching it to both kids. We do the whole game. They don't know what it means and I certainly am not teaching them that it has any meaning besides the laughter. They don't need to know yet. What I'm going to tell them when they ask me, sometime in the distant future, is that I taught them this rhyme because it's an example of oral tradition. It reminds us that we are mortal. That we break down traumatic events into a form we can deal with, that fears can transmute into a positive thing if only we have enough time.

We are only human. We have to remember the past to cope with the future. Remembering that we survived one thing will help give us hope that we will survive whatever comes next.

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