Ruth Bass: A bit of Pollyanna shifts view in ominous times

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RICHMOND — The virus is a scourge, no doubt about that. Pollyanna, a fictional character everyone in my age group read, might have had her own view. She was a reading "stage," just before we ran through all the Sue Barton nurse books that made a nursing career sound adventurous, forbidding and romantic. Pollyanna could be plagued with a scourge and find its silver lining. While the series of books was popular, the heroine was not someone we always loved. Sometimes she was just obnoxiously cheerful and far too nice.

Still, Pollyanna would have looked for some silver linings in the coronavirus. Not the kind the national self-proclaimed "cheerleader" (sis-boom-bah-humbug) sees. Not normal life where death is threatening, not cures and vaccines faster than a person can spell laboratory. Not an economy that will do jumping jacks after spending a number of weeks in a coma. Not a view tarnished by politics. But a sterling silver something.

Pollyanna, motherless, was raised by a financially stressed minister and was recipient of missionary barrels and help from the Ladies Aid Society. She hoped for a doll from one of the barrels and cried when it only contained a child-size pair of crutches. Her father immediately taught her to hunt for something to be glad about and said she could be glad about not needing the crutches. The child thought it was a lovely game, and it became her signature — to the delight of some adults and the annoyance of others.

In any case, Pollyanna would not think of returning to school as dire. She'd think about school classrooms without running noses, without sticky hands, without ignored fevers. She would see teachers storing up sick leave because their charges weren't passing on whatever the current bug was, virus or otherwise. She would find teachers noticing that the tissue box on the desk was replaced less often. She would see kids put in a special isolation room if they had cough, runny nose or stomach symptoms for any reason whatever and that they'd be glad not to infect others, instead of wailing about their plight.

Pollyanna would be glad that, because of the virus, the world's "little people" were getting credit where credit was due. She would watch bus drivers and floor moppers and grocery store cashiers acquire status, as the general public began to notice what they do. Yes, she would tout the heroics of first responders, nurses, doctors, firefighters and police, but she would really be "glad," as she frequently put it, for the value of people we rarely see.

She would not protest lack of freedom to do as she pleased, but see earth smiling through clearer skies with many fewer automobiles and airplanes sending out noxious emissions. Instead of fussing about closed gyms, she'd see lungs and calves all over America getting stronger and stronger because electronic doodads were recording 20,000 steps a day instead of the minimal 10,000 recommended by the American Heart Association. Enigmatic earth must be a little glad, too, perhaps soothed by the new quiet, as engines roar less.

She might find puzzling the hordes of people wearing masks, making them all resemble the wild west characters in Western fantasy novels. She'd probably be glad, however to see the colors, prints and plain, flannel and plastic, a picture of the oddments America's sewers have stored in bins because "it might come in handy." Indeed.

Eleanor H. Porter's now very dated Pollyanna series for girls annoyed readers at times, but she was also a good storyteller, and Pollyanna was far more than a goody-goody character, with many improbable adventures. And when the virus has moved on, or superb scientists like Dr. Rick Bright have found a vaccine (and the anti-vaxxers have been persuaded to embrace it), we can only hope that most of us will keep on doing some of the good health things we should have been doing all along — things the two most germ-aware members of our family have been preaching for years. Mourn our losses and be glad you're alive. Be glad you have soap.

Ruth Bass is an award-winning journalist. Her website is www.ruthbass.com.

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