It’s Okay.

Covid. We’ve known about and have been under threat of it for two years now. Living with it, like really living day to day with the knowledge it’s here (in my region at least) since mid March. I, to my knowledge, haven’t gotten it, though I am suspicious that a cold we four (my kids and husband) all had in early December could have been it. Though we tested negative several times, I remain unconvinced we’ve escaped it.

More and more of my friends are posting about getting Omicron. Their posts all sound so similar from their “I was so careful” to “I thought I did all I could.” It makes me both mad and sad because…this is a highly contagious virus. You DID do all you could and you were VERY careful outside of living in an utter bubble. There is no “fault” in you getting it! You did what you were supposed to do, while taking care of yourselves and your families and work.

I understand the urge to find that fault. As I said, I’ve been playing “how to avoid Covid” for two years. Masks, isolation, wiping down groceries (remember that?), vaccines. I keep wondering when the shoe will drop now that the kids have to be back in person and my husband has to teach live and in 3D. I keep thinking it’s just a matter of time, unless of course that aforementioned “cold” we got was it.

We feel, I think either driven by competition (said with a sense of bitterness and, cynicism…”I’ll be the last one to get it! I won’t get it! It’s like the Covid Games!”), or by a faulty sense of individualism (said with a sense of shame…”I got it even after I was perfect so I must be some kind of failure!!”).

I wonder as well if those that got it are also fearful that they may have given it in that short period between exposure and infectiousness (the one where you don’t have symptoms). That’s the thing that will upset me, when I get it. That I might have not just gotten it, but GIVEN it, and that might cause harm to a friend, or even just someone I walked by at the grocery store. And because I know our systems which weren’t really set up for success on a good day, are now overwhelmed-do you have enough sick leave? Will insurance cover what needs to be covered? Will your boss allow for a full quarantine or will they pressure you to come back early (I’m still working remotely so that’s more or less moot for me, and my office has been incredible about Covid safety and testing-I’m lucky).

None of those feelings are fair. None are functional. But here we are, and the reality is that we are dealing with, still dealing with after 24 months, will continue to be dealing with future variants, a very unfair virus. The virus doesn’t care if we tried hard, or if we did things right.

It feels relatively inevitable (though frankly it isn’t not if we got our shit together, right? Free tests delivered weekly, kids back at home for a month, adequate supplies of masks, actual consistency in messaging, worker protections! It could be done. It should have been done.

I keep seeing people say that maybe it’s just fine that Omicron is spreading fast and furious, a sense of resignation that those who are vaccinated will be “fine.” None of this is fine. The human loss and trauma isn’t fine. The existential divide in our nation isn’t fine. The national (and state, depending where you live) public health response to this isn’t fine. Our teachers and health care workers are decidedly NOT fine, and the sense I’m getting that capitalism is running the show no matter the cost (and I mean who can buy and sell things well if people are all ill????) is the antithesis of fine. That pressure to just resign to the virus and it’s race across America, all while then feeling like you are a failure if you yourself got the virus is mind-boggling. Cognitive dissonance at it’s finest, so to speak. Individual acts can’t solve system problems.

So if you get it, it’s not your fault. You DID do everything you, as an individual could do. You are commendable! You’ve worn your masks and gotten your jabs and sacrificed a whole lot! You’ve been kind and stalwart and dedicated and compassionate. And if you get it, I’d want to take care of you and pat your head and bring you soup and take care of you. No one will be mad at you for being wonderful, beautifully, human. They’d just want you to get better quickly so that you can keep doing good in this world.

Stay as well as you can, and know that none of this is fine, but that I’ll do what I can to help if things go south. You are okay. It’s okay, even if it’s not. And I want you here so we can work on all those system problems. We’ve all got some work to do, and you are just the people to do it.

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The Junk Drawer of My Mind: Essays/Stories/Photographs

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