Today is the 4th of July, Independence Day. My memories of this holiday from childhood include sitting on the grass at Hayward Field in Eugene at the University of Oregon with my family at dusk. Mom had a thermos of Kool Aid and we sat together on a blanket with anticipation as we sipped the sweetness, waiting for the fireworks to begin. What I remember most is hiding under the blanket when the loud noises began, my hands over my ears and my eyes shut tightly, while the rest of the family oohed and awed as the booms increased in volume and the sky became even brighter. To say the least, I was not enamored with this tradition.
As an adult, I bought sparklers for my children and we often had some sort of family gathering, but there were quite a few years when my husband and I (he was a paramedic and I was a Home Health nurse) would both volunteer to work the 4th (holiday pay!) while our children spent the day with my sister-in-law Terry who, very conveniently, lived across the street. Several decades later, my husband Steve and I would join friends at the Iowa Cubs stadium to watch a baseball game, followed by a display of fireworks and patriotic songs.
And so here we are sixteen months since the official beginning of the COVID pandemic which, we are now realizing as more information comes to light, came to our country much earlier than March of 2020. I wrote in February 2020 about my psychologist succumbing to a mysterious disease which I now know, without a doubt, was COVID. So, it has been here for a while, and it will stay until who knows when? However, almost 70% of Oregon has been vaccinated, and masks mandates have been lifted with some exceptions.
I went to Bi Mart today and one customer was wearing a mask. We have eaten INSIDE restaurants a few times, and we come and go to the homes of friends and family with barely a thought about the dangers of COVID. I visit my patients at the local nursing home without a gown, face shield, or Latex gloves, but I still must wear a mask when in the facility. The residents are no longer required to wear masks while in their rooms and their families are now able to come and visit them. The world seems to be returning to some sort of normalcy.
I am hugging my children and grandchildren again, as well as friends and anyone else who I may feel like hugging. Because I can. Because I am vaccinated. We are vaccinated.
But it may not really be over. There is a new “Delta” variant that is stronger and more insidious than the original version of the virus, and there is still a large percentage of the population that will not or can not get vaccinated.
My ex-husband Ron and his wife went to the local farmer’s market in Salem last week and saw an “Anti-Vax” booth. He didn’t hesitate to let the people at the booth know the error of their ways: He basically told them they were stupid. As they attempted to argue with him, he continued to just tell them they were stupid and uninformed and that their message is dangerous to the rest of society, that there are individuals who are immunocompromised and children who may suffer because of the Anti-Vax dogma, and that those who refuse to get vaccinated and/or wear a mask are just selfish. That is an exchange I would have liked to have witnessed.
So, I have decided that this is my last entry in the CORONA JOURNAL. This past 1 ½ year has been interesting, tragic, frightening, and an uneasiness lingers as we all attempt to return to whatever our “normal” may be. Many of us are still looking over our shoulders, hypervigilant, aware of the invisible monsters that continue to threaten our stability. Often, when I experience a sense of calm I feel a bit unsettled, waiting for the other shoe to drop. Because I know “it’s” not over.
The “it” includes the pandemic, but also the political upheaval that has polarized our communities, our families, our nation.
“It” also encompasses the heightened awareness that we are in a drought, that a wildfire could sweep down our canyon again, that there is an ecological crisis, a global threat which a significant percentage of our neighbors refuse to recognize.
And the “it” is the depth and ugliness of racial injustice which exploded into our collective consciousness as we huddled in our homes and watched the murder of George Floyd. The racial inequities that have been overlooked and/or perpetuated since the founding of our country reveal the unpleasant fact that my ancestors behaved very badly to those who did not look like them.
At the same time, I am frightened by Right-Wing extremists who are capable of wreaking havoc at home and in our nation’s capitol, and I am wary of those who have been swept into delusional states by conspiracy theories. I am afraid for People of Color in this environment of hate. I am ashamed, perplexed, and revulsed that White Supremist ideology continues to thrive even within my community. I hate the huge pickups festooned with tattered American Flags, MAGA stickers and, sometimes, confederate flags.
So yes, the COVID restrictions have been lifted, and that is wonderful! But things will never, can never, return to “normal”, not after what we have witnessed and experienced.
I am committed more than ever to contribute to the peace and wellness of others, but sometimes I really want to just hide under a blanket as I did decades ago, hold my hands over my ears to dim the harshness of all the noise, and close my eyes tightly to hide from the unsightliness of uncertainty.
Today I had the pleasure of visiting with an old colleague from many years ago. Doug Steenblock, the psychiatrist from Iowa Veteran’s Home and his wife from Iowa are out here in Oregon visiting their daughter and he surprised me with a message this morning asking if we could get together. It was refreshing to visit, laugh, and catch up with each other without the barrier of masks or distancing.
And just for today everything was……normal.
Happy Independence Day!
*Too Many To Count