The People of Eyam

Following the Brexit vote and the Trump win, it’s easy to wallow in despair and feel the weight of hatred. I’ve been grappling with the feeling that humans are innately derisive and clannish in their own self-identified groups. Especially in the face of fear, it seems people would choose blame and division over understanding and unity. But here’s a counter example from the past that I stumbled upon a couple of months ago when I visited Derbyshire. The village of Eyam (some pronounce it /i yam/ others /im/) today enjoys a small tourist trade because of something its citizens did in the seventeenth century. In 1665, a tailor in Eyam received a package of cloth from London. The tailor died and it was soon realised that the cloth carried the bubonic plague, which had already killed thousands in the nation’s capital but had not spread into the countryside.  With knowledge of this, the people of Eyam sealed off their village so that the disease would not spread to nearby villages or beyond. Their act of self-sacrifice meant that some 260 people died in the village of Eyam, but thousands of other lives were saved.eyam-plague-village-museum

Today many of the old homes carry signs, commemorations, with a list of those who once lived there and died of the plague. Whole families died, some losing children within days of each other. As sad as this is to contemplate and imagine living at such a time, I felt touched by this act of humanity.

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