Yesterday, in the most glorious of Spring days ever birthed on this earth, I drove south to a place I’d never been before: Gillette Stadium, home of the New England Patriots (and New England Revolution). As I followed the clearly marked signs, I thought about how I’d been just about to get around to going to a football game one day, to enjoy the spectacle and noise and party atmosphere, and complete inability to actually watch the game. Such an aspiration seems like it comes from some science fiction book I read once. Windows down, I navigated the vast and spreading parking lots around the grand stadium.
It felt a little like a movie of being onboarded into the afterlife. There were clear sign and instructions – no doubt on what to do next. There were a steady line of us coming in, all keeping apart from each other. There was no talking as we double masked and did not walk up the elevators, instead being taken passively to where we were supposed to go – an unknown location.
A sign we could see on the field flashed the vaccination count every 30 seconds or so – in the 300ks while I was there. Every time it climbed inexorably. Every number of that vast sum represented a hope, a dream, of a world restored.
When my time came I sat uncomfortably close to the nurse, who already had most of my card filled out with neat and lovely handwriting. After very little preamble, she placed the biting edge of a tiny needle into the limp muscle of my left arm. I asked her to put it right next to my smallpox scar, symbolically. And like that, I was now on the quiet path out, waiting silently in chairs set six feet apart and watching the Revolution practice on the field below.
I have grown accustomed to having the greater part of my mind and focus be on fear and disapproval. On my run that morning, I had passed signs forswearing a vast array of kinds of hate: Stop Asian Hate, Black Lives Matter, We Support our Trans Siblings. I marveled at how many different varieties of hate we need to revile, and am somewhat astonished at the energy of people to persecute on so many channels.
In my daily life, I have reshaped my entire world in response to the fear of contagion. I do not see my friends. I do not go to work. I do not eat in a restaurant. I do not drive to the mountains with my hiking buddy. I do not sit in Gillette Stadium and complain about how terrible the new quarterback is. This fear has so far been effective. I have not once been identified as a close contact with someone with COVID. This whole time, I have never had to take a COVID test, or been afraid I had it. This is not just virtue – it is also wild good luck, and privilege. (I may not go grocery shopping, but someone goes into that store to get my food. It is just not me.)
With this habit of angry disapproval and fear, long cultivated, yesterday felt odd. Things were so beautiful in the world. There was this strange butterfly of hope in my heart. So long we watched the deaths and illness counter tick up inexorably. To watch the vaccination counter do the same caught my breath in my throat. The loveliness of the world, so long ignored and hidden and frozen in the ice of winter pandemic, just burst through like the waters of a thawing river and would not be ignored.
As I waited fifteen minutes after my shot, trying to be cool and not cry, I also thought on what a great testament to humanity this all was. Destruction is easy. It takes just a few moments to burn down, deface or defile. Creation is hard. There is a tunnel on the bikepath where artists come and do breathtaking murals of surpassing skill and often loveliness. But it is graffiti and there is no one watching it. So periodically someone comes through and defaces days of work with scrawled penises and blots out art with “TRUMP” in dripping spray. But somehow, despite how much easier it is to destroy than to build, there is so much that is built. Every home, garden, building, concert, organization, sanctuary … it represents the balance of how much more we humans create than we destroy. It is not just 10:1, it is 100:1 or 1000:1.
And the wild creation of the mRNA (Moderna) vaccine in my arm tells that story so well. Imagine that we humans have been so foresightful that for 20 years people – who could have dedicated their lives to their own enjoyment, or making money in banking, or inventing the next erection drug – instead saw with wisdom and clear eyes the threat that Coronaviruses posed to humanity. They made huge personal sacrifices to pursue new ways of responding to this simmering threat in the border between the wild and the human. They prepared for an event none of them living had ever seen. They had capacity, tools, plans, investment ready to go. And when the call went out, while we were still eating, drinking and living merry lives with our friends in the winter of last year, they laid down their plans, their leisure, even their health to work night and day. So that I could stand in a stadium a year and a month after the start of this virulence and be inoculated, blessed, by a matter-of-fact nurse who would jab hundreds of other arms before she herself could go into the warm spring night.
Our era is a recitation of the litany of fear – on both sides of the aisle. You can count the rosary beads of outrage as well as I can. But I am telling you, friends, we are a better species than we give ourselves credit for. We can plan for problems and fix them. We can build things, and rebuild if they are destroyed. We can make meaningful sacrifices for the good of people we will never meet, who will never know our names. And not only CAN we do this, but we DO do this every day.
In six weeks, I will be liberated to live a life more of my choosing, still bounded by the obligations to keep my community safe, but not as much by fear for my person. By then, summer will be nipping on the heels of spring. And I will remain so grateful to those who gave of themselves to give me the gift of this liberty.