Tuesday, March 31, 2020

That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief by Scott Berinato

Just as we all read the latest news that "More than 3,000 people in the US have died from coronavirus," a deep sense of grief over others' pain and suffering impacts us all, especially the nurses and doctors on the front lines who additionally experience heightened levels of stress and anxiety. 

We grieve at a micro and macro level.  We feel anxious and yearn for all of this to be behind us soon, even as all the evidence suggests that this is not a sprint, but a marathon.

Even as we all are likely experiencing the disquieting feeling of being un-moored from the routines of our daily lives, we must all still work to achieve a semblance of normalcy, as suggested herein, by getting a good handle on that over which we do have control—like staying at home, social distancing, good hygiene, and the like.  

As severe as the devastation left by COVID19 is right now, we have to lean into those whom we love unconditionally and love us in return.  We have to love ourselves, too, and accept this grieving process as a normal response to this crisis.

We must know and trust that somehow, some way, this too shall pass.

Thanks to Dr. Kathy Shultz for sharing.

-Angela Valenzuela

That Discomfort You’re Feeling Is Grief

March 23, 2020
HBR Staff/d3sign/Getty Images
Some of the HBR edit staff met virtually the other day — a screen full of faces in a scene becoming more common everywhere. We talked about the content we’re commissioning in this harrowing time of a pandemic and how we can help people. But we also talked about how we were feeling. One colleague mentioned that what she felt was grief. Heads nodded in all the panes.
If we can name it, perhaps we can manage it. We turned to David Kessler for ideas on how to do that. Kessler is the world’s foremost expert on grief. He co-wrote with Elisabeth Kübler-Ross On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief through the Five Stages of Loss. His new book adds another stage to the process, Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of GriefKessler also has worked for a decade in a three-hospital system in Los Angeles. He served on their biohazards team. His volunteer work includes being an LAPD Specialist Reserve for traumatic events as well as having served on the Red Cross’s disaster services team. He is the founder of, which has over 5 million visits yearly from 167 countries.
Kessler shared his thoughts on why it’s important to acknowledge the grief you may be feeling, how to manage it, and how he believes we will find meaning in it. The conversation is lightly edited for clarity.
HBR: People are feeling any number of things right now. Is it right to call some of what they’re feeling grief?
Kessler: Yes, and we’re feeling a number of different griefs. We feel the world has changed, and it has. We know this is temporary, but it doesn’t feel that way, and we realize things will be different. Just as going to the airport is forever different from how it was before 9/11, things will change and this is the point at which they changed. The loss of normalcy; the fear of economic toll; the loss of connection. This is hitting us and we’re grieving. Collectively. We are not used to this kind of collective grief in the air.
You said we’re feeling more than one kind of grief?
Yes, we’re also feeling anticipatory grief. Anticipatory grief is that feeling we get about what the future holds when we’re uncertain. Usually it centers on death. We feel it when someone gets a dire diagnosis or when we have the normal thought that we’ll lose a parent someday. Anticipatory grief is also more broadly imagined futures. There is a storm coming. There’s something bad out there. With a virus, this kind of grief is so confusing for people. Our primitive mind knows something bad is happening, but you can’t see it. This breaks our sense of safety. We’re feeling that loss of safety. I don’t think we’ve collectively lost our sense of general safety like this. Individually or as smaller groups, people have felt this. But all together, this is new. We are grieving on a micro and a macro level.
What can individuals do to manage all this grief?
Understanding the stages of grief is a start. But whenever I talk about the stages of grief, I have to remind people that the stages aren’t linear and may not happen in this order. It’s not a map but it provides some scaffolding for this unknown world. There’s denial, which we say a lot of early on: This virus won’t affect us. There’s anger: You’re making me stay home and taking away my activities. There’s bargaining: Okay, if I social distance for two weeks everything will be better, right? There’s sadness: I don’t know when this will end. And finally there’s acceptance. This is happening; I have to figure out how to proceed.
