I think that we too often forget that our place here on earth is communal. There are too many of us to simply ignore our impact on each other and on nature. As the world’s population grows it becomes more and more apparent that each of our individual actions have a multiplying effect on the general condition of the environment in which we live. While there may have been a time in the long ago when the rugged individualist did not have to worry about how his/her actions created change, it is rare for anyone to be so isolated now that actions do not produce a ripple effect. How we act and react brings about inevitably influences the general welfare of our planet and its people and living creatures. The butterfly flapping its wings in our backyard ultimately has far reaching implications.
Today marks the two year anniversary of the moment when I became fully aware of the worldwide Covid pandemic. The day before I had joyfully spent the afternoon with my brothers and sister-in-laws enjoying a delightful lunch and a competitive game of strategy. During our sojourn we spoke of upcoming adventures to Turkey, Greece and Scotland that we had planned. We laughed unaware of how much our world would soon change while munching on a delightful dessert that my sister-in-law had baked for us.
Later that evening my husband and I attended the Houston Rodeo Barbecue competition that is a raucous affair of locals vying for recognition as the best roasters of all forms of meat. A dear friend and her family have been staples of the affair for decades and she always invites us to join in the festivities that launch the huge rodeo extravaganza that is the highlight of the Houston entertainment scene.
As usual there were thousands of people flocking to tents filled with the aroma of brisket, sausage, chicken, potato salad, beans and lots of alcoholic beverages. Music blared from every corner of the vast landscape and everyone was in a jovial mood. We met up with old friends and enjoyed a sojourn filled with delightful food and lots of laughter. The future seemed bright and filled with so many possibilities for all of us.
The very next day my sister-in-law sent me a text to inform me that some people that she knew had returned from a trip to China feeling sick. They had one by one come down with some disturbing symptoms and were worried about what they might have caught during their travels. She suggested that I be alert to any news about a virus with the potential to invade our city.
I immediately began researching the topic and learned that indeed there was a strange illness that was slowly moving into different countries by way of people who had recently travelled. I found out that nursing homes and cruise ships in the western United States were reporting outbreaks of a new kind of virus that seemed to be highly contagious and often quite lethal. Heeding advice from the information I had gathered I invested in a few N-95 face masks and stocked up on supplies in case my husband and I got sick. Then there were announcements on the local news about the people that my sister-in-law had described. They were very sick with a novel coronavirus and some had been hospitalized.
As a mathematics teacher I know the dramatic effects of exponential growth. Within days after the first cases were found in Houston the numbers of people getting sick had grown to alarming numbers. Soon the whole country was reporting signs of being affected by the virus that we would come to know as Covid-19. It was brutally attacking older people and those with weak immune systems. In Italy the stories of the sick and dying were grim. Hospitals began to be overwhelmed and the cases and deaths mounted as I checked the Johns Hopkins website that was tracking the spread of the virus.
My husband and I went into a kind of self imposed lockdown because we are older and he has heart disease. We lived inside the cocoon of our homes for weeks and then months. We took rides in our car and planned trips that allowed us to keep our distance from potential infection by using our trailer. It was a sad time but we made the best of it, adapting with each new turn of the disease. We met outside and from a distance with members of our family and held frequent Zoom meetings to stay in touch with one another. We managed to have an outdoor Thanksgiving with two of our grandsons and celebrated Christmas around a campfire at my youngest daughter’s house. We stayed well but another daughter’s family came down with Covid and my daughter became particularly and frighteningly ill. Her son would appear to have a mild case but the long term lingering effects would haunt him for well over a year. Still we felt proud that we had done our part not just to keep each other well, but also those around us. We agreed that it was wonderful to see all of the people on earth seeming to sacrifice for the welfare of everyone else.
When the vaccines became available I fought hard to get me and my husband inoculated as soon as possible. I cried tears of joy on the February day when we both had our second dose of the Moderna shot. It had been almost exactly one year since that lovely day when we had been with our family and friends. Somehow we thought that everyone would volunteer to take the jab just as they had done back in the fifties when society waged a war on polio. That’s when the fissures between us began to become more and more dramatic.
Suddenly doctors and nurses were no longer being celebrated as heroes. Large numbers of the population shunned the vaccine for various and sundry reasons, some of which were political, religious, or out of fear that the shot might be worse than the virus. A tension built between those of us who were fully vaccinated, still wearing masks, and taking general precautions by avoiding crowds and distancing ourselves indoors. A kind of battle ensued with one side insisting on personal liberties and another arguing that that we have responsibilities for the health of each other that should eclipse our individual desires. The ire between the two ways of thinking grew and grew as the virus mutated and claimed more and more lives.
The pull and tug and rancor has only grown with governments and even private businesses losing control over the situation. We have learned that the virus is not willing to defer to our personal wishes and that it is determined to survive. Many question our medical community and the efficacy of the vaccines and the treatments for those who become ill with Covid. The divisions have often times become ugly as we each attempt to survive the moment in our various ways.
The last many months have been very sad for me. I had always believed that we were a generous and flexible country that would happily join together to fight the pandemic together, and we did for a time. Unfortunately we lost our patience and our will to compromise, be flexible, attempt to understand our various needs, and show compassion for those among us who are the most vulnerable. We have surely lost our way when we cheer efforts to waylay the economy or make demands on our medical communities and schools that are dangerous and unfair. Still I remain the eternal optimist. I want to believe that we will overcome our worldwide tantrums and begin to work together again for the good of all. It is what I pray for on the two year anniversary of my life in a world dominated by Covid 19.