January 20th, 2021, (it happened to be inauguration day), a friend and I were among the droves of people inching along in a car for six hours at Dodger Stadium to get our first vaccine. There were no bathrooms for four hours and the voice of my doctor echoed in my mind. “Stay hydrated,” he’d said. I couldn’t. I looked longingly at my water bottle afraid if I took a sip, I’d be among the people who were making their way down a hill to relieve themselves among some trees and bushes. “At the end off all this,” I told my friend, “our reward is a sharp stab in the arm. . . if we’re lucky.”
We worried the entire time that they would run out, but we got our shots at 10:30 at night. Then, on February 17th, 2021, I got my second vaccine, again at Dodger Stadium with only a two and a half hour wait. The time leading up to Vaccine Number Two was stressful and tenuous. There had been protesters at Dodger Stadium one day, forcing it to close down for several hours. I can’t imagine what they were protesting – a vaccine that no one was forcing them to get and could save their lives? I’d spent weeks fearing that I’d be lost in the crowd of thousands of people waiting and hoping that the email would come, announcing my second appointment. I’d heard that they were running out of vaccine. And then there were reported side effects that made my anxiety spike.
It happened. I got the second shot and I was lucky. The only side effect I got was a sore arm and feeling spaced out for 24 hours. I was relieved to be completely vaccinated, and as the days went on, I imagined the antibodies growing in my blood stream. I felt a level of fear dissolve but I wondered, “What do I do now? Am I safe? Am I still able to pass on the virus? Am I immune or will I just get a lighter case if I do get sick? Is Moderna better than Pfizer? How about the J&J vaccine just being approved that requires only one shot? What about the variants?”
As these questions hang in the air, I recall to the onset of the AIDS virus in the nineteen eighties. There was so much we didn’t understand and a vaccine was never found. People were dying at an alarming rate and we didn’t know if we could touch our loves ones, hold them, eat with them or kiss them. Today, we find ourselves in a similar state of “I don’t know.” We detest the unknown. It makes us feel helpless. The disease is airborne which increases its contagion level and we don’t know who has it. Some people are asymptomatic while others end up unable to breathe and require ventilators that don’t always work. We don’t know if babies or children are likely to get it. We are filled to the brim with made up information. Someone told me, “If you have a strong immune system, you’re unlikely to have severe side effects.” Someone else said, “If you have a ‘monster’ immune system, you’re likely to have ‘monster’ side effects.”
Neither of them know what they’re talking about. We have to “wait and see” and as we do, we continue to wear masks and stay socially distanced. And then there are the people who believe conspiracy theories that the vaccine is dangerous and the government is using it to control people and make them get sick. Buddhists believe that no one person can be fully enlightened until everyone is enlightened. In the same way, it appears that no one is safe from Covid-19 until everyone is safe. I have no idea how we do that. But if we treat our neighbors like we want to be treated, if we protect others like we want to be protected, there is a more likely chance that we can put these last twelve months behind us and emerge from our caves a little bit kinder and a lot wiser as we figure out how to be with friends and go out to dinner. How teenagers can meet each other safely. How to get our kids back to school and let them have play dates.
It’s time to join forces and find a way to get back out into the world with a lot less fear and a lot more hope. A lot less judgment and a lot more compassion. We have missed a lot but we have also gained a lot as we have been forced to find a way to forgive our harmful acts as we would have others forgive us. As the saying goes, we are all in this together and together, we will find our way back out.