Letters From Leton: Social Distancing – For Thirty (30) Years!

When I was a kid, we would play a game where we would see who could hold their breath for the longest. No matter how hard I tried, I just couldn’t beat my cousin Gary.

Air is just something we cannot do without.

Approaching 7 months of limited interaction with family, friends and the community creates many challenges, including psychological and mental health, for all of us.

If you are having a hard time after 7 months – how would you do with Social Distancing for Thirty (30) Years? Yep, that’s not a typo – 30 Years.

The NPR History Podcast, “Throughline,” featured this summer the story of Mary Mallon, an Irish immigrant who was a cook by trade. She made at least 53 people sick from 8 different families that she worked for as a cook. Three of them died.

Based upon her unwillingness to “social distance,” authorities placed her in isolation during two periods of her life – the last 23 years.

You may know Mary by another name – Typhoid Mary.

With most stories, there is lots of sadness and fault to pass around.

Mary refused to believe that she was a carrier of Typhoid. She didn’t believe the doctors and scientists of her time. 

She refused to wash her hands, believing that did not help (this was not an uncommon belief of the time, by the way).

Authorities during her first isolation were less than kind, and this led to press stories calling for her release. She was released with agreement that she would not work as a cook. She violated that understanding with authorities.

For her second holding (after press accounts of her incarceration became public), she was provided a cottage with limited trips to the city from North Brother Island.

It is unfortunate that Mary is remembered for something so negative. Afterall, others (including her mother in Northern Ireland) had Typhoid as well. However, Mary’s focus on herself and not others left this as her legacy.

As I re-listened to the story recently, I was reminded of folks in our region who did not take COVID-19 seriously, leading to social, family and church gatherings that caused spikes in an area that COVID-19 had almost (almost) passed by.

Seven months seems like a long time. In some ways it is. 30 years is much longer, and the story of Typhoid Mary is a reminder to all that short-term sacrifice for long-term gain is a good thing.

Well, now I have talked until I am blue in the face (sort of like when I held my breath).

Stay safe.

– Leton

Click here to listen to that podcast episode, “There’s Something About Mary,” by Throughline.

“Letters From Leton” is a blog series comprised of the weekly updates that Leton Harding – President, Chairman, and CEO of Powell Valley National Bank, shares with the Bank’s team members. These newsletters are full of uplifting anecdotes and intriguing insights that are applicable beyond the Bank, so we want to share them with you.