“I got mine.” It sounds like an awful personal injury law firm commercial in which a supposed client crows at getting a financial settlement, as if it was a birthright. But instead, I am referring to the COVID-19 vaccine. “I got mine,” has an unspoken ending that may not be intended: “and you didn’t.”
That is what it feels like to some people who are utterly frustrated by the inability to penetrate the unsystematic immunization chaos in order to snag an appointment. Yet the people I have heard exclaim “I got mine,” surely do not intended it to sting. Rather, it is an expression of joy and relief – a sense of solidarity even, implicit in this common struggle against both virus and vaccination fiasco.
But “I got mine” is a dividing line in that common struggle, and it taps open a fissure in that solidarity. This soft tension is exasperated by the excited banter over “I got the x” – the pros and cons of Pfizer versus Moderna, and soon, J&J. The animated volleys of layperson information reproduced from newspapers and blogs sounds decidedly informed even if there are no epidemiologists present. For those left out in the cold of “no appointments available,” it nurtures the sense of isolation.
Well, I got mine. On Valentine’s Day, no less. The experience had so many echoes and whispers swirling through it, unrelated to the shot, that I felt compelled to share them here.
Solidarity imbued the moment, even in the parking lot where steam rose on cold breath from the streams of people winnowing toward a single entrance at the Domed Arena. There was a sense that we were all in this together, scores of total strangers. We knew what we were there for, we knew we needed it – all of us vulnerable, our demographic identity irrelevant – the implicit hazards of not receiving it clear though unnamed. It was a remarkably vivid moment of commonality so very rare these days.
Then came the harmony incarnate in the comradery of those there to help: National Guard units, nurses, State and Public Health employees, all on reassignment from their other duties, and temporary workers. Wearing a universally pleasant demeanor they seemed to understand the gravity of what all of us were doing there, as well as the combination of bewilderment and anticipation within those of us there to receive the vaccine. Honestly, there were so many helpers present it was as if we were being taken by the hand and led through the process by impossibly friendly, caring, benevolent friends who were strangers. Their knowing, almost pastoral guidance, infused the sense of community with palpable emotion.
I had not been living with a sense of vulnerability or impending danger during this pandemic, at least not for myself. Probably denial, but navigating the protocols for me had to do with protecting others. Walking into an unfamiliar place, accompanied by absolute strangers with whom I felt this strange kinship, awakened me to the experience of great and pervasive solidarity that is a golden lining of this pandemic. All I had to do was acknowledge my own vulnerability. While vulnerability can evoke fear, it can also open us to our deep connections.