(That’s my vaccination card. Yes, it’s hot pink. I’m not sure why, although I will say it’s a great prompt to keep me from inadvertently throwing it away.)
When the pandemic began I was struck by the singularity of the moment. I studied history, after all, so while the United States was already in the middle of a historic catastrophe of a presidency, that event wasn’t immediately apparent to everyone.
The pandemic declaration wasn’t as easy to discount and it made its mark on our national consciousness. Early on my family was on a group call that was part of our effort to keep my 80something parents in good spirits when my middle sister started talking about how incredible it was to be living through something we had all learned about in history class.
I thought that since most of us were so keenly aware of being in a pandemic that as a nation we’d have a shared experience, and because we were all having more or less that same experience our conversations about that experience would reflect a common struggle. Boy, was I wrong, huh?
Now I did understand that people whose jobs were essential—medical personnel, police/fire/emergency services, grocery store workers, home improvement store workers, etc.—were not going to be able to shut themselves up at home. But what I failed to imagine was how many of the rest of us weren’t so keenly aware of being in a pandemic, and that national shared conversation never emerged.
But a national conversation has now emerged, and instead of being about the struggle of isolation, it’s about the promise of hope. We’re now finally talking about the same thing: being vaccinated. Social media is full of vaccine selfies, vaccination cards, and everyone sharing information about where to get that elusive and lifesaving jab.
(Now I know that there are a lot of people–too many people–who won’t get vaccinated. I know I’m supposed to say that people believe different things and we just need to let them be and to respect their choices. Well, I don’t respect their choice because I don’t respect things rooted in pure ignorance. These same people are going to be complaining when they are barred from movie theaters and other indoor spaces because they couldn’t make the smallest possible effort to fight Covid. That’s going to be my last mention of them because as the Polish proverb goes, “Not my circus, not my monkeys”.)
Beyond the hope, relief, and joy of being able to safely move in the world again, we are also united over a dominant question: “What side effects did you have?” Getting the vaccine is a balancing act between the fear of a new kind of vaccine that is an incredible medical accomplishment but which can also make you feel awful, and a deadly disease. OK, when I put it that way, I guess it’s not really a balancing act. But I do think that despite how safe and incredible all of the vaccines are, especially the exotic-sounding mRNA vaccines, in our small way we’re pretty brave for stepping up and doing our part to end this nightmare. Then again, I hate needles, so that could just be me talking.
And although all our stories of hope, relief, and joy are part of this uplifting national conversation, for me it’s the stories from the people who have been as locked down as much as I have been that resonate the most. My spouse has special risks and so I have been the front line person in our family. We will get our second shots Saturday. I have had to be extremely cautious since last February and so haven’t been anywhere except pressing medical appointments. He has had to completely shut himself away in the same way, and as he’s an extrovert this has been so much worse for him than it has for me (the rare female INTJ). I love him so much—being together for a year has brought us closer—and all our joint sacrifice has weirdly been an unexpected joy as well.
But I’m also going to look forward to other joys in the upcoming weeks: my first haircut (and color!!) in 14 months, being able to do my own grocery shopping, eating a hot meal in a restaurant (well, outside dining only for the next few months), and eventually being able to see my 80something parents whom I haven’t seen in person in 2 years.
And while I write all of this I am accutely aware of all of the suffering caused by Covid here in the US–the deaths I mourn every day, the injustice that is our healthcare system (I was uninsured for too many years for my comfort), the risks so many people have had to take to keep businesses open because their jobs could not be done remotely, the toll on healthcare workers, and so many other sorrows. I am really hoping these important issues will be addressed both right now and in future pandemic planning.
I close with a song that I like for its Sondheim-borrowing, from a show I absolutely loathed all the way through when I saw it live. Joy be with you all.