Today I received my second dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine.
I didn’t run into the friend from my first dose, but there was a playful community energy in the air as we strangers recognized each other from waiting in line together exactly three weeks ago. One woman spoke up: “I waited in line right behind you last time!” I wore a mask I made last summer, and a staff person at the clinic complimented it.
I planned my route to the clinic to include a visit with a different friend, the bag. Soon after I started working remotely last year, I began taking long neighborhood walks. A few days in a row I noticed a plastic bag dangling in a tree, and as it remained in the tree in the months that followed, it became a symbol for something I couldn’t quite name: resilience? A shared, unspoken agreement between my neighbors not to solve this simple problem? The tacky farce lurking in the margins around all the tragedy and weight of how our nation handled things this last year? I’ll stick with resilience, especially in light of how delicately the bag is tangled, and how easily I or any other able adult could hop up and grab it. The bag stayed in the tree as everything shut down in March and April; through one of the noisiest and most chaotic Fourth of July weeks I can remember; through violence and protest; through February’s snow-on-snow-on-snow that kept us all even more trapped in our homes than we already were; through the strong winds of the changing seasons these last few weeks. The bag was still hanging in the tree today.
My route home from the clinic took me back through the park. The last few weeks there’s been a goose nestled in one of the large, decorative concrete bowls on the patio overlooking the lagoon, and we haven’t been able to approach near enough to tell whether it was injured or guarding eggs. Today, right after my second dose, I got an answer. A woman and two children were standing near the bowl, and she lifted each child to let them peek into it. I stood more than six feet away and asked if there was anything there, and she told me five goslings had, just that moment, crawled over the edge of the bowl to dive with their parents into the lagoon below. One gosling that wasn’t viable remained in the bowl, its chest gently heaving.
In 2008 I ran my first marathon. I jogged the entire thing without stopping and, when the finish line was finally in sight, I became physically overwhelmed with joy and relief and pride. I ran my most recent marathon in 2019. Cold weather in Chicago irritated my respiratory system to the point that I couldn’t breathe if I jogged more than a dozen feet, so I wound up walking the last 5 or 6 miles. It was, frankly, humiliating, a slog that felt endless, but eventually I did finish the race. There was hardly any joy—I was angry and disappointed and glad it was over.
I did feel joy today (and did tear up to “Here Comes the Sun” on the walk to the clinic), but today’s victory feels more like 2019. Last week I read the New York Times piece about “languishing” and recognized the last few months of my life in nearly every line. And I have been one of the lucky ones all year. It is absolutely astonishing that I and so many others are now fully vaccinated (or will be in two weeks) only a year and a half after COVID-19 entered the global landscape; and I sure as hell am excited to hug a lot of folks, to see more family, and to worry so much less. But: the nearly 600,000 dead in the U.S., the tragedy only beginning to unfold in India with a staggeringly steep curve, the mental and developmental injuries that will take us many years to recognize and understand and treat.
What does it mean five goslings took their very first swim today? What does it mean that the sixth was left to die? I imagine it’ll be a long time before we can interpret the meaning of most of this, and till then we keep walking and keep breathing—those of us who, mercifully, still can.