Saturday, May 2, 2009

SWINE FLU - 'THE PLAGUE'?

"Death thou comest when I had thee least in mind." - Everyman

This everyman quote seems so appropriate right now. Everyone is fearful about becoming infected with this latest strain of the flu and about what methods might be used to prevent us from getting it. But really, the plague is as old as humankind. There are some mighty nasty bugs out there. They're sneaking around right now, waiting to get in. If it's not one, it's another. And while we're focused on swine flu, it may be something else entirely that will get us. Sorry, that's just how it is.

'The Plague' by Albert Camus (1947) is not comforting either. Originally published in French as 'Le Peste', it is the story of one Doctor Bernard Rieux who, leaving his surgery one day, (April 16th, to be precise), stepped on something soft. It turned out to be a dead rat! I use an exclamation point but really, there was nothing to exclaim about. It was simply a dead rat. He asked the concierge to dispose of it.

But then, that evening, Doctory Rieux "saw a big rat coming toward him from the dark end of the passage. It moved uncertainly, and its fur was sopping wet. The animal stopped and seemed to be trying to get its balance, moved forward again toward the doctor, halted again, then spun around on itself with a little squeal and fell on its side." (I am quoting from the Random House edition translated from the French by Stuart Gilbert).

That is only the beginning, of course. Next, patients begin to show up for examination with fever. Then the whole town is infected, it seems. Things progress from bad to worse, as they say.

But I'm not going to spoil it for you. My intention is to get you to go and read this excellent book. My intention is also to point out that there is nothing new under the sun. That's why classic literature is so important. When we read for entertainment alone, we miss out on the deep sense of connectedness that comes from getting to know the masters of world literature. The stories they tell are timeless. That's why they're classics.

I think it was Mark Twain who said something like, "One who doesn't read great literature has no advantage over the one who does not read at all."

So read it. Let me know what you think of it.

Keep reading,

Jim

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