It was only slightly more than a year ago, March 2020 when our city, our state, and our nation entered a period of what many of us grew quickly tired of hearing was “an abundance of caution”. Certainly, the steps taken since helped curb the spread of disease and death – sadly, some naysayers came to regret their misplaced beliefs. And almost as certainly, some of the steps we took as individuals, communities and nations were if not unnecessary, ineffective – based on tentative, evolving knowledge that still is far from final. What worked, what didn’t – time will sort this out, perhaps. But we all were frustrated and afraid for a very long time – particularly those who lost family and friends forever or came close to an abrupt end of their own lives. And today, although some indicators here where I live are very encouraging, there are still vast populations of our planet that are struggling under waves of death, loss, and destruction that will not soon disappear. We have collectively gone through trauma.
When the vaccines started to be made available early in 2021, first to select populations then slowly widening circles of eligibility, my husband – who fell into a more at-risk category – was able to get his shots, and I was very grateful, and content to wait my “turn”. Stories began to reach us both – rumors in some cases, personal experiences in others. Friends with the same insurance coverage but less “eligible” than me had been contacted to receive their first shots; I received multiple, well intended but questionable recommendations to basically go somewhere and simply lie about my employment or status, as others had successfully done. And, there were individuals in our circle of loved ones who were more at risk than me, still waiting. You, as well, probably were faced with ethical choices – assuming you wanted to get the shots – and were in an area where there was even any supply.
During the year or so since we first entered varying stages of “shutdown isolation”, I had taken refuge by focusing somewhat on fitness, working out on a limited basis initially at home on the back patio with a few hand weights, then enrolling in a “trainer” session program at a gym where the equipment was brought out on the sidewalk for individual use. This blossomed over time into a tent workout area in the gym parking lot, then eventually limited access inside the gym itself. There were friends who spoke to me, and others who did not speak aloud but their perspective was clear – I was taking unnecessary, foolish risks. I was being selfish and egotistical. Like so many issues in what seems like an eternity, our differences become exaggerated; chasms, not cracks, start to divide us. For me, going to the gym – albeit not as effectively as I had hoped (yet) – was a way to direct my energy toward something positive, safely.
The San Francisco powers that be had set up a mass vaccination program at a local convention center, and someone at the gym mentioned that they knew of two members who had gone to the “stand by line”, who, like me, were not in an eligible category but “walked right in” with little wait and got their shots. My frustrations at hearing from friends who were less eligible but vaccinated, other “I know the facts more than you” contacts who proclaimed I could go anywhere for a shot, and the encouragement to simply go lie was overwhelming. It was a horrible circumstance, made worse by all the voices around me claiming conflicting facts and, in a sense, cheering their own status at the expense of the many eligible but frustrated people trying to book appointments, or simply even find a location with supply. The chorus seemed to be saying – hey, dummy, why don’t you have your shots yet? It was incessant; I could not complain for being healthy; but I decided to take a chance.
On a drizzly cold March Sunday morning, when the “time change” took effect, I left early for downtown, discovered some nearby street parking (a rarity here), and walked to Moscone center, finding a long line growing longer by the minute even before the doors opened. After an extensive wait through the line snaking around the building and ultimately through the doors – I was rejected. I was ineligible; they no longer were allowing folks like me to wait for unclaimed doses. The next day, the window of eligibility was widening to an even greater population statewide – but, still excluding me. I felt defeated – I did not blame the outdated information, there was no one at fault – it was simply not my time. That did not stop me from indulging in comfort food which had no effect on protecting me from COVID but sure was tasty, and also completely contradictory to my fitness efforts. As I walked to my car, I was greeted by more texts, more advice, more insisting that I could go anywhere now to get a shot, everyone was doing it, etc. etc. etc. I decided to drop my efforts and just hunker down, waiting (as the app proclaims) “my turn”, and finding some solace in the hope that my more at risk friends and essential workers were getting treated.
I was very stressed out – it affected my husband and others around me. It was not healthy to try to find a way to stay healthy, in this case. I gave it a lot of thought. It was a few days later before I was at the gym the same day as my contact who had encouraged me to attempt my failed efforts – I sat in the car, awaiting my “entry window” by appointment, and just said a prayer, honestly. Prayer has different meanings for most everyone – I don’t know what I would like, but there are times that I believe it is something that brings me to a kind of peace, and acceptance. Sitting outside the gym, I just acknowledged that there was nothing I could do; that I would go on, and wait, and let go of my expectations and efforts, as well as the frustrations I felt towards all the conflicting advisors telling me what I was doing wrong; just set it all aside, live my life daily, and trust.
As I have written before, I know my upbringing, with elements of religion and some seed of faith – I differentiate between the two – is uniquely personal, and not everyone looks at the events of life and sees anything other than chance in the outcomes. Nevertheless, if I had not taken the time that morning to silently pray, accept and let go of the vaccine monkey on my back – or, if I had remained in the car, sulking, for another minute – I would not have walked up to the counter and met a stranger. My friend who had encouraged me to “line up” was chatting with another member as I signed in – I could hear him asking how work was going, and how they had not seen one another in months. But it was the strangers comment that he was working 12- and 14-hour days, and that they were treating thousands daily, that let me realize this stranger was one of hundreds who worked at the vaccination center I had been turned away from days before. Then, unexpectedly, my friend turned to me and said, “Hey Norm – how did your visit to Moscone go this weekend”? Truly without regret, or intent, I just shared that I had been turned away, and that they were no longer offering “unclaimed” vaccines, especially now that a broader eligible population was competing for appointments and shots – and that I was, of course, not yet among them, but it was ok.