Acceptance, as you might imagine, is where the power lies. We find control in acceptance. I can wash my hands. I can keep a safe distance. I can learn how to work virtually.
When we’re feeling grief there’s that physical pain. And the racing mind. Are there techniques to deal with that to make it less intense?
Let’s go back to anticipatory grief. Unhealthy anticipatory grief is really anxiety, and that’s the feeling you’re talking about. Our mind begins to show us images. My parents getting sick. We see the worst scenarios. That’s our minds being protective. Our goal is not to ignore those images or to try to make them go away — your mind won’t let you do that and it can be painful to try and force it. The goal is to find balance in the things you’re thinking. If you feel the worst image taking shape, make yourself think of the best image. We all get a little sick and the world continues. Not everyone I love dies. Maybe no one does because we’re all taking the right steps. Neither scenario should be ignored but neither should dominate either.
Anticipatory grief is the mind going to the future and imagining the worst. To calm yourself, you want to come into the present. This will be familiar advice to anyone who has meditated or practiced mindfulness but people are always surprised at how prosaic this can be. You can name five things in the room. There’s a computer, a chair, a picture of the dog, an old rug, and a coffee mug. It’s that simple. Breathe. Realize that in the present moment, nothing you’ve anticipated has happened. In this moment, you’re okay. You have food. You are not sick. Use your senses and think about what they feel. The desk is hard. The blanket is soft. I can feel the breath coming into my nose. This really will work to dampen some of that pain.
You can also think about how to let go of what you can’t control. What your neighbor is doing is out of your control. What is in your control is staying six feet away from them and washing your hands. Focus on that.
Finally, it’s a good time to stock up on compassion. Everyone will have different levels of fear and grief and it manifests in different ways. A coworker got very snippy with me the other day and I thought, That’s not like this person; that’s how they’re dealing with this. I’m seeing their fear and anxiety. So be patient. Think about who someone usually is and not who they seem to be in this moment.
One particularly troubling aspect of this pandemic is the open-endedness of it.
This is a temporary state. It helps to say it. I worked for 10 years in the hospital system. I’ve been trained for situations like this. I’ve also studied the 1918 flu pandemic. The precautions we’re taking are the right ones. History tells us that. This is survivable. We will survive. This is a time to overprotect but not overreact.
And, I believe we will find meaning in it. I’ve been honored that Elisabeth Kübler-Ross’s family has given me permission to add a sixth stage to grief: Meaning. I had talked to Elisabeth quite a bit about what came after acceptance. I did not want to stop at acceptance when I experienced some personal grief. I wanted meaning in those darkest hours. And I do believe we find light in those times. Even now people are realizing they can connect through technology. They are not as remote as they thought. They are realizing they can use their phones for long conversations. They’re appreciating walks. I believe we will continue to find meaning now and when this is over.
What do you say to someone who’s read all this and is still feeling overwhelmed with grief?
Keep trying. There is something powerful about naming this as grief. It helps us feel what’s inside of us. So many have told me in the past week, “I’m telling my coworkers I’m having a hard time,” or “I cried last night.” When you name it, you feel it and it moves through you. Emotions need motion. It’s important we acknowledge what we go through. One unfortunate byproduct of the self-help movement is we’re the first generation to have feelings about our feelings. We tell ourselves things like, I feel sad, but I shouldn’t feel that; other people have it worse. We can — we should — stop at the first feeling. I feel sad. Let me go for five minutes to feel sad. Your work is to feel your sadness and fear and anger whether or not someone else is feeling something. Fighting it doesn’t help because your body is producing the feeling. If we allow the feelings to happen, they’ll happen in an orderly way, and it empowers us. Then we’re not victims.
In an orderly way?
Yes. Sometimes we try not to feel what we’re feeling because we have this image of a “gang of feelings.” If I feel sad and let that in, it’ll never go away. The gang of bad feelings will overrun me. The truth is a feeling that moves through us. We feel it and it goes and then we go to the next feeling. There’s no gang out to get us. It’s absurd to think we shouldn’t feel grief right now. Let yourself feel the grief and keep going.

