I was sinking into the security of being unmasked in the supermarket, restaurants, and well-ventilated clothing stores. Fully vaccinated, I felt safe with this new level of freedom; another step forward into normalcy. Then came the halting words: Delta variant, breakthrough infection. Here we go again: one step forward, two steps back. We’ve passed the year-and-a-half mark with this accursed virus, but we’re still being jostled back and forth between hope and uncertainty; between renewed control over our lives and being pawns of fate.
“Follow the science.” It seems like such a reasonable mantra. Wear your mask in crowds, get vaccinated, you’ll no longer be a host for the virus to cling to. Reach herd immunity. Why is this so difficult to grasp?
When did the American mindset shift wherein sickness is no longer confined to medical professionals, but to the dictates of political agendas? Throughout my life, there have been vaccination mandates to protect public health. Recently, I came across my daughter’s immunization record from years ago. It listed five shots required for her to start the school year. The goal? Not only to protect herself, but to protect all her classmates. No parents lashed out at the school system for infringing on their constitutional rights, or their rights for privacy and free choice. We wanted to keep our kids safe and healthy—end of story.
Although I think of vaccination as a health issue only, I am aware that I have friends who have politicized the topic, and have remained unvaccinated. These friends are not vitriolic radicals, rather they are intelligent, kind, unselfish people. I would love to gain an understanding of why we hold such different views. But in the strange national climate in which we now live, speaking freely about differences rarely occurs among friends, for fear of destroying the relationship. Thankfully, the opportunity did arise, but it was from a stranger.
This past week, a technician came to my home to fix a mechanical problem. Idle chit-chat turned into a twenty-five-minute discourse on vaxing. To date, he has chosen not to be vaccinated. His main concern? Government control. Having emigrated from a Communist country, he views America through that lens, believing that as we start mandating vaccinations, we are morphing into a socialist society with the potential of rolling down the hill to Communism. All this over a vaccination. He went on to tell me that it’s his right to remain unvaccinated, and I, as a vaccinated person could still infect him. If staying at risk and contracting the virus leads to his death, he views that is his right of choice, and God’s will.
Indoors in the confined space of my home, we were both masked. His gaze was steady, unflinching. His voice was not loud or ranting, but calm and rational. He spoke from the heart. Listening to him, I realized that issues of right and wrong are more complex than they seem on the surface, Different life experiences can lead to different decisions.
As we talked, I thought back on the experiences in my own life that drew me to choose vaccination. My gratitude for being a six-year cancer survivor. My heightened at-risk status due to age. My children driving an hour each way, twice a month for a year, delivering supplies to keep me out of the stores and alive. He understood when I told him that for me the vaccine meant the difference between contracting a mild version of the illness, or death.
Throughout our discussion, we sought not to condemn, but to understand one another. I expressed my appreciation that we could even have such a conversation. As we parted, the look in our eyes said, “I may not agree with you, but I respect you.”