Dealing with a Pandemic
Q. My family is following the recommendations for prevention amid this global pandemic. The seven of us are reconfiguring our lives. It’s quite novel to eat all our meals together sitting around the same dining room table. Fun. When one of us feels like we are on our “last nerve,” we’ve learned to laugh and be upfront about needing a bit of space. We grew up in the Lutheran religion. I remember hearing something about Martin Luther going through a pandemic but when I called my pastor, he was unfamiliar with the quotation I was looking for. Any chance you have that and can share it with me?
A. I have one of my colleagues to thank for providing me with the quote you may be wanting. I am happy to hear that your family is making lemonade from lemons during this pandemic. When something like this happens there are only a couple of choices: chomp at the bit, so to speak, and get upset and irritable and “think about filing for divorce,” as was mentioned recently on one of the national news shows. Or choose to accept what is outside your control and take positive steps to embrace healthy strategies that are within your control. Sometimes all you can do is to change the way you think—because that does change the way you feel.
About Martin Luther. I might preface this with noting that it is imperative that people follow the national guidelines that are being provided—something that Martin Luther did not have. Nearly 500 years later, the world does have the advantage of not only additional research but of protective strategies.
During my master’s degree in Epidemiology and Health Education, we studied the history of some epidemics. One of them included mention of reformer Martin Luther. In 1527, so the story goes, Luther was faced with a deadly outbreak of bubonic plague in his small town of Wittenberg, Germany. A fellow pastor asked for his advice on how to handle the situation. Reportedly, this is what Martin Luther wrote:
“I shall ask God mercifully to protect us. Then I shall fumigate, help purify the air, administer medicine, and take it. I shall avoid places and persons where my presence is not needed in order not to become contaminated and thus perchance inflict and pollute others, and so cause their death as a result of my negligence. If God should wish to take me, he will surely find me, and I have done what has expected of me and so I am not responsible for either my death or the death of others. If my neighbor needs me, however, I shall not avoid place or person but will go freely as stated above. See this as a God-fearing faith because it is neither brash nor fool-hardy and does not tempt God.” [Luther's Works Volume 43, page 132. The letter, "Whether one may flee from a Deadly Plague," written to the Rev. Dr. John Hess.]