The Religious Right’s Hostility to Science Is Crippling Our Coronavirus Response

Under-statement of the year: 
"We are all reaping what that [anti-science] movement has sown."
Humanity's been through the Dark Ages already.  Now we have to evolve lest we get another four years with this walking disaster and his minions.

Get involved, my friends.  Be bold.  Vote.  

-Angela Valenzuela

Trump’s response to the pandemic has been haunted by the science denialism of his ultraconservative religious allies.

By Katherine Stewart

Ms. Stewart is the author of “The Power Worshippers: Inside the Dangerous Rise of Religious Nationalism.”

·       March 27, 2020
President Trump participated in a prayer before speaking at the Evangelicals for Trump kick-off rally at the King Jesus International Ministry in Miami in January.Credit...Tom Brenner/Reuters
Donald Trump rose to power with the determined assistance of a movement that denies science, bashes government and prioritized loyalty over professional expertise. In the current crisis, we are all reaping what that movement has sown.
At least since the 19th century, when the proslavery theologian Robert Lewis Dabney attacked the physical sciences as “theories of unbelief,” hostility to science has characterized the more extreme forms of religious nationalism in the United States. Today, the hard core of climate deniers is concentrated among people who identify as religiously conservative Republicans. And some leaders of the Christian nationalist movement, like those allied with the Cornwall Alliance for the Stewardship of Creation, which has denounced environmental science as a “Cult of the Green Dragon,” cast environmentalism as an alternative — and false — theology.
This denial of science and critical thinking among religious ultraconservatives now haunts the American response to the coronavirus crisis. On March 15, Guillermo Maldonado, who calls himself an “apostle” and hosted Mr. Trump earlier this year at a campaign event at his Miami megachurch, urged his congregants to show up for worship services in person. “Do you believe God would bring his people to his house to be contagious with the virus? Of course not,” he said.
Rodney Howard-Browne of The River at Tampa Bay Church in Florida mocked people concerned about the disease as “pansies” and insisted he would only shutter the doors to his packed church “when the rapture is taking place.” In a sermon that was live-streamed on Facebook, Tony Spell, a pastor in Louisiana, said, “We’re also going to pass out anointed handkerchiefs to people who may have a fear, who may have a sickness and we believe that when those anointed handkerchiefs go, that healing virtue is going to go on them as well.”  
By all accounts, President Trump’s tendency to trust his gut over the experts on issues like vaccines and climate change does not come from any deep-seated religious conviction. But he is perfectly in tune with the religious nationalists who form the core of his base. In his daily briefings from the White House, Mr. Trump actively disdains and contradicts the messages coming from his own experts and touts as yet unproven cures.
Not every pastor is behaving recklessly, of course, and not every churchgoer in these uncertain times is showing up for services out of disregard for the scientific evidence. Far from it. Yet none of the benign uses of religion in this time of crisis have anything to do with Mr. Trump’s expressed hope that the country would be “opened up and just raring to go by Easter.” He could, of course, have said, “by mid-April.” But Mr. Trump did not invoke Easter by accident, and many of his evangelical allies were pleased by his vision of “packed churches all over our country.”

“I think it would be a beautiful time,” the president said.  

Religious nationalism has brought to American politics the conviction that our political differences are a battle between absolute evil and absolute good. When you’re engaged in a struggle between the “party of life” and the “party of death,” as some religious nationalists now frame our political divisions, you don’t need to worry about crafting careful policy based on expert opinion and analysis. Only a heroic leader, free from the scruples of political correctness, can save the righteous from the damned. Fealty to the cause is everything; fidelity to the facts means nothing. Perhaps this is why many Christian nationalist leaders greeted the news of the coronavirus as an insult to their chosen leader.

In an interview on March 13 on “Fox & Friends,” Jerry Falwell Jr., the president of Liberty University, called the response to Coronavirus “hype” and “overreacting.” “You know, impeachment didn’t work, and the Mueller report didn’t work, and Article 25 didn’t work, and so maybe now this is their next, ah, their next attempt to get Trump,” he said.

When Rev. Spell in Louisiana defied an order from Gov. John Bel Edwards and hosted in-person services for over 1,000 congregants, he asserted the ban was “politically motivated.” Figures like the anti-L.G.B.T. activist Steve Hotze added to the chorus, denouncing the concern as — you guessed it — “fake news.”

One of the first casualties of fact-free hyper-partisanship is competence in government. The incompetence of the Trump administration in grappling with this crisis is by now well known, at least among those who receive actual news. February 2020 will go down in history as the month in which the United States, in painful contrast with countries like South Korea and Germany, failed to develop the mass testing capability that might have saved many lives. Less well known is the contribution of the Christian nationalist movement in ensuring that our government is in the hands of people who appear to be incapable of running it well.

Consider the case of Alex Azar, who as secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services has had a prominent role in mismanaging the crisis. It seems likely at this point that Mr. Azar’s signature achievement will have been to rebrand his department as the “Department of Life.” Or maybe he will be remembered for establishing a division of Conscience and Religious Freedom, designed to permit health care providers to deny legal and often medically indicated health care services to certain patients as a matter of religious conscience.

Monday, March 30, 2020

How Does the Coronavirus Behave Inside a Patient? by Siddhartha Mukerjee

View article HERE.

