November 5, 2021

When I was a kid, I thought the little piggy that went to market was going shopping. I imagined the pig, walking upright, dressed nicely, wearing a little hat and pushing a shopping cart in the produce section, judiciously picking out the best cobs of corn. I also imagined that the little piggy that stayed home just didn’t want go shopping. Then there was the little piggy who was eating roast beef, so why would he want to go anywhere… and then the other little piggy who wasn’t hungry. And finally, the little piggy who cried “wee wee wee” all the way home; that didn’t quite add up, because I thought all of them (except the one that went shopping) were already home. But whatever.

Years later, I learned a pig “going to market” means something quite different, and when you read the innocent little nursery rhyme in that context, it all takes on a completely different meaning. The first little piggy is going to slaughter. The second little piggy isn’t quite ready to go to slaughter. The third little piggy needs to be fattened up a bit before it’s his turn. The fourth little piggy needs no more fattening up, and so we all know where he’ll be heading soon.

Distinguished literary scholars have (I suppose), for centuries (the original nursery rhyme is from 1760), been discussing the fifth little piggy. Did he escape from the market and run home, squealing with delight all the way home? Was he taken to market, not purchased, and is now squealing with relief that he gets to go back home, back to his friends… at least temporarily? Or perhaps he was purchased after all, and is now squealing in terror as he’s being taken to his new “home”. We may never know. The questions may linger for another few centuries, but it really doesn’t matter… because that’s totally not the point.

The point is… we learn something initially one way, and sometimes, in due course, as we learn more and new facts emerge, our understanding of what we originally thought gets completely transformed. It took me more than 40 years to understand what’s happening to those five little piggies… and now it’s something you yourself will think about when you’re counting and wiggling the toes of some nearby baby.

Similarly, as this pandemic has progressed, a lot of what we innocently thought we knew has changed dramatically as time has gone by. It bothers me greatly to see conclusions of scientific method and research turned right around… presented as evidence that those conducting the research don’t know what they’re doing. If science and understanding didn’t evolve, then there would be something to complain about, but the reality of the world is the exact opposite. We learn from new facts. We learn when we make mistakes. Nobody has ever been right “all along”.

Starting at the beginning of the pandemic, we were told that with handwashing and social distancing, we’d be ok. No need for masks. Dr. Henry said so. Dr. Fauci said so. They all said so… until the moment science realized that this is an airborne disease after all, and then… a very quick 180 on masks. Yes, indeed, after all… having now studied the matter more and seen more data… masks do make a difference. A big difference. Enclosed spaces? They weren’t talked about much, at least initially. They certainly are now. As the science, data and knowledge have evolved, so have the directives. It’s to be expected. Does this mean they didn’t know what they were talking about? Does it meant they don’t know what they’re talking about now? Of course not.

But sometimes, the science, data and knowledge evolve… and nothing changes, because the initial assumptions were perfectly correct in the first place… and such is the case with vaccinations.

While we’re in the midst of fine-tuning vaccinations… the length of time between doses, the benefits of mixing and matching, the necessity for a booster… this is all just rearranging the furniture and painting the walls… of a solidly-built brick house. The big bad Covid wolf may have been able to blow down the initial straw house and the subsequent house made of sticks, but here we have a rock-solid infrastructure… one in which we can all feel safe. Covid can huff and puff all it likes, but is it likely to kill us? Not by the hair on our chinny chin chins.

Yeah, I know… those three little pigs are very different from the five little ones on your toes, but here’s something worth mentioning: All three pigs in the latter story survive.

The first one, a wolf-denier, built a flimsy house out of straw. The second one was wolf-hesitant and made a bit more of an effort, but sticks aren’t good enough protection. The third little pig understood the big picture and what was at stake, and built his brick fortress… and when the big bad evil Covid wolf came around huffing and puffing and ultimately blowing down those first two houses, its occupants ran screaming to that brick house – whose pig welcomed them with open arms. Finally… a fairy tale with a happy ending, because the good guys survived… even though, initially, they weren’t really deserving. It’s very rare that life, circumstance (and/or fairy tales) reward the “wrong” ones. The whole idea is to learn a lesson. Shouldn’t those first two pigs have been eaten by the wolf? The five little piggies didn’t have a choice… they were all destined for slaughter.

But the three little pigs… they made choices, and the two that made poor choices almost paid with their lives. Yet… sometimes, real-life echoes the fairy tale. Guess what; it’s not too late. If you’re reading this and realizing you’re metaphorically and presently inhabiting a flimsy house, it’s an easy fix; while building a brick house takes effort, choosing to inhabit one doesn’t… it’s as easy as booking a vaccine appointment.

It’s unfortunately looking a lot like the big bad wolf is going to be around for a while, and you never know when or where he’s going to make an appearance with his huffing and puffing. In which house do you want to be when he shows up?