V is for Vaccination
It felt a little anticlimactic when, after standing in a cold line outside Concord’s Steeplegate Mall for a half-hour and then winding around a Space-Mountain-length indoor queue for an hour, I got my shot.
It was my second dose, so I was done. I needed to wait a couple of weeks before going crazy and mingling with strangers, but the die was cast. After a year of imagining little fuzzy death agents swirling about in every square yard of air, I was vaccinated and able to breathe free and not die.
To be honest, I was never that worried. Call me stoic or foolish, my attitude toward vast, invisible dangers, like pandemics, space alien invasions and political idiocy (of any party or movement) is a bit fatalistic. There’s only so much you can do.
The next day I did what I do just about every day: I walked the dog. As I strolled around my Concord neighborhood and down to the Statehouse (our usual route), I began replaying the scenes I had experienced dogwalking just a year prior (Could it have been so long ago? Could it have been that recently?) when the gravity of the virus and expanse of the quarantine measures were just becoming clear.
More people were wearing masks, even some while walking or biking outdoors. Pedestrians have learned the subtle signals that dictate which party should take the sidewalk
and which should hug the curb of the road as they pass and give each other a little wave and a grunt of acknowledgement.
Many of my neighbors’ home improvements I’d noticed popping up like spring daffodils last year were still looking good, and so many of the creative responses to the COVID-19 lockdowns and Zoom school sessions are still in evidence. One of my favorites is the proliferation of painted rocks bearing inspiring (or sometimes just plain weird) messages left in odd spots where they might be discovered by passersby.
There are other bits of hard evidence of the changes we’ve all endured, but many are contained in the hearts of those who have suffered through it together. The clearest evidence of this came from the some folks looping around downtown in a car with a big Trump 2024 banner in the slipstream. The reactions ranging from outright disdain to smiles and polite fist pumps revealed the hardened stances of the two sides that seems to have been baked from American clay into red and blue ceramic tiles of partisanship.
My subdued reaction to my own vaccination came to mind and I had an inkling of why my second jab hadn’t given me the kind of relief it should have. When the country is as divided as ours is, how do you know when you win? We all know that a win for only half the country isn’t a true victory, and yet now it seems like that’s the best we can expect.
Since the Korean War, American military victories have all come with asterisks, and cultural progress itself seems to require a fitful lurching back and forth just to move things a notch ahead. Achievements we thought were established, like civil rights and ending institutionalized prejudice, are all back up for debate and still able to engender hostility between groups and individuals.
Maybe we’ve all just forgotten how to react when we really, unreservedly win at something. And that’s what the vaccine has been, a big victory for the future, created in one presidential administration and fulfilled in another. That seems like an unreservedly good thing whether we’re returning to normalcy or advancing to reinvent the world.
The dog and I walked up to the Statehouse and stopped to commune with the statue of Daniel Webster, a man for whom national unity was an operating principle. Webster’s politics would probably not hold up well under today’s scrutiny, but his reply to the question “How stands the union?” still reverberates: “Rockbottomed and copper-sheathed,” he exclaims. “And soon, vaccinated,” I add, victoriously.