March 26, 2020

This article by Siddhartha Mukerjee that appears in the The New Yorker is a lengthy, technical one the corona virus itself.  While much research needs to be done, the initial load of the virus, at least for now, seems key as follows:
"What sparse evidence we have about coronaviruses suggests that they may follow the pattern seen in influenza. In a 2004 study of the coronavirus that causes sars, a cousin of the one that causes covid-19, a team from Hong Kong found that a higher initial load of virus—measured in the nasopharynx, the cavity in the deep part of your throat above your palate—was correlated with a more severe respiratory illness. Nearly all the sars patients who came in initially with a low or undetectable level of virus in the nasopharynx were found at a two-month follow-up to be still alive. Those with the highest level had a twenty- to forty-per-cent mortality rate. This pattern held true regardless of a patient’s age, underlying conditions, and the like. Research into another acute viral illness, Crimean-Congo hemorrhagic fever, reached a similar conclusion: the more virus you had at the start, the more likely you were to die.
 Perhaps the strongest association between the intensity of exposure and the intensity of subsequent disease is seen in measles research. “I want to emphasize that measles and covid-19 are different diseases caused by very different viruses with different behaviors,” Rik de Swart, a virologist at Erasmus University, in Rotterdam, cautioned when we spoke, “but in measles there are several clear indications that the severity of illness relates to the dose of exposure. And it makes immunological sense, because the interaction between the virus and the immune system is a race in time. It’s a race between the virus finding enough target cells to replicate and the antiviral response aiming to eliminate the virus. If you give the virus a head start with a large dose, you get higher viremia, more dissemination, higher infection, and worse disease.”"
Although more research is needed, this analysis is consistent with all that's been said regarding limiting one's exposure to the virus such as through social distancing, observing stay-at-home orders, good hygiene, not touching your eyes, and so on.

-Angela Valenzuela

Sunday, March 29, 2020

NYC Front Lines Doctor Explains How Easy it is to Not Get Infected And Stop the Spread of COVID-19


Learn from an intensive-care NYC doctor, David Price, at Weill-Cornell hospital on how you can protect yourself. A few important lessons: The transmission from the virus is almost exclusively from your hand to your face. The average person doesn't need a medical mask. The reason to put a mask on is primarily to not touch your face. Always know where your hands are. And when you're out and about, always use hand cleaner or wash your hands when you touch anything out there.  Plus, stay 3-6 feet away from people.  

I found this to be very informative and reassuring in terms of how to protect yourself and your family.  You don't have to be afraid of the outside world. Just discipline oneself according to these precautions.  

My main caveat here is that this video does not say everything, even as it is consistent with what has already been said.  For example, singing in a choir aerosolizes the virus and should be avoided. Never does he say to not self isolate.  He says that we all have to shrink our social circles.  That said, we should all abide, to the extent possible, to stay at home orders. 

Feel free to pass this on to others. Thanks to Dr. Pedro Pedraza for sharing. Incidentally, this recording came to my friend, Pedro, who is from NYC, who got it from a friend of one of his friends who pulled Dr. Price aside—"who is in the thick of things"—to record this at the hospital.

There are a few versions of his presentation. I recommend the long version which is the one posted here:  And do listen all the way to the end.

-Angela Valenzuela

#StayAtHome #SelfIsolate #Covid19

Gov. Abbott, it’s time for a statewide shelter-in-place order

I couldn't agree more with this urgent message from the editors of the Dallas Morning News. Here's a helpful resource I just posted that records the daily expansion of the virus throughout Texas.  The time to act is now!

-Angela Valenzuela

Gov. Abbott, it’s time for a statewide shelter-in-place order

An order would signal the seriousness of the coronavirus threat.

Texas Gov. Greg Abbott speaks during a press conference about the state's response to the coronavirus on Tuesday, March 24, 2020, in Austin, Texas. (Nick Wagner / Austin American-Statesman)
2:00 AM on Mar 27, 2020
In moments of crisis, it’s easy for people to give in to fear or just disregard smart thinking as they react in a frenzied, ad hoc or reckless manner. This is why it’s crucial that those entrusted with leadership roles provide steady and consistent leadership.
And to that end, we believe it’s time for Gov. Greg Abbott to issue a statewide shelter-in-place order. Doing so would send a clear message at a time when others are waffling on following medical advice that the governor and the state of Texas are continuing to make decisions to protect everyone from this virus.
We recognize that such an order should likely be crafted to account for differences between rural and suburban and urban counties. But we all should also recognize that such an order would provide needed support to leaders on the county level that are making smart decisions while pushing others who aren’t.
Such an order would also build on three executive orders Abbott has issued on the virus. The first, on March 19, ordered no gatherings of more than 10 people, closed bars, gyms and restaurants (except for takeout) and prevented nursing home visitations.
His other orders prevented hospitals from performing procedures that aren’t immediately medically necessary and required reporting of COVID-19 cases. (On Thursday, Abbott issued a fourth order, requiring a mandatory 14-day quarantine for people traveling from New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and New Orleans.)
He has also declared a state of disaster.
Earlier this week, Abbott signaled dissatisfaction with the way many Texans have responded to his order. He needs to look no farther than Barton Springs Pool in Austin, where people were gathered Wednesday in droves.
“It’s clear to me that we may not be achieving the level of compliance that is needed,” Abbott said this week.
That’s true, and its reason enough to issue a statewide order. Doing so is important to health. The more people distance, the more quickly we will get back to normal and the better off those who need treatment will be.
It is also important to ensure everyone understands the seriousness of this threat and to unleash the creativity of leaders in the public, business, and nonprofit communities to come with smart details that improve our ability to withstand and overcome this virus. Unfortunately, some state and national leaders and pundits are sending the wrong signals about ending the social distancing practices and therefore it is all the more crucial for the governor to take this action.
Abbott has shown good leadership in this crisis. He can do more. The time is now.

