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It’s midpoint in the Calvin semester, and students (and let’s be honest, the faculty, too) are dragging themselves towards fall break. The weather is colder. The news is dire. And all last week, I subjected one of my classes to Tennyson’s long poem about death and doubt. Good times.
Maybe that’s why one encouraging story really jumped out at me–and I wanted to share it with you.
You see, last week former president Jimmy Carter turned 99. And it turns out that one of his long-held wishes came true: through his vision and the work of his Center, Guinea worm disease is about to be eradicated from the planet. It’s only the 2nd disease ever (after smallpox)!
I didn’t really know anything about the Guinea worm, but turns out it’s a bad, bad parasite. A menace that dates back almost as far as we have recorded history, according to some who identify it by other names in various ancient texts. It’s incredibly painful and debilitating, especially because the human carrier has no symptoms for a year, but then suddenly, the patient develops fever and swelling, and the worms begin to come out through the skin.
Imagine that, in 1986, when Carter began this work, there were 3.5 million cases in the world. 3.5 million people suffering such a horrifying disease.
And how was it eradicated: funding better medical care for those infected and developing and distributing a filtration straw, so that the worm eggs (ugh!) get removed before being ingested. At 90, Carter observed that he hoped he would outlive the guinea worm. Last week, he did just that: the total number of cases had fallen from 3.5 million to 6. Not 6,000 or 600. SIX.
In a time of bombast and self-aggrandizement and destruction, what a different picture this offers us. Indeed, this steadfast, quietly relentless effort is just about the definition of the unglamorous, everyday work to which our faith calls us. George Eliot says it this way: “The blessed work of helping the world forward, happily does not wait to be done by perfect men.” But it’s useful to have a few who have lived a life worthy of their calling.
Happy birthday, Mr. President.