/Young people and the plague

Young people and the plague

By Jim Poling Sr. 

So many things to think about during this time of plague. So many people to be concerned, even anxious, about.
infirm. The older people with weakened immune systems. People now
without work and stable incomes, the homeless on our streets, the
homeless in Third World refugee camps, the homeless jammed into First
World holding pens because they crossed a border into lands where they
are not wanted.
Then there are the essential workers in warehouses
and grocery and drug depots moving the supply line of essentials we need
to stay alive. The police officers and other first responders at risk
while keeping us all safe. And, of course, the medical professionals
whose lives are at risk every day because of governments that lacked
foresight, despite knowing a plague like this was overdue.
We also
need to think about young people and how we might help them cope with
this traumatic time in their lives. The pre-teens, the teens and the
young adults in the process of forming the identities and values that
will be with them the rest of their lives.
This is an especially
traumatic time for them because the coronavirus pandemic has blocked
them from important rites-of-passage events such as proms, graduation
ceremonies, and deciding visits to university campuses where they hope
to continue their education.
Adolescents often are challenging to
understand and to deal with because they are undergoing hormonal,
physical and mental developments. They live in a state of restlessness
that generally is restrained by schooling, sports, music and other
activities with their friends.
Now there is no school, no organized
sports and no social gatherings with friends, which are so important to
adolescent life. And, perhaps no summer jobs.
Isolation is something that no adolescent wants. It is understandable that they might feel deprived and act rebellious.
feel for these young people, and for their parents trying to help them
understand and cope. I can’t offer much to the young people in my life,
except to share an experience from my childhood.
As a child I often
wondered why my mother walked with a slight limp. I found out why during
another time when the country was gripped by fear of another disease.
the late 1940s and early 1950s, an estimated 11,000 Canadians were left
paralyzed during a polio outbreak that became the most serious national
epidemic since the 1918 influenza pandemic.
People were urged to
stay away from crowds to avoid spreading the disease. That meant staying
away from the most important summer event in the life of any kid in
Port Arthur-Fort William, now Thunder Bay.
That event was the
Canadian Lakehead Exhibition, the annual fair offering rides, games,
shows – all sorts of exciting sights, sounds and smells.
I whined to
my mother about her refusal to take me to the Ex. It was a mean
decision. How stupid to deprive me of a once-a-year event just because
of some silly thing you couldn’t even see. How could it hurt to go to
the Ex?
My mother, no doubt tired my whining, had enough. She lifted
her skirt to reveal a shrivelled left leg and said: “you can’t go to the
Ex because I don’t want you to get sick like I did.”
I later learned
that my mother was stricken as a child by polio in 1921, the same year
Franklin D. Roosevelt caught what was believed to be polio and lost the
use of his legs. She was paralyzed and spent years relearning how to
walk, with crutches, then a leg brace.
I did not get to go to the Ex.
Some other kids did, and some kids caught polio, although no one knows
if they caught it in the Ex crowds or somewhere else. If I remember
correctly, one kid in our neighbourhood died.
My mother probably did
not know the term “social distancing,” but she did know that staying
away from other people during outbreaks of disease was critical to
protecting her children.
It was tough on her trying to get me to
understand. It is tough on today’s parents trying to have their children
understand that they must accept very difficult sacrifices.
Clear communication, understanding and sacrifice are what will get us through this.