Excellent Resource For Determining The Status Of The COVID19 Outbreak In Texas.


Here is an excellent resource for determining the status of the COVID19 outbreak in Texas.  Currently, as of 12:45PM today, there have been 2,552 cases reported and 34 deaths. 

The dashboard gets updated daily by 12:00PM, reflecting the prior day's statistics at 8PM. Visually, hot spots currently are the Houston and Dallas areas, followed by Austin, San Antonio, and the I-35 corridor—although it's clearly popping up throughout Texas.

Be safe and be well, everybody!

-Angela Valenzuela

“Los mexicanos me dieron trabajo y salvaron este pueblo” | BBC Mundo

Such a great story of the revitalization of a small town in Guymon, Oklahoma, and how the Mexican community helped to revitalize a town that had become a ghost town.  We, as a nation, need to hear many more stories like this because they help counter harmful, negative myths and stereotypes and how in so doing, inadvertently deprive them of what would have otherwise been a great opportunity for these locales.

-Angela Valenzuela

What the World Needs Now is "Love, Sweet Love:" Berklee Virtual Orchestra

Exquisite performance by the Berklee College of Music students out of Boston. Yes, what the world needs now is love, sweet love. I'm hoping that this moment ignites a peace movement, an empathy and caring movement. We must all do our part.

-Angela Valenzuela

Friday, March 27, 2020

Small Pox, Historical Memory, and Divergent World Views: A Must-Read in The Time of #Covid19

Here is a definite must-read in the time of #Covid19, written by Los Angeles Times staff writer, Carolina A. Miranda.

Dating back to 1576, the "Florentine Codex" was co-constructed by the conquering and colonizing Spanish missionaries in Tenochtitlan (Mexico City today). 

The "lead editor," if you will, was a Franciscan Friar named Bernardino de Sahagún.  He, along with the "NextGen," post-Spanish-Invasion Mexica (Aztec) students of Tlatelolco in Tenochtitlan, generated this masterful 2,000-page tome.  With it, the students not only chronicled, but also interpreted, their own history and culture—motivated by the specter of annihilation brought on by the smallpox epidemic at the time.

Written in Nahuatl and Spanish in such a way that honored two distinct world views,  the "viruela," or small pox, was interpreted in dramatically different ways:
Dufendach says that Spanish texts frequently frame the smallpox pandemics as an act of God. “Sahagún says in the Codex, these people have diminished because of the plagues that God sends them,” she explains. 
Whereas the Nahua texts attribute the pandemics to the indigenous concept of tlazolli. “It’s this invasion of filth that has caused the disruption of their entire society,” she explains. “It was not just the war-time invasion but a moral invasion.”
At the end of this piece, Miranda considers the deep introspection that the writers of the Florentine Index must have experienced: They saw the world ending as they knew it, and they tasked themselves with chronicling "the breadth of Nahua life."  

Similarly, for us in this moment of quarantine, it's important and healthy to ask ourselves about "the most important things we could be doing.”  At this precise moment, I am pleased to be both blogging and sharing with you these most profound, encouraging texts I've read of late.  

Not only will this all eventually pass, but we can take this opportunity to engender new ways of knowing and being in the world—ways that celebrate and honor our individual and shared histories, languages, cultures, and identities.  Thanks to Juan Tejeda for sharing.

