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The Pandemic Diaries: The Middle Ages Sucked—A Short History Lesson

The Middle Ages Sucked: A Short History Lesson

I’m not one of those glass half-full people, as anyone who knows me will tell you. I know it’s not popular; everyone’s supposed to be glass half-full. I’m just being honest here. And although I’m perfectly capable of being deliriously happy when the occasion calls for it, I freely admit that the darker aspects of life frequently slap me upside the head, demanding attention. This is one of those times.


Still, I really do try to look for the positive, even in a bad situation. I examine and absorb the bad stuff, try to understand it, and then figure out how to cope and get through to the other side, where acceptance, gratitude and all those other “glass half-full” things live. In that vein, then, I decided to read up on the Bubonic Plague, not for its darkness so much as a way to put my feelings of overwhelm and anxiety into some kind of perspective.


Looked at one way, the rational world has now endured three-plus years of water torture under the rule of a crazed, malignant narcissist, followed by an out-of control, worldwide pandemic that closed down the world, forcing everyone inside for months while said narcissist’s crazy-like-a-fox bungling creates chaos, mayhem, and needless death. This has been a huge source of my overwhelm and ongoing anxiety. And somehow, reading about times when things were even worse gave me a perverse kind of feel-better moment.


I vaguely remember learning about the Dark Ages and feeling really glad I wasn’t born then, but I had truly forgotten how much shit hit their fan at once (that or else I was sleeping when we covered it in world history class, which is entirely possible.)


As of this writing, we have just over 150,000 deaths worldwide from Covid-19, with a world population of approximately 7.5 billion, compared with a total population of about 475 million in the 1300’s followed by a death toll of between 75-125 million.


(The following excerpts are from Wikipedia—emphases in bold are mine, to highlight the multiple clusterf**ks from this era)


The “black death,” as it was known, was the most devastating pandemic recorded in human history. The 14th century in Europe had already proven to be something of a disaster even before the Black Death arrived.


An earlier plague had hit livestock, and there had been crop failures from overexploitation of the land, which led to two major Europe-wide famines in 1316 and 1317. There was, too, the turbulence of wars, especially the Hundred Years War (1337-1453) between England and France.

Even the weather was getting worse as the unusually temperate cycle of 1000-1300 now gave way to the beginnings of a “little ice age” where winters were steadily colder and longer, reducing the growing season and, consequently, the harvest. After the major famines in 1358 and 1359 and the occasional resurgence, albeit less severe, of the plague in 1362-3, and again in 1369, 1374 and 1390, daily life for most people did gradually improve by the end of the 1300s.”


So pretty much the entire century sucked.


And so then I looked up the flu epidemic of 1918, which came right after four years of World War I, lasted two full years and killed approximately 50 million people, or about a quarter of the world’s population at the time.


And just as I was starting to feel like maybe this thing we’re living through isn’t the worst ever, and experiencing a little gratitude that all I have to do is stay locked up in my house for months, I looked up the Ebola outbreak and read about how Obama sent any and all resources to where it had broken out and worked with foreign countries to contain it and prevent it from ever becoming a pandemic and I started to go all “glass half-empty” again so I stopped reading.

© Karen Haddigan

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