I am looking at the front page of today's Oak Ridger. Below the fold, a caption catches my eye. "UN health chief: Zika virus 'spreading explosively.'"
The story in our local paper is not the first I've heard of this terrible virus. I've been reading about it on line for a couple of weeks now.
What makes this mosquito borne illness so terrifying is the effect it has on the developing fetus of infected pregnant women. In Brazil, it has been linked to an epidemic of infants born with microcephaly, an irreversible condition in which brain and skull development remain small and inadequate. Prognosis for infants with microcephaly is not good. Intellectual disability, multiple sensory and developmental impairments are usual. Early death is frequent.
Image from Latin American Science
My heart breaks not only for the affected infants, but also for their dear mothers. It's been said that no mother can be any happier than her most unhappy child. I think that's true and not just when our children are little. As the mother of two adult sons, I can tell you that when they are troubled or sick, their travails wear me down with a relentless and preoccupying sorrow that my own personal afflictions do not.
I don't think we human mothers are unique either, at least not among the mammals. Who hasn't read of a heroic mother dog or cat who has braved a burning building to rescue her babies? Not long ago, I saw a video of a mother rabbit battling a big old black snake in her pathetically futile attempt to protect her babies from being eaten alive. And one of the saddest things I've ever witnessed was a mother squirrel shrieking at a red tailed hawk while it impassively raided her nest and ate her young.
Nature is cruel. In the universal scheme, I wonder if there is any hierarchy of value assigned to different forms of life. Or, is all life deemed equivalent? Does the universe favor the life of a human baby over that of the Zika virus? I doubt it.
In the Hindu religion, God has three countenances: the Creator, the Sustainer and the Destroyer. And though we would choose blissful ignorance of the Destroyer, inevitably we all have to face destruction.
"Things fall apart; the centre cannot hold;"
William Butler Yeats
Life chips us all away. Everyone and everything is continually breaking down. It's the nature of the universe. Even the vast universe itself will eventually succumb to entropy as it stops expanding and begins its slow, inevitable, cooling collapse. Everything dies. It is our shared and common fate.
But still, how can one's heart not break for all the suffering mothers and children? No one escapes destruction, but the pain a mother feels as her own child is destroyed, whether by the Zika virus, cancer, gang violence, random shootings, poisoned water in Flint, or anything else, is surely the most horrible torture ever devised.
We need to help each other.