by Marjorie George
My cousin lived in an iron lung for 14 months when he was a child. He was one of the thousands of victims of the polio epidemic – mostly children — that gripped the country in the post-World-War-II years. In 1952, at the height of the outbreak, 58,000 cases of polio were reported: 3,145 people died that year and another 21,000 were left with mild to debilitating paralysis. In the public’s mind, only the atomic bomb induced more fear than polio. It was particularly communicable during the summer, so community swimming pools and other gathering places were closed. Our own CampCapers delayed its official opening by a year due to polio.
The customary treatment was to put patients into an iron lung, a contraption that looked like today’s MRI machines. Except it was not a pass-through event. The patient was encased in the lead chamber, with only his head sticking out, where pressure was applied to force his lungs to function.
In entire hospital wards, row upon row of iron lungs were lined up with only children’s heads sticking out of them — great, hulking leaden tubes with little round balls at the ends.
Then, on April 12, 1955, Dr. Jonas Salk announced he had discovered a polio vaccine. Salk was hailed as a miracle worker, and the day was a day of national celebration. I remember lining up at the local community center to get my shot when I was 12. The atmosphere was euphoric. The relief on parents’ faces was cause for weeping.
A generation later, the polio vaccine is merely a part of babies’ routine vaccinations.
John the Baptist saw Jesus coming down the road and pointed at him: “Look, there he is. The one who takes away the sin of the world” (Jn 1:29). The one who cuts through all the fear, the one who brings an end to death and destruction, the one who heals all disease and mends all hearts.
Jesus came into a world in which God’s people had been slaves to oppression for two thousand years. They had suffered wars and the cruelty of foreign rulers; had wandered across desserts for a generation; had been forced to practice their religion surreptitiously, had had their women carried off and their children slain on a whim. The incarnation of the Christ was a cataclysmic event. He was the promised Messiah, come to end all that.
Where were the people lining up to receive the gift? Where were the reporters? The television journalists? The heraldry? The appreciation? The outright joy of it all?
For, mostly, the world shuffled on, oblivious to what had been given to it.
We easily recognize the heroes of our secular lives – the Jonas Salks, the Abraham Lincolns, the Martin Luther Kings. But do we as quickly acknowledge the saving moments of Christ in our lives? Do we see a couple reconciled, a teenager’s life turned around, a father freed from addiction, or a dread disease cured, and say, “Look, there He is. There is the one who takes away the sin of the world”?
Blow the trumpets. Let the sound be heard across Zion. Or, at the very least, take a moment to say, “Ah, there you are my Jesus.”
Marjorie George is editor of Reflections magazine and ReflectionsOnline. Reach her at Marjorie.firstname.lastname@example.org