As the pandemic that has blighted our lives for the last almost two years seems perhaps to be petering out — although, superstitiously, saying so seems like asking for trouble, for new Greek-letter variants — normal life is sneaking back in.
There have been some benefits to this time. We’ve learned that it’s okay to Zoom people in to parties and meetings and shivas and (for some of us) services, which means that we’re going to be able to add geographically distant people to our live events. That’s a good thing.
I’m sure that I’m not alone in realizing another benefit. When we start getting together in person again, the joy of being together, the buzz that comes from having actual people gather in one place and talk and laugh and eat and drink and hug, gives a nearly physical thrill. The relief, the memory of what it used to feel like, the inescapable gratitude to the universe, to the scientists, to the administrators, to everyone who made this miracle possible, can be nearly overwhelming.
This Shabbat, my husband and I went to a dinner and a lunch. Both were with friends we’d spent literally countless hours, days, time that probably adds up not to weeks but at least months with. It always was wonderful. Now it’s more than that.
I also learned about the wisdom of older women. Both of these meals featured extraordinary women in their late 80s (I think; it’s not done to ask). One is the granddaughter of a prominent Mandatory Palestine family, the other a psychotherapist. One talked about what it’s like to grow up in a famous family — to summarize, it’s got its good points, certainly, but it’s hard — and the other talked about changes in parenting styles over the last century, and what’s likely to change again because of the pandemic. Both of them were fascinating. Both have led aspirational lives.
It all was magic. Pure golden electric sparkling magic.
We are getting the importance of gratitude out of this experience, because it is impossible not to feel it. After having been deprived of conversation and shared thought and deep unstoppable laughter, it is glorious to have them back.
There is another side to this, of course, as Colin Powell’s death has made clear.
No matter what you think of the politics of his life — I’m with the people who think that ultimately he is a tragic figure — certainly he was brilliant, competent, brave, pathbreaking, stereotype-busting (and Yiddish-speaking).
He was vaccinated, and he died of covid.
That’s because he had multiple myeloma. That’s an immunosuppressive disease, and that means that vaccines, which boost the immune system, worked less well for him than they do for most other people.
That means that he, like other immunosuppressed people, no matter how important or brilliant or successful, was dependent on everyone else being vaccinated. That includes people who are far less likely to die of covid than he was.
We know that as a community, we are mandated to protect the weak among us. It’s nearly impossible to think of Colin Powell as weak, but at the end of his life, he was, at least physically. It is not optional for us to do what we can for people if they cannot do it for themselves. We have to. We have to surround those people whose suppressed immunological systems cannot fend of the coronavirus. We are human shields. We have to keep the disease away from them, and we have to keep the virus from mutating.
That is our communal responsibility.
The freer we are, the more we revel in that freedom, the more responsibility we have to make sure that it can be shared.
So go get vaccinated. Get your booster. And get your life back!