Doctors during plagues in 17th century France and Italy wore masks. The air they breathed around patients would come in two vent holes and pass through a long beak filled with ambergris, mint leaves, myrrh, storax, rose petals, laudanum, camphor, cloves and straw. Such was their desperate attempt to avoid catching death.
In the same desperate attempt, we’re all scrambling for masks. We’re filled with a quiet mixture of dread and anger when we see someone not wearing one. We secretly wish we didn’t have to wear one either.
Our doctors are in the same position as those in the days of leprosy, buboes, cholera, flu. I join a flow of volunteers to produce face shields. We sit at distant desks in a gym converted into an assembly plant. We work in repetitive motion which under different circumstances would be meditative. We hope, pray it is helping. We are producing modern day plague masks.
I wish I could tuck a little bouquet of rose petals, mint, spices, tree resins, and aromatic crystals into each mask. I wonder if it would make them feel better even if modern science has taught them that it won’t. Maybe it would at least ease the drudgery, if not provide a hope for immunity.
Dread, isolation, desperation. Our collective body has felt this before.
The plague during the 1300’s had the most far reaching effects, sweeping through China, Russia, India, and Europe. It produced superstition, pogroms, and flagellants. It shook humanity with death.
Then, after The Black Death, came the Renaissance.