-Angela Valenzuela

How a vital record of Mexican indigenous life was created under quarantine

It is the middle of a plague — “a pestilence so great and universal, that already it has been three months since it started, and many have died and many more continue to die.”
This does little to stop a group of scholars who have sealed themselves off from the world in a Mexico City convent, where they toil on a series of volumes devoted to indigenous knowledge.
He wrote those words in 1576.
Almost 500 years later, they couldn’t be more resonant.
Sahagún’s potent descriptions of a terrible plague are tucked into a colonial encyclopedia created in the late 16th century by a group of indigenous scholars at the Colegio de Santa Cruz de Tlatelolco.
“The General History of the Things of New Spain” — better known as the Florentine Codex — is a massive 2,000-page compendium of Nahua (a.k.a. Aztec) life in the Valley of Mexico, where Mexico City is now located. In both Spanish and Nahuatl (the Nahua language), the codex is composed of 12 handwritten books featuring almost 2,500 illustrations, which are bound into three massive volumes that now reside at the Laurentian Library in Florence, Italy.
The last two books were created during a smallpox pandemic. As the contagion took its toll and supply lines for pigments fray, color disappears from the illustrations partway through Book 11. By Book 12, it’s as if all life has been drained out of it.
“To read that and see it,” says Mesoamerican scholar Kim Richter of the Getty Research Institute, “we can empathize with this text in a very different way now.”
If before the plague their goal was to create a historical record, it’s now become a race against time and disease: The pandemic is claiming lives outside of their walls. They continue to work even as they run out of pigments to color the illustrations that will accompany their text. It is simply too risky to leave the safety of their cloister to go looking for supplies.
“I don’t know how long it will last or how much harm it will do,” writes Bernardino de Sahagún, the Franciscan friar in charge of the endeavor. “I don’t know what will be of this pestilence.”
In a world turned head over heels by the new coronavirus, it is instructive to look at another cataclysm: the Americas during the 16th century, when European colonization shattered the old indigenous order through war, settlement and, most notably, disease. And not just one disease but several. A lethal cocktail of smallpox, measles and influenza — European illnesses to which indigenous people had no immunity — that decimated populations all over the continent.
(A study published by scientists at University College London in 2018 estimates that 90% of indigenous populations throughout the Americas died from disease in the 16th century — so many it cooled Earth’s climate for a number of decades as untended fields were taken over by carbon dioxide-absorbing overgrowth. It’s an event referred to as “the Great Dying.”)
I buried more than 10,000 bodies, and at the end of the epidemic, I caught the illness and was very ill. 
In Mexico, this played out in a series of pandemics throughout the 16th century. The first, in 1520, came a year after explorer Hernán Cortés arrived on the shores of the Yucatán Peninsula.
“There came to be prevalent a great sickness, a plague,” reports Book 12 of the Florentine Codex on this terrible event. “There was indeed perishing; many indeed died of it. ... No longer could they move, no longer could they bestir themselves ... And when they bestirred themselves, much did they cry out.”
Similar pandemics struck in 1555 and 1576, the latter being the one that Sahagún refers to in the section in which he wrote: “Since the plague started until today ...the number of dead has increased; ten, twenty, thirty, forty, fifty, seventy, eighty die everyday.”

A page from Book 12 of the Florentine Codex records an early smallpox epidemic
A page from Book 12 of the Florentine Codex records an early smallpox pandemic in colonial Mexico.
(Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana / By permission of MiBACT)

