I am not a hypochondriac. You can ask my sister-in-law. She will most assuredly testify that I tend not to take sickness too seriously; in the tradition of my parents I make my kids go to school unless they have fever; I go to work the same way; take very little medicine; believe that in general taking a good bath, getting a good night’s sleep, and drinking tons of water cures most things that ail us. I’ve had the audacity to scoff at her threats of going to the ER with children who eat toothpaste, injure their heads with falling nativity figurines, and scream about stickers in their feet. Some say I am the mean aunt and she is the nice; I say I am the aunt of good common sense and she is, well, the aunt of many other important strengths.
I want this established before I tell you the next thing: I am scared of Covid. Irrationally, perhaps, I am not so afraid for myself. I am not prone to get sick, never have been; the worst thing I’ve ever experienced besides childbirth is having my appendix out and the occasional migraine. Haughty as it sounds, if I got Covid I doubt it would kill me. Not that I want it to try. What scares me, however, is the danger of Covid for people who are not me.
Last year it was my parents. I guarded them like a bulldog; we didn’t go into their house for months, didn’t touch them, stayed six feet away. We’d congregate in chairs in their yard to visit while they held court from above on the porch. This arrangement worked okay until it got cold. Then we had to wrap up in coats and blankets and still cut our visits short. I watched the luster disappear from my mother’s eyes as the months dragged on and on. She wanted to hold her grandkids, needed to feel their warmth. And they needed her; we all did. It was the worst fall—they missed my son’s games as senior quarterback—and the saddest Christmas ever.
When they were finally able to get the vaccine it was like the sun came out. None of us had to be wary anymore, horrified by the thought we might kill them by bringing the virus into their home. My dad has trouble breathing anyway. My worst nightmare was giving him Covid and him dying alone in the hospital on a ventilator, the way more than one of his friends did. But the miracle happened. We were able to go back to normal; go to church together, share Sunday dinners; they even made some of the girls’ volleyball games. Harper got to have a real graduation and they got to be there. Hunter too (from kindergarten). By summer all of us were vaccinated except the little ones. Life was good. We even went on vacation.
I started teaching a summer class in July, my first in-person encounter with a class full of students in over a year. I remembered why I love teaching. I love people. I love the exchange of ideas across a room, the flesh-and-blood reality and honesty and vulnerability you can’t get from a screen. It seemed so good for people to share their stories, their experiences and how they had coped with the pandemic. I was especially touched by the home health nurse in my class who kept working through it all. Her stories were like a soldier’s, returned from war.
We were about half way through the term when the Delta variant hit our collective radar. Suddenly everyone was talking about vaccine rates, rising cases, and how this mutation is killing children. Arkansas became the epicenter of the whole US. The clouds came out and hid the sun. I began to be more and more concerned about my nine-year-old Stella. And here I still stand as July gives way to August: what to do about school? Is it even safe for her to live in our house, with five other people going in and out—vaccinated but undoubtedly exposed—every day? I ordered some N95 masks on Amazon today and she informed me, “Mom, I cannot wear those. They look like beaks. I will be the only one at school and everyone will laugh at me.” The whole situation makes me angry.
A friend on Facebook last night shared her desire to make all of the posts about vaccinations go away. She argued that it is wrong to try to “shame/guilt people into deciding what is best for their body.” And she is right. Like so many other things, we seem unable to talk about this issue without devolving into that. My Twitter feed is full of one side calling the other names. No wonder Stella thinks she’ll be made fun of for wearing a mask. Depending on where you are and who you are with, you’re darned if you do and darned if you don’t. Someone else asked the other day, “What is the way out of this mess we are in?”
I don’t know. People smarter than I am don’t either. Since I tend to think it’s the answer to most things I think the answer to how we fight Covid is education. Continue to share basic truths with humility, reserving judgment. Require evidence for your own claims and the claims of others. Trust experts. Let facts stand. Consequences come.
The bigger mess we must get out of is how divided we are. For that I know of no other remedy but love. Love brings us together. We must keep loving our neighbors, even if they disagree with us, even if we make each other angry. Especially then. Love does not celebrate when an unvaccinated Arkansan succumbs to Covid. Love does not say they deserve it or “I told you so.” Love takes the higher road. Love shows up in a mask on the porch with soup. Love is harder than being loud, being right, having the last word. Love doesn’t always get attention; it’s not always glamorous or popular or cool. Sometimes love requires us to give up some of our rights for others. Love doesn’t manipulate, or shame or guilt people in order to get our own way. Love is relentlessly kind. Gabriel Garcia Marquez in Love in the Time of Cholera writes, “[T]hink of love as a state of grace: not the means to anything but the alpha and omega, an end in itself.” That’s also how to love in the time of Covid. And it’s not easy. The right thing rarely is.