There are moments of grace in our world. It’s not a word you hear on the news; rarely are there stories about mercy, and miracles. We don’t always recognize these “gifts” – we don’t always see when someone acts out of kindness, we are blinded by the mountains of things demanding our attention – too busy to “see the invisible” surrounding us everywhere. But for me, this moment was undeniably a miracle, one not sought or expected. The stranger turned to me and said – how old are you? I shared that my 63rd birthday was just a few days away, and that I was ok waiting – I could not complain that I am healthy, or that my needs took priority over others. To me, this was just a kind inquiry from one of the many hundreds of staff and volunteers here, and millions worldwide. But he was not just one of the many – I honestly don’t know what his role was, or his background – but he asked me if I would like an appointment that day; he could add my name to the list, he had a few daily and I could just come around later and give my name at the door, and get my first shot.
I am not ashamed to admit I nearly broke down crying. This was a gift, and only moments after I had let go of my demands, my needs, and decided to just walk on in faith as best I could.
That afternoon, my husband dropped me off – there was no line at the doors this time, and as he drove away, I read the handwritten sign – no more “non appointment” shots today. For a moment I feared my trip was again in vain – but the stranger had said just give my name. I explained to the attendant at the door who pulled out the list of additions – my name was not to be found. I asked for follow up and showed the text I had received confirming my appointment – which led to a period of waiting, in silence, alone. I once again had to just let go. A few moments later, a friendly administrator came by – trying to call my “gym angel” – to no avail.
We do not always get what we want. Certainly, we do not always get what we deserve – whether because of good deeds or bad. It is a myth, I think, to believe that everything is for a reason – we have choices. My choice, daily, mostly unconscious, is how I conduct myself with others; what I hold dear; how I show love to my husband and family; how I treat strangers. I fail miserably a great deal of the time, and there are plenty who can attest to that. But it is in those choices I grow. I can’t pick the outcomes, only the kind of person I want to be, and try to take little steps toward that goal.
Who is to say why things ‘work out”, or don’t? Or even what is the best outcome – we just want to make what we can of our lives. In my case, on that day – as the administrator rechecked her records, she did find my name, and my smile shone as I rode the escalator down to a crowded hall where hundreds, like me, waited for their time with a nurse, answered some routine questions, and then, felt a little prick. A tiny sensation that somehow opened the doors to hope more than they were that morning. As I ascended the stairs to the crowded exits, a familiar face greeted me – if only in cardboard cutout form. And I walked into the daylight. Two weeks later, as scheduled, I received my second shot; and, as I write, I am just past the two week “waiting period”. I don’t physically feel different, or healthier; but I do feel an immeasurable sense of relief. I held off posting on Facebook, knowing how frustrated I had felt and that thousands like me here were still waiting their turn, while others sat by their loved ones hoping they would recover; my gratitude was humbled because I had received a gift, undeservedly – perhaps that is a fitting definition for grace, in a way.
Today, almost a month later, I know there are many more still waiting for their chance to be in that line, or others like it. Watching the news this week with my husband, we silently viewed the drone footage of mass cremations outdoors in India; and we know there are many who still do not want to take the shot, or wear the mask. We are not “through” with COVID by any means – and our communities, country, and planet will not I think ever fully put all this behind them. Nor should they; we must grow through this. But somehow, I feel I am at a point of turning in my life. All the time the past year plus that I spent fearful of losing my husband, other loved ones who did become ill, or leaving him and them without me in their lives – there was a lot of sleepless nights, of questioning what my priorities were, and reassessing what I believe. There were moments of conflict with others that were exacerbated by our joint tensions; changes in relationships; realizations that things that seemed so very important before perhaps don’t really matter as much as I thought they did.
I am changed. When I registered this blog in late 2019, Wuhan was not even in the news; it was not until we were isolated in our home that I began posting, just over a year ago. I have made 34 posts … I have a few friends that sometimes encourage me; I have followers who are strangers. Someone asked me recently what my blog was about; perhaps if I had registered “The new Normal”.com I would be discovered, but that was not my goal. I wanted to share, something undefinable – my growth; my discoveries, my questions and my uncertainties. My humanity – in hopes that someone who might be in the place once was would find some “light” from my path for their own. Instead, my sharing has been, in a way, a healing process. We all need healing today, and we are not going to find it on our own. We are all going through a process of renewal and discovery, separately and together, stumbling, holding one another up; I cannot pretend that I have more answers today, but somehow, I have peace that as I walk – as we all walk the path ahead, wherever it leads – I will find the steps.
Friends, I hope you too will find your way, and reach out to those near you. For me, this is a period of deep reassessment – including my hopes for this blog. A journey, as I titled it, toward “authenticity”. I hope to see you again soon, and that in some way, for some one out there who happens upon my little thoughtful spot – you too, find and share hope. And, grace. Thank you to the “angels” who helped me get my vaccine – and were part of this lesson learned – I had to let go, to take hold – to have my hands open to receive, not reaching, only waiting. They probably will never see these words, and I probably would not know their faces again – but Alice, Bobby, Clarissa, Daniel, Winnie and all those healthcare workers reaching out around the world – you are my angels. See you soon, friends.
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