When I was a teenager, I knew a family that was staunchly pro-life: they prayed Pro-life Rosaries and went to the March for Life every year. They had a gaggle of children, very close in age and cute as buttons. Sometimes they homeschooled and sometimes they went to a Catholic school.
One year, one of them brought back chicken pox from that school. And then, before long, they all had chicken pox.
This used to be how people dealt with chicken pox, back before the vaccine. If you didn’t have a little baby or an elderly person who’d never had it living in your house, you just exposed all your children to the first sick child and waited at home for a few weeks until all the kids had gotten it and the infection had run its course. Chicken pox was a milestone– an itchy, painful, potentially dangerous milestone.
Before long, it was time for this family to go on a trip they’d scheduled. Most of the children were over their chicken pox except for the youngest, who was a toddler. He was still itchy and mildly feverish, and the spots hadn’t started to dry up yet. He was definitely still contagious. But they felt their trip was important, so they put all the children in the van with the pro-life bumper stickers and drove away.
At lunchtime, they stopped at a fast food restaurant. They took everyone out of the car and brought them into the dining room. The children, including the sick toddler, enjoyed their meals and played in the play place; the sick toddler used the ball pit. Other people saw them. Other people trying to enjoy their lunches in a fast food restaurant noticed a little child with red spots all over his face, playing in the plastic ball pit.
The family got back in their van, and they went through the time-consuming task of strapping the little ones into car seats. Just as they were ready to drive off, the father realized he’d forgotten something. He went to the door to get it and found the restaurant vacant and one worried employee chaining the door shut.
“What’s wrong?” asked the father.
“We’re closed!” said the employee. “Somebody let their kid with chicken pox play in the ball pit so we have to sanitize everything!”
The family drove away, laughing. They thought the employees’ reaction was hilarious. To evacuate the restaurant and chain the door shut, for a run-of-the-mill childhood ailment like chicken pox!
One of the older children related this story to me as if it was the funniest thing he’d ever heard. “My dad said we should’ve told him it was not chicken pox, only leprosy,” he joked. “Just to see what he’d say.”
Somehow I kept my mouth shut during that conversation. I don’t know how or why I did. I wanted to shake that child and shout at him. I wanted to find his pro-life parents and inform them that chicken pox might not be a big deal if you’re a healthy child, but it’s extremely dangerous for unborn children; it causes pregnant women to lose their babies. Little babies and elderly people, people whose immune systems are compromised for any reason, could all also be badly hurt or killed by chicken pox. And even if a healthy person caught chicken pox, they ran a risk of complications and scarring. And any of those people might be eating at a fast food restaurant. Chicken pox seemed like a small annoyance to them, because they were relatively healthy and had been lucky in the way it ran its course. But what they’d done was irresponsible, dangerous, and fundamentally anti-life.
I’ve been thinking about that conversation over the past week.
Coronavirus is all over the news. Coronavirus has crashed the stock market and become the occasion for a great deal of racism against Asian people. There’s talk of travel bans and sealing the border; people are using the word “pandemic.” We’re all being cautioned to keep a three-week supply of food and prescriptions around the house, as if that’s financially feasible for all Americans, and to wash our hands carefully with soap. The people I know who are medical professionals are trying not to panic, but they’re extremely cautious because nobody knows exactly what’s going to happen.
Meanwhile, I see a lot of people laughing at our fear.
They’re saying that the coronavirus pandemic is not a big deal. You’ll be fine and might not even know you have it, if you’re not elderly and you don’t have a medical condition. Donald Trump, whom everyone keeps telling me is the most pro-life president we’ve ever had, came out and said “If you are healthy, you will probably go through a process and you’ll be fine.” And he misidentified the first person to die of coronavirus in the United States as a woman, when it was actually a man.
Do you hear yourselves?
I know the president doesn’t, but those of you with a conscience and presence of mind, do you hear what you’re saying?
You’re saying that this pandemic just might cull the elderly and the chronically ill, but the healthy will be fine, and that makes it not a problem. You’re saying that because the strong will survive, the pandemic isn’t a big deal. It’s only a big deal if it kills the healthy. Healthy people are somehow more important. The sick and the old don’t matter as much.
That’s anti-life in the extreme.
I don’t really know what’s going to happen with the coronavirus pandemic, personally. I’m not a scientist. Maybe it will just go away somehow, though I don’t think that’s the case. But I know that a disease that rockets through a population and kills “only” the weak people is a very, very big deal, because weak people are human beings. It’s a big deal when human beings die.
Not caring whether we hurt weak people, is not something we as Christians are allowed to do.
(image via Pixabay)
Mary Pezzulo is the author of Meditations on the Way of the Cross.
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