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ILLNESS DOESN’T NEED JUDGEMENT

maura hanrahan


by Maura Hanrahan

Ring-a-ring a rosy
A pocket full of posies
Ashes, ashes
We all fall down

Children’s nursery rhyme from the time of the plague

The Black Death devastated London in 1665. Telltale circles and lumps appeared on skin, foreshadowing a gruesome demise. It started first in the crowded poorer areas and then consumed the city. The plague had been in England for over 300 years, but London had swelled with new migrants just prior to 1665. Then the sun blazed mercilessly all summer, and the bacillus carried by fleas living on the city’s abundant river rats thrived.

     Climatic, demographic, and economic conditions converged to create an epidemic that emptied England’s greatest metropolis. For many, it seemed to herald the end of the world. They interpreted it as a punishment from God for sins committed. This vengeful god, apparently, did not distinguish between the infractions of newborn babies and those of wealthy burghers. He –and this god was most definitely a He– wanted to teach people a lesson so that they would repent.

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