May the favor of the Lord our God rest on us; establish the work of our hands for us— yes, establish the work of our hands. Psalm 90:17
They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters; These see the works of the Lord, and His wonders in the deep. Psalm 107: 23,24
Quarantine: (ˈkwɑrənˌtin ) from the Italian “ quaranta giorni” (period of 40 days) 1. a strict isolation imposed to prevent the spread of disease. 2. a period, originally 40 days, of detention and isolation imposed upon ships, persons, animals, or plants on arrival at a port or place, when suspected of carrying some infectious or contagious disease.
In “the modern era” of History, this practice was first enforced in 1377 upon ships wishing to enter the great Adriatic seaport of Ragusa, modern-day Dubrovnik, Croatia then under control of the City State of Venice in an effort to stem the tide of the spread of “The Black Death”. The Black Death (a.k.a.: Pestis Bubonica, the Great Mortality, or simply the Plague) was the deadliest pandemic in recorded history. It was the primary cause of death of between 30% – 50% of the population of Europe, Asia, and North Africa in the 14th Century AD, (compared to ~ 192 /1000ths of 1% in the worst worst-case projections for Covid-19). To put that comparison into a perspective closer to home, extrapolating the size of the average person’s social network in the USA today from the work of McCormick, Salganik, Zheng, & plugging in the most recent figures for the most recent pandemic, every seventh person in the USA today (on average) might know one person who has died of Covid-19. But, on average, for every single survivor of the plague in England in the year 1350, one-third of every person you had known had died from the Black Death in the previous year. Now that was a plague of “ biblical proportions”.
The World’s First Isolation Policy
So, calling for drastic measures, like a quarantine for all ships coming into the Venetian ports was no over-reaction. As a matter of historical fact, this first isolation policy called for by ‘The Great Council’ of Venice was for 30 days, but the corresponding word (trentino) apparently just sounded too much like one of those Spanish Dances, or just seemed too wimpy to the Venetian Senate and they subsequently upped the ante to 40 days… a full quaranta giorni. As I said, in those dark times, extreme measures were called for. But like many extreme measures called for in today’s pandemic, the lockdowns called for by the authorities were more a reaction to fear than fact. They could have upped the ante to 400 days or until every human onboard every ship had died of old age. But if the rats still lived, it would have made no difference. For the Black death was not caused by miasmas or a malalignment of the planets, or the conspiracies of convenient scapegoat populations, the Black Death was from infection by the bacterium Yersinia Pestis (probably spiked in many locales with additional Anthrax infections). Yersinia Pestis was abiding in the guts of the fleas that rode on the backs of the rats that infested these ships… and ultimately the houses and great halls of most every city and village in Europe.
Our Honduran Quarantine
Since we returned to Honduras nearly two weeks ago, we have been under mandatory quarantine. And I freely recognize with gratitude, our mandatory isolation has been nothing like enforced imprisonment on a sweltering, stinking, rat-infested ship in the harbor. It has not even been comparable to one of those dystopian internment centers the Honduran government has set up to quarantine people in the major cities. In fact, it has actually been really rather nice… dare I say it? The nicest return to Honduras either Rosanne or I can remember. Don’t tell anyone, but I’d really like to keep doing this quarantine thing a while longer… like maybe until next year, or until I get sick of it, whichever comes first.
Our quarantine is at our home at our little ranch a half-mile from the mission hospital. It is a beautiful and rather isolated spot on the edge of the jungle. When we moved out here from Balfate many years ago, once out of the jungle behind us, the ground was stripped-bare slash and burn scrub cow pasture. But I began planting things. And, this is the tropics. Things grow fast….and it is a very different place now 17 years later. I planted this Ceiba tree for instance, when it was small enough that I could jump over it. In the early morning while the coffee is brewing, I go let the chickens out of the pen. Otherwise that stupid rooster, Señor Pompadour, just keeps crowing his head off. After devotions, I go walk through the orchards, and the banana groves, feed the tilapia, and work in the hydroponics garden. These activities are not really work actually, more like meditation while harvesting food. Between the fish and the chickens, the bananas, pineapples, avocados and manzanitas, and all the vegetables that the garden produces, we have not really needed to leave to get food. (Which is a good thing since we can’t technically go into a grocery store in La Ceiba until the last number of my ID matches the allowed number for travel).
Leaving the walks through the orchards of years of preparation aside, the best part of this quarantine business is how quiet and peaceful it is. No one comes to the door with their problems and requests and drama: no workers needing direction, no visitors needing visiting, no patients needing patience. No one comes at all. Everyone knows we are supposed to be in isolation… and it is rumored that we might even be coming down with the plague. So yeah, it is pretty peaceful and quiet…. And yeah I could get used to this… and yeah, I don’t really want to go back to work. But that is just the point I’ve been rambling toward. Rosanne and I were actually just released from quarantine early (as “essential workers” by special order of the Public Health Czar of Colón), and on Friday I saw patients and operated on a 4-year-old boy with a badly dislocated humeral condylar fracture. Today I am on call for everything from COVID to Congestive Heart failure. (which can look quite similar actually), and we do have plenty of both here now. Tomorrow I’ll operate for Gastric Cancer. So, like it or not we have actually gone back to work.
Because……… we have to go back to work. Because we are not made to be in quarantine ad infinitum. And, in the same way, that quantitative easement infinity is not sustainable, neither is lockdown infinity. Otherwise, the fish and the chickens don’t get fed, the garden doesn’t get planted or harvested, Little boys with broken elbows are crippled for life and middle-aged men with stomach cancers die in a really bad way. We have to go back to work because we are made in the image of our creator, and he…. Creates…He produces, He takes risks, and somehow with time off for Sabbaths… He is at work. We are made to imitate the Father as best we can.
There is an American aphorism I have always admired, popular in the 19th Century ) when this truth was more widely valued. Published in the early 20th Century collection of such adages by J.A. Shedd, it goes something like this:
A ship is safe in harbor, but that is not what ships are for.
I hope if I had been captain of one of those ships required to hang on their anchors in the Dubrovnik harbor for those 40 days of quarantine, we would have spent our time cleaning up… and hunting rats. Then I hope we would have off-loaded and taken on fresh cargo and supplies… and then………. set sail.
Because that is what ships are made for.
With God’s grace,
We have to go back to work.