As the world slowly grinds to a halt, it is good to remember that it’s been down this road before—and when it’s done, life goes on. Last week we featured Ben Macintyre’s essay about the deadly influenza pandemic of 1918, which infected almost a third of the world’s population and may have killed 1 in 20 people. This week, the protean historian Max Hastings writes about Samuel Pepys’s eyewitness chronicle of the 1665 bubonic plague, which wiped out nearly a fifth of the population of London.

In times like these, the struggles and lives of others who came before us, if taken in the right way, give us solace and hope. In the absence of leadership—particularly in the U.S., where the administration has failed the American people time and time again over the past few weeks—it is the common man and woman who are picking up the thread.