A healer caring for patients suffering from smallpox in Book 12 of the Florentine Codex
An illustrated detail shows a healer caring for patients lying on petates.
(Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana / By permission of MiBACT)
If the Florentine Codex marks the creation of a historical artifact — and a brilliant, richly layered work of art — in the face of certain death, it is also an object that speaks to survival and resilience.
It is the story of a group of authors determined to record their history even as fatal illness strikes just beyond their walls.
“They would not have seen their mothers, their fathers, their sisters and their brothers,” says Diana Magaloni, author of “The Colors of the New World: Artists, materials, and the Creation of the Florentine Codex.” “And it was so that the memory of them would continue.”
It is also the story of a book, and the knowledge contained within it, that, against all odds, endured the ravages of history. Shortly after it was created it was sent to Spain, after which its whereabouts remained uncertain for centuries. It reemerged in Italy in the late 18th century — a time capsule of indigenous life, fully intact.
“It’s a connection to that world — all the animals, all the beings,” says Magaloni, who is a deputy director at the Los Angeles County Museum of Art. “It’s comprehensive knowledge. It’s something amazing.”
And it continuously reaches into the present.
This is partly because of the work of organizations like the Laurentian Library, which has lovingly preserved it, and the Getty Research Institute, which is currently funding a digitization effort that is creating a high-resolution scan of the codex, which it aims to put online by 2022 — with translations and tagged, searchable images.
But it has also remained alive through the work of scholars who have studied it for more than a century, and through the artists who have long been inspired by its virtuosity. (Over the last decade, volumes from the codex have been displayed around Los Angeles at the Getty Villa, the Getty Museum and the Huntington Library, Art Museum, and Botanical Gardens.)
Los Angeles painter Sandy Rodriguez creates contemporary paintings using materials of pre-Columbian artists, such as cochineal and mineral oxides. She is a student of the codex and its artistic methodologies, and for a recent show at L.A.'s Charlie James Gallery, which focused on the stories of Central American children who have died while in the custody of U.S. immigration authorities, she gathered a group of poets to create work inspired by Book 12 of the Florentine Codex, which tells the story of the conquest.
“We talked about imagining being one of the tlacuilos [scribes], sequestered and writing your history,” she says, “not being able to go out and get your materials.”
By the time of the show’s March 7 closing, the severity of the coronavirus pandemic had become all too evident in the U.S. — and what had been an interesting historical exercise now had new meaning.
“It’s like we performed this contemporary history in this contemporary moment,” she says.
It’s a moment, Rodriguez says, that she is still trying to process.
It goes without saying that the “Historia General de las cosas de la Nueva España,” as the Florentine Codex was originally titled in Spanish, wasn’t created simply because the Franciscans were in love with Aztec learning. Sahagún conceived of it as an anthropological tool that could provide an understanding of indigenous belief systems, and therefore help facilitate the conversion of the Nahua to Christianity.
To this end, he recruited a group of young men from the Colegio de Santa Cruz to help him research, write and illustrate the epic undertaking.
The colegio had been established at the Convent of Santiago in Tlatelolco in 1536 as a place to acculturate the sons of indigenous nobility to European ways, instruct them in a variety of subjects, and prepare some of them for eventual priesthood and, therefore, further Christian proselytizing. These were the intellectual crème de la crème of early Mexican society and they learned to read and write in a variety of languages, including Spanish, Latin and Nahuatl. (Already Spanish friars had devised a system of writing the previously unwritten Nahuatl using the Latin alphabet.)
It is estimated that Sahagún began work on the project in the late 1540s, assembling draft manuscripts (such as the Códices Matritenses, which still survive) and attempting to devise a taxonomy for how the tome would be organized. In its format and its ambitious scope, it nods to the work of the ancient Roman scholar Pliny the Elder and his “Naturalis Historia” (“The Natural History”).
“It’s based on the concept of the European encyclopedia,” explains Richter. “But it’s focusing on the cultures of the Aztecs and written in the generation after the conquest of the Aztec Empire.”
Sahagún ultimately settled on a bilingual, two-column system, one written in Spanish, the other in Nahuatl, that would cover the breadth of Nahua life: landscape, minerals, animals, food, belief systems, history, art, architecture, social classes and more. There is even an entry on “malas mugeres” — “bad women,” to quote the early modern Spanish — or sex workers.
What makes the book so dynamic is that the codex isn’t mere observation. The indigenous scholars working on the project — Antonio Valeriano, Alonso Vegerano, Pedro de San Buenaventura, Martín Jacobita, Diego de Grado, Bonifacio Maximiliano and Mateo Severino, among others — were actively interviewing the communities from which they hailed.
“They are capturing what their elders are saying, but also their colonial reality,” says Rebecca Dufendach, a research specialist at the Getty Research Institute who has been working with the codex for a decade. “They are trying to capture this world of knowledge.”

A page from the Florentine Codex features a rather buoyant painting of a peccary
A page from Book 11 of the Florentine Codex, about Mexico’s natural history, features a buoyant illustration of a peccary. Spanish text is on the left, Nahuatl on the right.
(Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana / By permission of MiBACT)
The Codex therefore reflects a distinct Nahua point of view — one that bears the imprint of people who had memory of a world before the arrival of the Spanish.
It is believed that the Nahuatl text was written first and the Spanish came after. “The Spanish is usually called a translation, but it’s more of an interpretation,” says Richter. “In some places, [Sahagún] leaves the Spanish out completely. At other times, he provides more interpretation.”
This means that the Florentine Codex isn’t simply a bilingual record of events, it’s a pair of world views, presented side by side.
Book 12, which focuses on the Spanish invasion, tells the story of the Matanza de Tóxcatl — known in English as the Massacre in the Great Temple, which took place in May 1520. In that event, Spanish soldiers massacred a group of indigenous nobles celebrating a religious ceremony at the Templo Mayor, an event whose brutality reverberated through the region.
“The Spanish text states very clearly: Here was this ritual that was happening and Pedro de Alvarado went in and killed innocent people,” says Richter. “They aren’t hiding it. But when you read the Nahua text, it’s a gruesome painful thing to read. Nahua is so poetic and it has certain repetitions. The cutting of the flesh and the cracking of bones and people trying to walk and their guts spilling.
“I get goose bumps thinking about it because it’s so awful.”

