Polio is mostly forgotten, at least in large parts of the world. But in the early 1950s it terrorized the U.S. In A Nearly Normal Life: A Memoir Charles Mee tells of his encounter with the polio virus in 1953, when he was 14 years old. It almost killed him; it did kill his faith in religion, in his father, and in the American fantasy that any challenge can be overcome with enough willpower.

Sorry --- it's not that easy. As human animals we're optimistic by nature, at least when we're healthy and things are going well for us. We love to hear stories of people who triumph over impossible odds, of pluck and grit and cleverness winning out against all adversity. Our newspapers and TV shows and inspirational books are full of such homilies. They make our spirits soar ... and they tell us that we deserve our good fortune. We smile.

But in reality most struggles end up in failure or at best partial recovery. People are crippled by disease, by injury, by cruelty, by poverty, by pernicious racism, and by a thousand outrageous accidents. When we ignore human suffering we make the situation worse. We implicitly blame the victim. Mee's fluid and thoughtful prose tells of his realization, forced upon him by polio, that luck is a huge force in our lives. Not the only force; there's still room to fight against fate, to push the clouds of probability back a bit. But let's be honest about the situation, and introduce a little justice and fairness into the world --- as a counterweight to the random factors that otherwise crush so many innocent creatures.

Friday, April 28, 2000 at 21:58:09 (EDT) = 2000-04-28

TopicLiterature - TopicLife

(correlates: Metabo versus The Media, MercifulSchadenfreude, TheAscent, ...)