Saturday, 29 February 2020

herd immunity

After reading this thoughtful essay and reflection by Guardian correspondent Gaby Hinsliff about the Derbyshire village of Eyam during the outbreak of the bubonic plague in the winter of 1664 and its singular self-sacrificing commitment to hold their ground and not spread the contagion until it had extinguished, exhausted itself and how this account begged the question whether any of us has the charity of isolation and deferment any more corresponded in a sense with the more contemporary act of contrition in the village of Tyneham in south Dorset, offered up to the Ministry of Defence as a testing-range as vital to the war effort.
The last victim of the plague of Eyam, a farm hand named Abraham Morten expired on 1 November 1666, the infection having run its course and the last resident of the some two hundred displaced—what they believed then to be a temporary measure, left Tyneham after receiving evacuation orders shortly before Christmas 1943, penned a poignant note to the church door for the troops in training—which has been respected:

Please treat the church and houses with care; we have given up our homes where many of us lived for generations to help win the war to keep men free. We shall return one day and thank you for treating the village kindly.

As Eyam endured the loss of many of its residents, the military requisition of Tyneham became a permanent one and the villagers never returned to their homes, given over to target practise, though the church was spared. Like the author, even for the tremolo heroism that doesn’t demand of us to rise to the occasion, whether we’ll see not kindnesses and succour of the immediate variety but rather the willingness to overcome the inertia of our own plans and priorities in this catastrophe or the next to accept inconvenience, cancellations and dashed arrangements to quietly keep to ourselves in the name protecting others and never know the value of what we’ve done. When the time comes will we be the vicar that convinces his parishioners (whom understood being contagious even if the vector was not known) to not flee the village in a panic or sheriffs and squires (free riders think the herd is other people’s problems) who bolted at the first sign of trouble?  Conversely, would we give up hearth and home for the greater good even if those goals were in a sense indirect and abstract?