The first page of Book 12 of the Florentine Codex, which details the conquest
The first page of Book 12 of the Florentine Codex, showing the arrival of the Spanish to the Gulf of Mexico. 
(Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana / By permission of MiBACT)
These different worldviews are brought to bear in the sections that describe disease.
Dufendach says that Spanish texts frequently frame the smallpox pandemics as an act of God. “Sahagún says in the Codex, these people have diminished because of the plagues that God sends them,” she explains.
Whereas the Nahua texts attribute the pandemics to the indigenous concept of tlazolli. “It’s this invasion of filth that has caused the disruption of their entire society,” she explains. “It was not just the war-time invasion but a moral invasion.”
In many cases, the Nahuatl language had absorbed lone Spanish words to describe phenomena introduced by the Europeans — such as the word caballo, for horse. But Dufendach says the Codex never really embraces the use of viruela, the Spanish word for smallpox, in the portions that are written in Nahuatl.
“They are understanding it on their terms,” she says. “They are trying to describe it in the Nahua language.”
Disease shaped not just the ideas in the Florentine Codex, but its manufacture.
Sahagún interrupts an entry on Mexican road systems in Book 11 to write, in first person, about plagues past and present — including the one in 1555. “I buried more than 10,000 bodies,” he writes, “and at the end of the epidemic, I caught the illness and was very ill.”
In fact, it is partway through that book — about the natural world — in which color begins to disappear as the pandemic of 1576 begins to claim victims, disrupt supply lines and force its authors into quarantine.
Though it was set down on European wood-pulp paper, the pigments and other materials used for illustrations are almost entirely Nahua in origin: cochineal for red, indigo for blue, clays and orchid gums used to change tones and fix colors. Almost 500 years later, they remain in dazzling shape.
“What always strikes me is how crisp and how fresh these books look,” says Richter. “It’s so different when you hold the real thing in your hand. The colors, they look like they were painted yesterday.”

A volume from the Florentine Codex on view at the Getty Museum in “Golden Kingdoms”
One of the three volumes of the Florentine Codex on view at the Getty Museum in the exhibition “Golden Kingdoms: Luxury and Legacy in the Ancient Americas,” which opened in the fall of 2017.
(J. Paul Getty Museum)
As they ran out of color, scribes used coded images to denote the tones of an object — say, placing a ladybug next to a flower to mark the red of its petals. They also reserved what pigments they had for the most important images.
Book 12, the final book, contains only three color illustrations: one in which Cortés and his men are seen entering the Valley of Mexico, featuring a landscape rendered in brilliant shades of Mayan blue and green. Another shows the moment in which a pair of indigenous armies have defeated the Spanish in battle. The last shows two Spanish soldiers casually disposing of the dead bodies of Moctezuma and Itzquauhtzin, the leaders of Tenochtitlán and Tlatelolco, respectively.
“They were saving their pigments for things that were meaningful,” says Magaloni. “The world of color has meaning for them.”
There are three illustrations on the page that features Moctezuma and Itzquauhtzin. Only the image of the fallen indigenous leaders receives color.

A detail from the Florentine Codex shows Spaniards disposing of the dead bodies of leaders Moctezuma and Itzquauhtzin
A detail from Book 12 shows Spaniards tossing the dead bodies of Moctezuma and Itzquauhtzin into a canal. The artists reserved scarce pigments for this important scene.
(Biblioteca Medicea Laurenziana / By permission of MiBACT)
Little is known about the scholars who created the Florentine Codex or how they lived. Magaloni imagines a high degree of dedication — scholars attempting to put the world of their elders on paper, before it disappears — but also of deep introspection.
“It’s the opportunity to go inside ourselves and think about what we are doing,” she says, “to think about the most important things we could be doing.”
For Rodriguez, that means continuing to paint — much like the scribes of the 1570s.
“I’ve been burning my sage and my copal and asking for strength,” she says. “There would be no sanity to my world if I didn’t get up and read and then paint for a few hours.”
While others were out buying toilet paper, she was stocking up on her materials.
“I will have the supplies,” she says, “to tell the story of whatever goes down.”