Winning the Lottery

In 1933 an influenza outbreak spread across the world.  While it wasn’t considered a pandemic, it represented a significant spike in influenza-related deaths that hasn’t been equalled since.  The 1933 outbreak hits home for me; I’m told that my grandfather’s first wife, father-in-law and infant daughter Paula all died in this influenza outbreak.  So my own existence is tied directly to these events.  When Josephine Carmichael died, my grandfather Robert sought out Beatrice Morgan to help care for his three surviving children.  Robert and Beatrice eventually married and had twelve children of their own, including my father.
The 1933 outbreak was a new variant of H1N1 influenza but wasn’t considered a pandemic even though it was a new variant and spread worldwide.  Perhaps in comparison to the one that came before it 1933 seemed pretty minor by comparison.  The worst pandemic ever recorded was the 1918 outbreak of “Spanish Flu” which killed millions of people.  It was directly related to the movement of people around the world following World War One.  Boston’s ports were one of the transportation hubs and thus the region was hit especially hard by the 1918 pandemic.  The Spanish Flu was unique in that it killed young people who might otherwise survive an outbreak that killed weaker people like the very old and very young.

Pandemics, natural disasters, world war, the randomness of two people meeting and both paying enough attention to each other at any given moment to be attracted to one another.  Overall health and well being of people in the United States has improved significantly since 1933.  Infant mortality is at its lowest point in history and exponential improvements in medicine ensure more people make it to adulthood.  Childhood diseases that killed or crippled millions were largely eradicated in the years since Josephine died.  We’re all lottery winners just by being born, and being born here and now.  So I have a low tolerance for self-pity and complaining about relatively minor things.  There are plenty of examples of people around the world born into a worse situation than us.  There are plenty of people who aren’t born at all.

Josephine had four children.  Paula died as her mother did of influenza.  Her older brother Robert died in a car accident when he crossed the line driving drunk in Virginia.  Her other brother died in Korea in the first year of the war in 1950.  Only her sister Marcia lived on, helping raise her siblings from her father’s second marriage until she herself was married and moved away to raise a family of her own.  I didn’t take the opportunity to ask Marcia a lot of questions about her mother, siblings or grandparents before her dementia stole that opportunity away from me.  But I’ll think of them, back in 1933, and the hardships they endured and the virus that they succumbed to.  I’ll never know all the random events throughout history that allowed me to hit the lottery, but I know about them.